On Being Present

James - Larkspur, California
Entered on February 15, 2009

I’ve always prided myself on my openness, my honesty, and my emotional availability. Over the course of my lifetime, I’ve frequently received favorable comments regarding these qualities. This despite the fact that I’m a guy and I know lots of men (maybe most) who have absolutely no clue what the term “emotional availability” might mean. Or how to invoke it.

These particular traits are consistent with the guiding philosophy of my life, namely: I believe in being present. In expressing this belief, I’m talking about something a lot deeper than Woody Allen’s quip of “showing up is 80 percent of life.” No: I intend something decidedly more profound — of much greater difficultly level — than simply being physically located in a particular place at a particular time.

In truth, I believe that being present is the secret of life: that without the ability to be present, I’d really be missing out on what the total human experience has to offer. Being present takes energy, though, so it’s likely the reason that most people avoid it, don’t practice it, and just generally find some other way to go about their business.

The way I see it, being present is manifested both in my relationship to self and my relationship to others.

In my relationship to self, being present means that I’m aware in the moment. I’m tuned in to my emotions. I know that I’m breathing in and out. I have a keen sense of my surroundings. I sense all that’s going on around me and what kind of meaning I’m making of these events: realizing that my experience is not necessarily “reality.” Being present means that I’ve left all previous moments behind…and that I’m not wasting energy anticipating future ones. It’s living in the here and now. It’s making the most of the time I have been given. It’s a paradigm that guides me to take advantage of every single instant of this preciousness called life.

I also believe, however, that the highest level of being present takes the form of being available for someone else. Being present for another may take the form of simply silently sitting. It surely involves total focus and really listening when they speak. It means not interrupting. It’s immediacy: it means seeking deep understanding of the other person’s experience in the moment. It’s being curious about them and setting aside all judgments. It’s eye contact and empathy and softness. And maybe the occasional touch. It means being available for another person to share themselves. Totally. With complete safety. In my presence.

Being present is not “the truth,” though I believe it is “the way.” I believe that being present, for yourself or another, is the greatest gift you can give. Or receive.