Presencing Your Life (Part II)
As I shared in Part I, one of the biggest struggles I’ve noticed in coaching people and in our world today is a lack of presence and low quality of attention. Many of your emails shared personal examples of this.
Here are a few other examples of how a lack of presence can materialize (I’ve experienced all these!):
You get upset and beat yourself up about something in the past, constantly replaying the same drama over and over again in your head (and what you should / shouldn’t have done)
You’re anxious about the future, worried that you might make the wrong decision regarding something really important
You communicate poorly because you’re in a rush and don’t realize how your words might negatively impact the other person
You miss subtlety - what someone else might need and be trying to express, but not say with words
You’re impatient and irritable because you want something to be different than it is
I’m sure you have plenty more examples from your own life.
This Spring, I did a 2-month online retreat with Adyashanti, one of my teachers. One week, he discussed the concept of self-giving - and applied it to attention and presence.
Let me explain (as I attempt to distill his teachings).
Normally, when we think of attention, we think of how to pay attention. Put our minds and will towards something. It feels a bit goal-oriented. Sometimes it can be quite difficult and feel forced.
Adyashanti invited us to change our approach. Instead of paying attention, give our attention.
What does this mean? Well, let’s break down what it means to give.
Giving has a devotional quality. When we give attention to someone or something, we give the gift of significance. A gift is an offering. It reveals a much deeper meaning such as love, gratitude, appreciation, sympathy, respect – could be many things. For example, when you buy flowers for someone’s birthday, perhaps the meaning behind it is how much you love that person and appreciate them. Or when you buy someone a housewarming gift, perhaps you’re blessing that new home.
When you give with a devotional quality, you get something back. The giving IS the receiving. They are one and the same. Therein lies the self-giving. It feels GOOD to give.
Let’s apply this to more difficult circumstances. I’ll use myself as an example. I’ve been dealing with a lot of recurring injuries and colon issues. They’re frustrating and painful. My habitual way of being is to be a hypochondriac and pathologize everything (my family can attest to this!). Here’s an internal dialogue of my thoughts:
Why do I keep having all these issues over and over again?
What does this all mean?
How long are these issues going to last?
Will I always be in pain and have to deal with this?
Will I ever go to a yoga class again because of this hamstring tear?
Will my body ever be the same?
Will I ever fully heal?
The constant challenge for me is to bring presence into this situation. Why? Because it helps.
Chronic pain will always have us think about the future. The feelings that correspond to my thoughts are ones of frustration, worry, and fear - which ultimately cause me to suffer. Anxiety about the future causes an INCREASE in pain on a physiological level. Every negative thought has a corresponding chemical and physical reaction in the body.
Thought: I am worried that this pain will never go away.
Chemical reaction: The anxiety created by this thought leads to a release of the stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline. While these hormones are needed to help us cope with a threat and prepare for action (blood flows to limbs, senses get heightened, digestion turns off - all preparing us to run or fight!), excess levels leave us in a chronic state of stress. This becomes a vicious cycle. My thoughts create anxiety. The anxiety causes stress hormones to be released. Excess levels of these stress hormones create even more anxiety. REPEAT.
Physical reaction: As a result of this thought, my body tenses, consciously and unconsciously. Muscles and fascia constrict. Since I’m in a vicious cycle, this continues to happen. I begin to develop new compensation patterns in my body. Adhesions begin to form in my tissues due to tight, restricted muscles - all leading to even more pain.
1) There’s the pain from the actual injury
2) There’s the pain from all the suffering that I’ve created in my head, which has a massive negative cascading effect
While we don’t have much control over the first one, we can reduce the second one.
The first step is to accept what is happening, and to stop resisting it. This is the hardest step. When we resist something, the negative force boomerangs back at us just as strongly. In other words, the pain and emotion are exactly correlated to the level of our resistance. It’s like that saying: “what you resist, persists.”
How does this play out?
