How to Cultivate Presence
Has someone ever asked you to be more present? While you may not have quite known how to be more present, you likely have experienced someone who was completely present with you and noticed how it met your needs for being seen, connection, support, and more. Offering quality presence meets many needs in any relationship, and it's especially critical in intimate relationship. "Being more present" isn't an act of will power, it is learned and developed. Let's look at some of the key elements that help with being able to offer quality presence: attention, self-trust, resolutions of internal conflict, and stillness.
One of the most obvious elements of presence is giving someone your conscious attention. But to really offer quality presence there are three aspects of attention to name. First, allow your attention to be relaxed and rest gently in the interaction. When you are tense and giving your attention with willpower, it may seem like you are just waiting for your turn to talk. Relaxed attention allows your energy to be expansive, which creates a large space in which the interaction can land.
In addition, it's not about giving all of your attention to the other person. A big part of what creates a sense of presence, is that you hold some of your attention in your own center. This might mean noticing your breath as you listen, or it might mean literally noticing the center of your body (that place between your belly button and pubic bone and between the back and front). Centering your attention in this way makes you less vulnerable to reactivity.
Lastly, presence usually involves attending with your heart. This means you are compassionately attending to the other person's experience rather than getting caught up in the details of what they are saying. Here are some common signs that you are caught in the details:
· You have to know what happened next or how it ended as though you are watching a TV drama.
· You are asking investigative questions trying to figure out how or why something happened.
· You are giving your opinion, and agreeing or disagreeing.
· You are giving advice imagining you have to fix something.
· You are jumping in with your own story of how something similar happened to you.
Attending with your heart means getting curious about someone's experience in the moment, feelings, needs, thoughts, etc.
You can't offer quality presence from a sense of threat. If you don't trust yourself to take care of your own needs, you might be experiencing a subtle sense of threat. When you consistently tend to your own needs in harmony with others, you develop self-trust. This refers to creating life structures that consistently support you, as well as self-care in the moment you are offering presence. In the moment, you trust yourself to interrupt when your needs aren't met. For example, you are willing to say you are tired and need rest or you are willing to interrupt when someone doesn't meet your need for respect. Essentially, you know that you have the power to choose to offer your presence or not in any given moment.
Resolution of Internal Conflict
The more you attend to and resolve internal conflict, the more quality presence you can offer. You can think about resolving internal conflict in at least two ways. First, there is the daily level of internal conflict that arises from internal judgments, "should's", aversions, clinging, etc. For example, let's say you are running late for work and really value the sense of dependability that comes with being on time. Taking even a few seconds to feel the grief of arriving late (rather than thinking about how you should have gotten up earlier) can help with acceptance of the situation and lessen a sense of internal conflict.
Second, unhealed wounding from the past not only creates a sense of internal conflict, but also requires a lot of energy to manage. The journey towards wholeness needs your consistent attention. As you heal and move towards integrated wholeness, you will have more energy available for all of life, including offering quality presence.
Holding still isn't the same as the stillness that comes with quality presence. A relaxed stillness is the natural result of the three elements named above and can be developed in specific ways. For example, several times a day you could invite your muscles to release and relax wherever you typically hold tension, or you could pause frequently and rest in the present moment by focusing on your breath, listening to sounds, or noticing the sky. Or you might make a habit of responding to urgency and rushing by reciting mantras to yourself like; "I can only do what's in front of me," "One thing at a time," "Tensing up won't get me there faster."
This might seem a lengthy list of potential practices. The important thing here is not to do all of them, but rather to notice what you feel drawn to or maybe what you are already doing and would like to focus on more.