One of the most fascinating and illuminating actions you can take if you want to heighten your sense of presence is to spend time with young children and the elderly.
They are at the opposite ends of the life spectrum.
Young children because they navigate through the world in an exploratory mode. They don’t need to know it all and react to the moment without self-conscious tendencies. Their play is simple, primal, spontaneous and free.
In the elderly, life has been lived fully and therefore it slows down to a pace which brings reflection and contemplation. There is no longer anywhere to go, nowhere else to run to and no one to impress.
In the young, the ego hasn’t emerged yet, and with the elderly, it’s too tired and worn out to rear its head.
The levels of presence are heightened, and the chasing is virtually none existent.
So what about the group that is sandwiched in between?
Here lie the adolescent, the adult years and beyond. This section in our lives often become like a marathon of sorts. The ego is on high alert and wants to be satisfied at each turn. During this time, there might be a desire to seek validation, approval, and look to the outside world for a sense of belonging, a clue that you matter in the world.
The words ‘I’ll be happy when..’ continue to sprout forth, therefore life is lived in fast forward. The moment isn’t lived because the mind is too busy projecting forward into the future. Perhaps once there is more money, a new relationship, a promotion, a profitable business, then we can settle, slow down.
Only then will we become more present to those around us, so we live a life chasing the next event and during this time, the chasing can take on monumental proportions.
Yet there is a lack of presence and living in the moment.
Why is developing a sense of presence important?
It keeps us connected to life, it allows us to taste, see and do everything fully. Our senses become completely heightened, everything is experienced in a much deeper and more meaningful way. Relationships transform, presence is so rare these days, that you become magnetic to people around you. Everyone wants to be around someone who isn’t checking their phone each minute, looking behind them as you speak, or avoiding eye contact.
Those around you feel it, and it’s not pleasant. Do I enjoy being around people who are disengaged from the moment? Really I don’t. It feels dismissive and frankly, it’s like being on your own.
Jon Kabat Zinn who was the Founder of Mindfulness stated this in a beautiful quote;
The only time you ever have in which to learn anything, see anything, feel anything, express any feeling, emotion, respond to an event, or grow and heal, is this moment. Because this is the only moment any of us ever gets. You’re only here now, you’re only alive in this moment.
I remember spending my life for years running my own personal marathon.
Then over 5 years ago, after spending a few hours working with a mentor I hired at the time, I walked through a scenic park straight after. During the walk, I looked around the view and to my amazement, the trees somehow looked larger than I had ever seen them, the leaves resembled a luminous green colour, the sky was a magnetic blue.
I don’t remember having experienced the colours in that way, possibly since childhood. And I stood in the park, marvelling in amazement at the colours.
Anyone walking past me would have thought I had never entered this area before, yet I lived a stone’s throw from the place and had walked through it hundreds of times. But never in this way.
This is when I realised that somehow I had slowed down and the result was that my level of presence had increased significantly.
The filters that were keeping me from being present had lifted during the conversation with my mentor. With less thinking, with less worry, with just being in the moment and shifting everything that wasn’t part of this moment to one side, I could fully experience the here and now.
My world had transformed from a dull grey to a marvellous high definition colour.
As the levels of presence increased, living in this way became incredible, as situations were experience fully, no filter, no holding back. Life was no longer being lived whilst being in three places at once (in my head).
Every so often, if the colours or the senses dull out, I monitor what is getting in the way of my presence, and I shift this. Presence is just too important to me. The wonderful thing about this is that it can be enjoyed by the rich, poor, middle class, and any class of society, as it doesn’t discriminate, it has no boundaries and it’s up for grabs.
One of the many reasons why I enjoy returning to my birthplace Gibraltar is because it is a slowed down version of life as we knew it long ago. The residents walk slower, talk longer and connect with others wherever they are. It’s a reminder of the world we left behind when internet, smartphones and the constant busyness and availability to everyone and everything became in vogue.
It’s not unusual to see a variety of commuters in the City plugged into earphones of every style, neatly slotted around their heads as they navigate the roads.
Looking down at the pavement whilst listening to music, podcasts and online learning programmes, but often disconnected and unplugged to life. They are missing out on what is around them, if only they could look up at the world that surrounds them.
I often welcome clients into my practice who want to be coached because they want to feel more present with family, relationships and at work, but just can’t manage this. These are highly educated, fully functional, multidimensional and very savvy clients who are able to climb up the professional ladder but lack the presence to be with those around them.
It feels almost foolish at times to share with them that presence is already there.
Life is far simpler than we make it.
There’s nowhere to trek to as a way of finding it. No need to walk mercilessly through the Machu Pichu trail in Peru, spend a month in an ashram in India, or climb the perilous journey through the Himalayas to find it.
It is always here.
Yet it has become one of the most precious commodities in this generation, and we wait for that big event that will bring us the presence and connection we seek.
Sorry to disappoint you.
There is no event outside of you that will bring you ‘presence’ wrapped up neatly and decorated with a bright red bow. The only thing that is required is that you make a choice to be more present and connected in your life, and eliminate everything that gets in the way of this. It requires a different way of being, it also requires for you to use the word ‘No’ a little more often than you do.
Imagine you wanted to grab a pot of gold at the end of a large forest which has overgrown foliage making it difficult to access the pot of gold. You would somehow have to find a way of cutting away all the foliage to make the path through more accessible.
You would reap away the overgrowth to make way.
You don’t need to find a different forest, meditate for a few hours, or take a vacation to figure this out. You just simply need to cut down what is blocking you from the pot of gold.
So what is the ‘foliage’ in your life?
In other words, what is getting in the way of your presence?
The usual culprits are generally being stuck in the past, or anxiety about the future.
We get stuck in two time zones that don’t exist. The past is no longer here, and the future hasn’t arrived yet. But here is where we generally hang out, like a seesaw, we shift from one to the other. The present moment doesn’t get a look in. It has its brief spell, but it then passes, it’s ignored and this is how life becomes half lived.
One of the ways that I coach my clients through this is to identify what is getting in the way of their presence. Being mindful of the areas that are keeping them distracted, unfocused and absent.
Asking them one simple question;
“If you were 5% more present, what would you be doing differently?”
The 5% allows this shift to become manageable and for small changes to be made, without the overwhelm of transformation and the fear of turning into someone you no longer recognise. Stepping into what could be possible if presence was heightened.
Slowing down your pace, not being so quick to answer e-mails, text messages, to respond to a request. Taking a breath, pausing, keeping things in draft mode until you can be fully present and focused (without multitasking) to really give attention to that communication.
My coaching business completely transformed the moment I slowed down. I stopped responding from a place of urgency. I started pausing more, spending longer in my communication, personalising it further, connecting deeper.
Everything seems different when you slow things down, as presence brings with it more laser focus. You don’t miss a single detail.
Like a child who has seen it all for the very first time, or an elderly person who is enjoying that moment, knowing they may not have many more of those moments left.
Imagine tucking into a meal enjoying and tasting all the flavours, speaking to a friend and being totally immersed in the conversation. Being more invested when working with a client, showing your team that you are interested in what they have to say, and soaking up the beauty that surrounds you in wonder, in astonishment, in awe.
You elevate the mundane, you make it magical, since it’s all at your disposal, free of charge. All you need to do is choose presence over chasing life, doing so will pay dividends on every level, you will live life fully, rather than in a diluted, half-hearted fashion.
If this article resonated with you, you can read more chapters like these in my latest book ‘Look Inside: Stop Seeking Start Living’ available now on Amazon.