1) I am injured. I have to accept this. The more I wish it weren’t so, hoping that my body would go back to some previous state, the more anxiety I cause myself. My body may never “go back” to what it was. That’s not the point. I have a new body, with a new set of conditions, which requires a different approach to being in it. The more I work within this framework and stop wishing things were different than they are, the less I suffer. When I can accept my current state, feel what needs to be felt, then I have a better chance of making better decisions for my body because I am acting from a higher, more present level of consciousness - and not out of anxiety. I am not denying what is. I will still have to do my physical therapy and perhaps may never go to a yoga class again. But if I angst over it, then I live in constant worry over the future. Let me experience what is happening without all the inner dialogue – which causes me to continuously suffer.
2) The more I accept this and stop resisting my reality, the more my body physically relaxes. The subtle tension that comes from all the anxiety and frustration can be this thin fog of resistance that adds to my pain. When I stop resisting (mentally and emotionally), my body also stops resisting. Therein comes the release - and oftentimes a significant amount of relief.
I am using injury as an example, but this can be applied to anything. I was having a conversation with someone about his boss who - in his words - is a “narcissistic asshole.” His entire team struggles with this guy. This person did too (for YEARS!) until he began to accept that the boss wasn’t going to change. He began to work within the parameters of what he could control, not what he couldn’t control (his boss). He stopped wishing for the guy to be different or hoping he would change - and learned to work around him. Now, some people might say, “this is not healthy, a CEO shouldn’t be this way, it’s damaging to the organization.” Yes, this is all true. But reality has shown that this guy doesn’t change. Sure, maybe you can do a 360 and get him a coach and he’ll see the light - but probably not. So how does change happen from here?
1) When you accept the situation and stop resisting it, then you avoid the vicious cycle mentioned above and come into a higher state of consciousness – which affects how you show up and your actions. When you bring a higher state of consciousness to any situation, the person on the other side has to interact with this higher state of consciousness. You actually have a higher likelihood of inspiring change in someone this way.
2) The more present and aware you are, the more your path reveals itself. In your acceptance, you might figure out a way to work with the narcissistic asshole and not let it negatively affect you. Or you might realize that this environment is not for you and leave. There are many ways this could play out.
What we are doing with the above situations is coming into a full state of presence with exactly what is. The deeper we can go into the present moment, the higher the quality that moment is. We forget that there is wisdom in any given moment that is always trying to reveal itself to us. When we give ourselves fully to a moment, that moment gives itself back to us. Normally, we are trying to change that moment.
How does a self-giving attitude help? It allows us to come into a higher state of consciousness. Which then allows for better decision-making, better understanding of our bodies and needs, better presence and connection with people, better ability to view things as they are, and better action.
One of my favorite books is Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose. He and Oprah have a 10-part series podcast on this book. Below are a few excerpts on PRESENCE that I have found to be very powerful - and can serve as a guide.
“Awareness is consciousness with universal intelligence. Another word for it is Presence: consciousness without thought.”
“The separation of thinking and awareness happens through the negation of time. We are not speaking of clock time, but of psychological time, which is the mind’s deep-seated habit of seeking the fullness of life in the future where it cannot be found and ignoring the only point of access to it: the present moment.”
“When you negate time, you negate ego. Whatever you do, you will be doing extraordinarily well, because the doing itself becomes the focal point of your attention. Your doing then becomes a channel through which consciousness enters this world. This means there is quality in what you do, even in the most simple action.”
“The world will tell you that success is achieving what you set out to do. It will tell you that success is winning, that finding recognition and / or prosperity are essential ingredients in any success, but they are not success. What the world doesn’t tell you – because it doesn’t know – is that you cannot become successful. You can only be successful. Don’t let a mad world tell you that success is anything other than a successful present moment. And what is that? There is a sense of quality in what you do, even the most simple action. Quality implies care and attention, which comes with awareness. Quality requires your Presence.”