Being Fully Present to Others

In how much of our communication with others are we fully there?

If you ask what people want from most of their communication, many will say more clarity, better understanding, greater honesty – maybe even love? Underneath it all, what we really long for are deeper, more meaningful connections with others.  Even when we’re not aware of consciously seeking it, most of us are growing less content with superficial human contact.

In many ways, technology and the transactional world (what can I get from this interaction?) are reshaping how we communicate – and how we expect to connect with others.  When we experience the feeling of someone’s authentic (full) presence, we’re often taken aback by the nature of the interaction. It can seem too intimate and uncomfortable.
What does it mean to be fully present with others?

It’s hard to describe this feeling state. Unquestionably, what you feel, almost instantaneously, in another’s presence determines some level of trust (which is at the deepest level, our ability to feel safe with others) .  You know it when you experience it. Whether we cognitively agree with the concept, studies show it is the unmistakable ingredient.

For me, it is the sense of connecting (even briefly) with some part of another’s  real being – their essence. It’s unquestionably a transmission of energy. Bioenergy research at  The National Institutes of Health (NIH)  demonstrate levels of heart-rate synchronization in all communication. It’s already been established that mothers synchronize with their baby’s heart rate, even in utero.

The Institute of HeartMath’s research demonstrates that the heart, like the brain, generates a powerful electromagnetic field.  Director of Research Rollin McCraty reports that “The heart generates the largest electromagnetic field in the body. The electrical field as measured in an electrocardiogram (ECG) is about 60 times greater in amplitude than the brainwaves recorded in an electroencephalogram (EEG).” The heart’s electromagnetic field contains certain information or coding, that’s transmitted throughout and outside of the body. One of the most significant findings of IHM’s research is that intentionally generated positive emotions can change this information/coding.

What Gets in the Way?

 Being in our full presence with others is a choice. It’s a rare natural state for most of us – we have to work at it.  Our full presence to anything, especially anyone, is impeded by many factors, often outside of our conscious awareness in any given moment.

In order to practice being more present in our communication, it’s important to understand what gets in the way. If our intention is to be present, fully “showing up,” understanding the how and what that stops us is our starting point.

  • Emotional Discomfort. Being emotionally comfortable (which includes a willingness to be uncomfortable as it arises) is the key for staying present.  Some of us start out being engaged with another person but bail out when we feel “threatened.” Research in neuroscience has shown that the brain is relational – it functions within the context of social interaction, evaluating every experience as beneficial (reward) or threatening (avoidance). Unless we have an understanding of what triggers us emotionally (which will happen in every interaction, even the most pleasant) we can get caught up in reactionary behavior, driven by old emotional baggage.  David Rock’s SCARF model gives us a good structure for understanding the dimensions of the brain’s relational activity.
  • Distractions. We can distract ourselves emotionally when we feel vulnerable (this has to do we how we measure status and power, chiefly through our beliefs about it) Then there are external distractions, which are prevalent. It’s normal today to see people talking, sitting, eating, walking and meeting while checking their mobile devices. But the most common way we distract ourselves is with our own thoughts.
  • Unhelpful Self-Talk.  There’s a chorus in most people’s brains, that’s reviewing yesterday and planning tomorrow while another person is talking to them.  In their incisive book, The Emotional Hostage, NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) experts, Leslie Cameron-Bandler and Michael Lebeau make the case that all emotions involve our referring to the past, present or future and that reference to a certain time frame is necessary for many emotions to exist at all. In their experience they have found that typically, a person needs to be comfortable in the present so that the mind doesn’t wander out into the future to generate anxiety – anxiety being in their definition, an emotion based on future thinking.
  • Judgment. This applies to self and others. Judgment often separates us from others.  It blocks our ability to listen, erodes our curiosity and disables empathy. In the course of most interactions we make dozens of decisions on how we will respond moment to moment, most of these are out of our conscious awareness.  When we judge we make interpretations of other’s experiences and close-out possibilities for deeper knowing.

One of the distinguishing hallmarks of being present is that experience feels spontaneous.  There’s a flow to communication and awareness of the chronic internal reactivity that often dominates interpersonal interactions.  You are present to your own moment to moment experience. You understand that the “knowing” that you are present arises out of presence itself.

What Enables Our Ability to be Present? 

No matter how much you practice being more present, you never fully arrive. It is an art – a work in progress. Author Eckhart Tolle refers to it as a “choosing to emerge in a given moment.”
There are core qualities and abilities that are essential if we are to  become more present to our own experience.  A commitment to develop these qualities serves us in every area of our lives.  They are fundamental to becoming more mindful.

  • Awareness of self, others and context. This is the foundation.  What do I do, how do I do it and why do I do it?  I can’t be present to you if I can’t be present to myself.
  • Body Knowledge. We speak through our bodies – and they speak volumes.  Ralph Waldo Emerson’s famous quote applies, “Who you are speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you are saying.”  Few of us are so comfortable in our bodies that we can stay present without effort.
  • Emotional Flexibility. The ability to know when you are triggered and to shift your feelings into a more resourceful state.
  • Emotional Courage.  Presence requires your willingness to tell yourself the truth about your own experience.  This is the basis for your ability to interact with integrity. This is particularly challenging when we are in conflict, which is conversely, the most important time to stay fully present.
  • Sense Perception.   Being fully present requires us to sharpen our senses.  Because your presence is a snap shot of your emotional state at any given time, increasing your ability to change your emotional state (mindfulness practice is a great help) is critical.

The invitation to be present offers itself over and over.  There are constant opportunities for practice.  With every experience, you get the opportunity to get closer to your truth – and to offer that opportunity to others.

Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh once said “The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence.”

Louise Altman, Partner, Intentional Communication Consultants
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