Being present is not as easy as one may think.
Christmas day, birthdays, special days when gifts are given,come and go, but it is never too late to give an important present. The gift of being properly present to another human being. To really hear them, to listen, and to see them, to observe and to mindfully be in their presence and be fully present to them, is not to be taken for granted, as we so often do. Especially in this world of distractions, social media bleeps and frantic schedules and over-commitments and all the crisis we face when there is too much flying in our faces.
The gift of being truly present enough to truly connect with another being was demonstrated with great power by performance artist
Marina Abramovic in her landmark installation at the Moma National Gallery in New York “The Artist is Present.” Abromovic sat for 3 months every day in a chair and engaged in eye contact with whoever came to sit in the chair across the table from her. She concentrated on being truly present with herself and the other. One by one their eyes filled with tears. It answered such a deep need to be seen on this kind of soul level, even for a moment. People slept all night in cues outside the museum to experience it. The exhibition was a sensation. It revealed such a deep need to engage in real human contact, that it has inspired her to found an institute which conducts scientific and art based experiments -with the purpose of meeting that need for true human connection. This was Marina Abromovic’s offering to the world in response to the overwhelming need for connection she saw in the audience who came to see her.
Watching the documentary about this exhibition inspired me to want to practice it. There are many more spiritual schools of thought and methods of learning this power of being present.
Eckhardt Tolle is another inpsiration. He writes about it in his well known book “The Power of Now.” His other book “A New Earth” is another very important document with amazing insights.
I have recently been introduced to Marshall Rosenberg’s practice of compassionate or Non-violent Communication (NVC)– a method of communication which is being used to create peace between warring factions from the personal to the political. According to Marshall Rosenberg, who is a founder of the movement, Non-violent communication is about learning to be present to what needs and feelings are alive in you in the present moment and learning how to be present to the feelings and needs of others. The practice of Nonviolent or Compassionate communication (NVC) is very powerful and valuable. It is a real tool for peace on earth.
Author Marshall Rosenberg calls the discovery of what is beneath the needs as a gift, it reveals something which shows you direction out of what could be a maze of stuckness and conflict- either with yourself or with others. So often we are not aware of what those feelings and needs are, we cover them up with layers of comfort, denial and distractions and blame and anger and then they erupt like boils under neath the layers you have created and cause pain and dis-ease.
It sounds very simple, but with practice, when one is aware of one’s own feelings and needs. Really honestly looking at them without judgement, shame or blame, one layer at a time, then it becomes possible to open your ears and eyes to the feelings and needs of others. When you are able to really listen compassionately to the feelings and needs of others and to show them the kind of empathy that helps them to feel heard and understood, it is the greatest gift one can give. Some even find it hard to accept.
When things are so hard and fast it is easy to forget what it is that you need, so you go around searching to fill that emptiness or feel simply frustrated by it as you hurry along your way.
So here are some self-care notes to hang on to in order to be able to be truly present for your children and your parents, your spouses, your colleagues, your pets or whoever else needs attention. (Easier said than done.)
If one has the support of regular spiritual practices, such as yoga, taichi, meditation, NVC practice groups*or whatever it is that gets you into a calm state of mind, then being present is a little easier.
Actions that get you back into a state of presence with oneself and others may be as simple as good walk or weeding the garden. Then consciously focus on your awareness. Feel your breath and the air around you. Take a little time to focus on being here now in the world in yourself and with your fellow human beings, in community.
Listen and observe what is alive in you in you right now. Identify what you are feeling. Observe your energy without judgement or criticism. Be empathetic towards yourself for how you are feeling. When you identify your own feelings and needs you are able to work with them properly and attend to them. This may be as simple as asking for what you need in a non-violent way. The outcome may bring a deeper connection with the people around you that you didn’t realize was possible, or had given up on.
In this world of social media and a million distractions it is necessary to constantly challenge yourself to really engage … as if this was the last moment you have together on earth. As if you are about to say good bye forever. That is being present. Then go on and live the days you still have together and apart as if they were the last days of your life, because they are. Do all the things you have been putting off, or just one of them, and enjoy yourself. Stop beating yourself and others up. Compassion is about empathy- which is love and understanding. Not sympathy, which comes from a place of being stronger than the other.
Peace is possible. Love is possible. Having a heart is too. Not being afraid to feel it and allow it to open like a flower. We have all closed our hearts a few times by having them broken. Sometimes it takes a lot of work to let them open up again. It’s worth the effort.
P.S. NVC practice groups can be found all around the world. They are a space in which to learn and practice the Non-violent communication methods taught by Marshall Rosenberg. This work is extremely valuable and I believe that the more people practice it, the more peace their will be on earth. Perhaps there is one near you. If you live in Cape Town here is a link to the local group