As we walked through the woods, she with her “borrowed” dog and me with Sparky, we acknowledged that we are each other’s “ride or die” when it comes to walking. If we don’t have, as we call it, “work-work” to do, we will drop anything to head outside with the other.
As it was today, the snow crunching beneath us, the melting water flowing, I reflected out loud on all that a walk in the woods does for me, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
She was silent; her silence familiar to me. I can always tell when I’m talking about something that she doesn’t quite get and thus, isn’t interested in. When I’m present – really paying attention – not only do I notice her shift from engagement to silence, but I also know that she values me and my work even if she doesn’t totally understand parts of me and my life, including what I do for a living and how I do my own inner work.
What about when I’m not present?
This “knowing” isn’t always the case. I could easily feel slighted by her lack of interest or silence. And if I do, there isn’t a curious bone in my body. My capacity to “be with” what is here – a friend and I on a walk – goes out the window. My internal energy is feeding the story that I’ve created, not on me, her, and our walk.
In this case, her silence might leave me feeling disregarded, unseen, or insecure. If that’s my experience, I double-down and shove my ideas about THE PEACE THAT WALKING IN THE WOODS BRINGS ME (AND YOU HAD BETTER AGREE AND FEEL THE SAME, OR ELSE) down her throat.
As I do, my aim to be seen and understood as someone who
- loves nature,
- is in tune with what’s happening around me
- is attentive to her needs in addition to mine
are completely lost.
Instead, I create the exact opposite impact: I’m
- not with my experience as it unfolds,
- reacting to a story I’ve made up, not to the truth, and
- completely disconnected from my friend.
Today was a good day. None of this happened, thankfully. But I know, because I’ve learned it and experienced it, that the outcome of a particular experience, conversation, or transaction, hinges on my ability to be present.
If presence isn’t a thing or a destination, what is it?
If you are like my “ride or die,” the word “presence” can be confusing. Despite being a therapist for years, the experience of presence eluded me. Be here now. Wherever you go, there you are. Breathe and you will experience grounding. All of it. I understood none of it.
Enneagram work is about pointing you to the ways you – specifically, you – are pulled from presence. It also teaches you how to get back there.
Ok. Back to what the heck presence is and why you want more of it in your life.
Here is one way I might illustrate presence: If you have kids who went to preschool, I’m guessing you drove the same route to get there every day, 3 days a week, 2 days a week… however often they went to preschool. Left on Spit Brook, Right on Daniel Webster… you just took them there, focused on throwing some dry cereal in the back of the car, attending to the other kids you have, but nonetheless, you didn’t have to pay attention to the directions each and every time.
Eventually, your kids can take the bus to kindergarten so the habitual trips to the other side of town are no longer necessary.
But the next time you have a morning errand to run, you hop in the car and, without thinking, drive towards preschool.
Your muscle memory – your neurobiology – is so used to associating a morning drive with taking your kids to preschool, that it doesn’t quite know what to do with this new circumstance; so it keeps doing what it knows: morning drive = preschool drop-off.
If you want to go somewhere else, you have to notice yourself driving to the wrong place and course-correct. It’s not a moral issue. It’s just muscle memory.
The way you think, feel, and behave are the same. Your neurobiology holds on to the ways you once had to do things to get your needs met.
In the same way that your neurobiology doesn’t know your kid is in kindergarten now, it also doesn’t know that you no longer need show up for life in a particular way to be accepted and cared for.
- It doesn’t know that when the guy at Dunkin’ gets your order wrong, they aren’t intentionally trying to mess with you
- It doesn’t know that when someone has a need, you don’t have to drop everything and respond to that need
- It doesn’t know that when someone is angry, it might have nothing to do with you. And better yet, even if they are angry at you, it doesn’t mean you did something wrong
Presence is the condition necessary for losing that muscle memory and responding to life events as called for, not based in some unconscious memory or habit that is woven into you at the cellular level.
Presence is your most accurate source of intelligence.
It is the culmination of what happens when your higher head, heart, and body centers are working together, not separately and out of sync.
Presence starts with noticing.
At the end of a day that started with a walk in the woods, I can reflect on where I showed up with presence and where I showed up with a story that had nothing to do with the people I was with. I might notice unfair and unnecessary reactions and beliefs to my friend and places where, had I been present, I might have shown up differently.
And when I do, what naturally arises is a well of gratitude for a friend who calls to invite me on a walk, and the security I had with our friendship that allowed for me to ask that we do it in the woods. Because that’s what I get when I’m present: lots of gratitude, clarity, and freedom. I get a conversation, not a reaction.
And from there, I change. I become more responsive, more courageous, and more authentic. I’m not just one identity, but a multi-faceted, responsive, ever-changing human being. This is now what gets wired into my body. And I get to do it all over again tomorrow but now, from a new vantage point.
Do you want to learn about how the 9 types or 9 parts of your personality might respond in their default mode and what their capacity is to respond from a much more vast, receptive place? That’s what we talk about when we talk about presence.
Again, presence is your most accurate source of intelligence.
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