I remember thinking to myself, Presence? That’s this part of training where we talk about nothing and they make it look like it’s important — bull***.
The first time someone told me I have to be present was in professional coaching training. I remember thinking to myself, presence — that’s this part of training where we talk about nothing and they make it look like it’s important — bull***. Being an analytical person, always put in Mathematics majors, my natural response when hearing about a new concept — show me the data. So, I went back home that day motivated to define WHAT Presence is, HOW, preferably in logical steps, one is supposed to learn it and WHY my instructor, later one of my greatest mentors Dr Ben Koh, made such a big deal of it.
I soon realized that the definitions available out there are vague at best. I could forget about logical steps or reading manual ‘’How to be present in 30 days’’. This was dramatic for a person used to very structured, data-driven, almost numeric, approach to everything, I won’t lie. But, hey, who doesn’t like a challenge?
I thought next time I go to class I will not try to understand it. I will not make detailed notes. I will not analyse. I will not judge this ‘’no one can explain but it’s important’’ abstract concept. That was the class when I felt the power of Presence. When in a coaching conversation, I managed to be fully immersed. It was almost as if I and my coachee were in a separate space that we created there and then, just between the two of us.
“What you perceive as precious is not time but the one point that is out of time: the Now. That is precious indeed. The more you are focused on time — past and future — the more you miss the Now, the most precious thing there is.” — Eckhart Tolle
I think the closest I could compare it to then was when you’re falling in love with someone, they give you their attention and you give them back your whole self for a moment. You’re not analysing, not worried how you sit, look, speak. It’s not about romantic tension or sexual needs, it’s just the two of you BEING.
Now, hundreds of clients later, thousands of book pages later, years later, I still struggle to give a clear-cut definition of what this whole Presence is. I know, though, that it starts when you stop trying to learn it the way you normally learn linear concepts.
Does it help to take a mindful walk? Does it help to meditate? Maybe. But what you really have to learn is how to centre yourself. How to bring your mind to here and now. Forego of thoughts like how what your colleague says next impacts your response, how this meeting cannot run over because you have another one right after, how your laundry is overflowing at home and you’ll need to do it today even though you’re tired, how your husband seemed annoyed in the morning, how your hair looks right now, leave notetaking (yeah, I know, scary!). Let go. Be. Submerge yourself completely in the current situation.
“All negativity is caused by an accumulation of psychological time and denial of the present. Unease, anxiety, tension, stress, worry — all forms of fear — are caused by too much future, and not enough presence. Guilt, regret, resentment, grievances, sadness, bitterness, and all forms of non-forgiveness are caused by too much past, and not enough presence.” — Eckhart Tolle
But then again, I’m an analytical person, so I did put some ideas for you that I think indirectly will support you in exploring what presence is.
– Reflect on what usually is on your mind apart from the current moment. Are you extremely conscious of your gesticulation, sitting, looks when in a meeting? Are you always preparing a response in your head when a person is speaking to you? Are you sharp and quick in connecting the dots and analysing things in a moment? Guess what, all these make you less present.
– Answer yourself: What makes these things/thoughts important to me? Is it the need to be always prepared and maintain an expert image having good response? Is it the lack of confidence that if you don’t see the dots connected immediately, you’ll look silly? Is it the perfectionist in you that fears you will miss something if you don’t note every word?
– Pick a Guide Word. One word that you will bring on your mind when you notice it starts wandering away. One word that will remind you to centre yourself and let go.
Share your techniques, thoughts, challenges.
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