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Presence from Different Angles

by Tom Langdon

When a person is very attuned to another, "micro dancing" occurs. I once experienced a therapist who was so totally present for me that it resembled the feeling of "being in love." I felt completely accepted and valued, as if I were really known and the other had no negative judgments, just 100 percent positive regard.

The tango. There are videos on YouTube showing how each dancer is present to the other. There is a very close coordination of movements, done without thought shaped through words (as would be the case in an instruction video), but with intense real-time coordination. There is a leader, and the follower has freedom to suggest.

Gymnastics, where two or more people perform a set piece, creating a pyramid, for example, through a high degree of group presence. Each person must be aware of tiny variations in the placement of the other bodies in space, and be able to instantly make modifications of their own body to achieve a dynamic balance.

Play fighting, seen in people and in various other animals. When examined closely, it shows how each participant is aware of when limits are close to being breached, when it is time to back off on the aggression just a bit, while continuing to go at the other with vigor. Similar behavior happens in team sports, where there are rules, written and unwritten, to try to make it all "fair." A quintessential example of presence in movement is the practice of martial arts.

Flow. Presence seems very much involved when, alone, an individual experiences a highly concentrated focus of awareness on a project requiring skill, for example rock climbing or artistic creation. At such times, everything else is excluded from thought.

But in our ordinary life too, when talking with one or two other people, we can find opportunities to practice intentional presence. It may not always involve micro timing, but it does involve intense and heightened attention. One can project positive feelings about the others, practicing what we in Cafh sometimes call "inclusion." No mystery here—it's simply a movement of an inner attitude of taking in the others as human beings just like myself, with all that implies. It is important to practice presence with friends and in all family relationships. Also important, but more difficult, can be inclusion of others with whom we are having some "differences." As we practice inclusion and presence, we find over time that many new levels of understanding and caring can develop.

Presence in this sense requires caring, as well as intentional attention. We need to really try to move inwardly towards a more caring attitude not only in the actual situation, but also in moments of reflection about the particular people involved. And we need to induce in ourselves, in the ongoing involvement, a continuing alertness to the possibilities of each moment. Then caring can guide our choices among the various possibilities before us. We get intimately involved in the human scene, rather than just "hanging out" with people. Presence offers us the prospect here of bringing real excitement into ordinary encounters, an excitement of growth, of unfolding. And, as with the various activities mentioned above, "practice makes perfect!"