Presencing Your Life (Part I)
I was inspired to write this from my little haven in upstate New York. Although it’s been quite rainy and cold, it’s also been incredibly lush and alive. Sunlight and warmer days are starting to sprinkle in. Nature awake at its fullest. Green mountains and peaks, flowers in bloom, animals in full activity. A baby black bear has come to my door several times now, wandering solo.
As I bask in this glorious nature, I am noticing a lot. My sense of presence has heightened. Of course, it’s much easier when it’s just me and nature. No hustle or bustle or city life. More silence and stillness. People might think it’s isolating and boring, but I find it to be quite the opposite. The more still I get, the more I notice — and the more connected I feel. It allows me to go deep. Every moment has new layers of depth.
Nature inspires a deep sense of connection and wellbeing — and complete awe. You tap into the magnitude and mystery of life itself. Something you didn’t create, but are so intimately connected to. When you look at the trees or stars, you realize how small you are — how there is a much more intelligent force at play than anything you could dream of. At the same time, you are not separate from it. You are part of this mysterious fabric of existence.
This time up here is giving me time to reflect on what I’m noticing in my coaching — and what’s coming up in people’s lives. One of the major themes is PRESENCE. Or lack thereof.
You know that person who makes you feel like you’re the only person in the world? Who looks at you and listens with their entire being?
You feel completely seen and heard. Sometimes it’s overwhelming because it feels like someone is looking into your soul. I can count on one hand how many people have made me feel this way. It’s extremely rare.
Then there’s that person who’s already thinking about her response before you’ve finished talking. Assessing how it relates to her life. Formulating advice. Interrupting because she got so excited.
Yes, I have several of those friends, too. :-) I myself probably do it. It can come from a good place. Wanting to relate and connect. But what often happens is that we end up missing the point. We actually disconnect because we’re not truly listening. We’re not fully present.
I was recently at an event where a venture capitalist presented, doing amazing things to invest in women. He had quite the inspirational immigrant story. I was blown away.
Then I met him. He barely looked me in the eye. The entire time we talked, he kept looking around me, behind me, everywhere BUT me. He asked me a few questions, but didn’t pay attention to my responses. I was floored. My entire impression of him immediately sank. Later, I heard someone else say she had the same experience.
This happens ALL the time.
There is so much talk today about how time is your most valuable asset. The ultimate nonrenewable resource.
The more I coach people, the more I notice that what’s even more valuable (and lacking) is quality of attention. Time without quality of attention is meaningless.
Our world today is bombarded with so much information and choices. People are overstimulated and overly distracted. Too much, too fast, too soon. Our nervous systems can’t keep up. Our lives have become like News Feed. Literally. It’s like we’re scrolling through our lives.
Can I go faster?
How do I catch up?
What else do I need to do?
What am I missing out on?
It’s costing us our sanity and sense of wellbeing.
It’s also costing us our relationships and reputations.
Read between the lines, and you’ll see how this relates to your business, marriage, friendships, even parenting. All long-term successful and meaningful relationships are built on trust and connection. If you’re not present, it’s very hard to establish this.
I don’t remember the last time I went to a dinner party or conference where someone (or most people) didn’t have their phones attached to their hands or on the table. It’s annoying, distracting, and disrespectful. Granted, there are occasions when it’s necessary (you have a baby at home or are a doctor on call), but most things are not that urgent. We’ve just made them urgent.
It’s not enough to turn off your notifications or place your phone face down. If the phone is in your eyesight, it will have a greater effect on your nervous system. Social psychologists call this the “propinquity effect,” although they tend to use it when referring to interactions with people.
“The propinquity effect is the tendency for people to form friendships or romantic relationships with those whom they encounter often, forming a bond between subject and friend. The greater the degree of propinquity, the more likely that two people will be attracted to each other and become friends.”
Research is now being done applying this concept to people’s relationship with technology. Adam Alter refers to this concept in his book, Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked. You need to PHYSICALLY remove the phone from eyesight. Put it in another room or store it in your bag. You can’t put it in your pocket either, because you’ll feel it.
I once ran a course called How to Transform your Relationship with Food. One week, I had people work on being 100% present and aware of their food. They were not allowed to multitask while eating. They could eat and only eat (and not do anything else). One woman shared that all week, she kept reaching for her phone and had to stop herself. It had wreaked havoc on her nervous system. She couldn’t concentrate on her food, much less enjoy it. The urge to grab her phone (which was staring at her) was overwhelming. She hadn’t realized how addicted she’d become. How powerful having her phone in sight had negatively affected her.
In eating psychology, we talk about the importance of having awareness of your food. There is a phase of digestion called the cephalic phase digestive response (CPDR). Cephalic meaning “of the head.” This relates to the visual, olfactory, and auditory inputs to the brain that induce anticipatory responses to prepare the GI tract for our meal. Gastric juices start flowing and our saliva secretes enzymes BEFORE we’ve put anything into our mouths. CPDR can be responsible for 30-40% of our digestive capacity, depending on how strong the sensory stimuli is. How we think about our food, how we look at it, how we smell it — all this will affect our ability to absorb nutrients and digest. When we’ve missed this entire phase of digestion (because we’re multitasking, not aware of our food, or speed eating), we’ve missed out on nearly a third of our digestive capacity. Too many people eat while watching tv, on their phones, at their desks, or during meetings. The body needs to relax and be present for it to understand that it ate — and send the proper signals to the brain and digestive system. Otherwise, the body misinterprets this as a missed experience. It doesn’t realize it ate.
We are completely losing ourselves.
People are not present, and it’s costing them their humanity.
When you’re not present, you fail to deeply connect. I mean DEEPLY. Not the transactional “did my time” type of interaction.
But deep time.
I love how Father Richard Rohr talks about deep time, which I would liken to the quality of attention. Father Rohr is a Franciscan priest and founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC) in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He’s also the “personal priest” for U2.
In Greek, in the New Testament, he shares that there are two words for time. Chronos is chronological time, time as duration, one moment after another. This is what most people think of as time. But there’s another word, kairos, which means deep time. It’s those moments where you say, “oh my God, this is it, I get it” or “this is as perfect as it can be” or “it doesn’t get any better than this” or “this moment is summing up the last five years of my life” — moments where time comes to a fullness and the dots connect. It’s a different form of consciousness. It’s a different form of time.
How often do you experience deep time? If you’re being totally honest.
Play with this. See how deep you can go, even with the smallest of things. Drink your coffee and take full pleasure in it (without doing anything else: no newspaper, no radio, no tv, no work). Go for a walk without your headphones and notice everything around you. Be in a conversation and see how deeply you can listen. Have dinner with your family and put away all devices. Do one thing at a time.
See what happens.