first, a brief story from zen master thich nhat hanh to help us define presence.
this comes from his book, being peace,
I like to use the example of a small boat crossing the Gulf of Siam. In Vietnam, there are many people, called boat people, who leave the country in small boats. Often the boats are caught in rough seas or storms, the people may panic, and boats can sink. But if even one person aboard can remain calm, lucid, knowing what to do and what not to do, he or she can help the boat survive. His or her expression—face, voice—communicates clarity and calmness, and people have trust in that person. They will listen to what he or she says. One such person can save the lives of many.
that’s presence right there.
fight, flight, freeze, fix
in contrast, non-presence falls in the classic behavioral categories of fight, flight, freeze, or fix.
it can look like an angry outburst or being totally “shut down”, but it can also be more subtle, like lying or changing the subject of a conversation.
what’s your go to?
whatever you call it, non-presence translates into ineffectiveness (and often, delayed pain).
here’s the common cycle:
you are present
you experience stress
you lose presence
you become ineffective
you experience pain
for me, this is what practicing mindfulness meditation is all about – it’s the practice of developing presence.
and mindfulness represents the foundational skill of all other skills.
in other words, you must first learn to be present.
as you develop presence you develop the ability to regulate yourself, to be intentional, to communicate effectively, and so on.
and as you begin to create calmness and clarity within yourself, through presence, you begin to “show up” this way in all of your relationships, within your family, and within your communities.
you become that dude in the boat.
stay on it.