Your Greatest Gift: Your Presence

We even acknowledge it in our invitations:  “the honor of your presence is requested”…

Presence matters!

But the presence I’m talking about is not your body being present and accounted for. The presence I’m speaking of is you being present in body, mind, heart, and spirit. For you, for your loving relationships, for your family, for your friends.

I’m amazed daily in my office as I see awesome clients who are missing out on the moment because of disappointments about the past and worries about the future.

Being PRESENT …. Enjoying a moment on the bay!

The enormous importance of being “in the moment” had an interesting set of confirmations several years ago. Kelly Clarkson had won American Idol and had released her number one song, A Moment Like This.  At about the same time, research was released revealing what we all know intuitively: couples who cherish and thus “live in” special moments had the most fulfilled relationships.

You all know by now that I often quote song lyrics.  It’s fascinating to me how so very often songs speak to real life.  Same here. The lyrics to Kelly’s song ring true to the research:

Can’t we make this dream last forever?
And I’ll cherish all the love we share

A moment like this
Some people wait a lifetime
For a moment like this
Some people search forever
For that one special kiss
Oh I can’t believe it’s happening to me

Some people wait a lifetime
For a moment
Like this  

The more accurate truth is many people have access to these moments, but they are not present with their presence, and miss them!

Just this past week I had several opportunities to press pause with clients and point this out

In one incident, a parent was describing the stress of getting teenagers ready for homecoming. Getting the hair just right, the clothing just right, the people in the right places, the timing, the concerns about the after-parties, and curfews. While listening, I interrupted and asked, “So this was two of your children’s first homecoming outing?”  “Yes.” I validated her concerns about safety and timing. But then I asked her, “Did you enjoy the moment? Did you take a deep breath and look at your children and appreciate how beautiful and handsome they have grown up to be? Did you have a moment of pride in them?”

She admitted that she was so concerned about the task at hand, that she missed the moment. She admitted that she would have to look at the photographs to actually know what her kids were experiencing.

Does that make her a bad mom? Of course not! But did she miss a magical moment? Absolutely!

How many magical moments have you missed?

Another recent example: an amazing, loving couple came to my office. We begin some respectful, kind, compassionate, and honest discussions about their history. I paused the discussion to point out how healthy the communication was. But both were so engrossed in what was going on that they were missing the magic of the moment. When I paused the conversation and pointed this out, I think both of them felt closer and safer. Why? Simply because I called them to be present in the present.

This concept is certainly one of the most thoroughly-researched on the subject of relationships. But it’s not only in relationships that it applies

Research tells us that if we watch a movie, read the newspaper, or remain engrossed in our cell phone while eating, we are much less likely to enjoy the meal. Not only are we less likely to enjoy it, but further research shows that focusing on other things actually affects the absorption of nutrients in the digestive process. Wow!

Through the years I have found that when people come to my office, they are usually starved for the presence of important people in their life. Dissatisfaction with a supervisor on a job; a parent and adult child in conflict? Often one or the other is starved for the real presence of the other. 

When asked about the success of my therapy practice, I am often ask questions such as that posed by a recent intern: “What is your secret sauce?“ She said that she had received great benefit from sitting in sessions with me and watching me work with people. She was struggling to identify a “common thread.”

What I told her likely surprised her with its simplicity. The “secret sauce“ is being 100% present when I sit with a client. I’m not considering my grocery list; I’m not wondering if my next client will be on time; I’m not rehearsing any of the concerns of my life. I am 100% present. I believe that genuine presence heals.

This might sound strange to you. But research shows it to be true. 

I asked the question earlier, but I will post it again: What are you missing out on by not being present?

When you’re riding along in the car with your spouse, are you focused on your tax problem? Or some challenges with your company? Or perhaps spinning a story to cover your absence from a meeting?

Or when your girl/boyfriend is sharing something that has disturbed them, are you rehearsing what you were frustrated with them about? What they did to upset you last week? Or are you present?

When your kids come home from school, or your adult children come for a visit… are you more concerned about getting dinner on the table than being present for them?

There’s an old saying, “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift, which is why we call it the present.”

We all struggle sometimes with being present in the present. But you can do some things to make it a habit. Here are some suggestions:

1.  Practice physical and emotional closeness. Over the past 20 years we have recognized that infants must be held and touched in order to thrive. And, we never outgrow that need. When you are with someone that you care about, be physically present but also emotionally present. If it’s appropriate, hold their hand, listen carefully, reflect back their feelings.

2. Practice making eye contact regularly. (Of course not if you’re driving!) Making eye contact makes it easier to be present. Plus, in order to make eye contact, you cannot be reading the newspaper or texting on your phone. Either of those two things suggest that you are not present.

3. Focus on your breathing. Focusing in on your breathing, or the breathing of the person you’re with, helps create a real sense of the present. Most of the time we are so distracted that we don’t even know if our partner is breathing or not!

4. Be grateful for something about the person with whom you’re spending time. When we are experiencing gratitude, it brings us immediately into the present moment. I am currently in a real transitional period in my life. This entire year, I have written about my gratitude daily and have found a great benefit in doing so. Because I am faced with some major decisions in a transitional period of life, I am writing at least 10 gratitude’s daily about all of the circumstances involved in my transitional period. It keeps me present in the moment, instead of rehearsing the past, or worrying about the future.

5. Recognize and press pause when you realize you are rehearsing negative thoughts about any person or situation. You cannot be present when you are in that loop. I have found that using the “press pause” exercise keeps me grounded in the present.

Let me make sure that the message I am trying to share with you is clear and concise… The people who care about you long for your presence. You are not present if you are worrying; you are not present if you’re thinking about the past; you are not present if you are thinking about the future. 

Your loved-ones are longing for your presence! Now!

Often, after a long day of seeing clients, I long to cry out to someone, “See me. See me for who I am. Be present with me. Ask me how I am and really care about the answer. Look me in the eye and ask about me and my day. Reach out and touch me. Take my hand, give me a hug. Can you be present with me and for me for just 5 minutes?” All of the trauma I’ve heard about all day long, all of the crises I’ve dealt with, and all the broken hearts that I have held… It will all resolve if you could just be present for me for 5 minutes.

I’m not unusual. It’s the cry of everyone’s heart. But most of us don’t know how to be vulnerable enough to put it out there. I put it in writing as a model for you to see what it is that you want and need from someone’s presence. Edit it. Fill in the blanks for you.  When you know what it is, you can ask for it in a healthy way. Your loved one’s presence will heal something in you!

For me, when I can’t find someone available, I imagine the creator of the universe caring enough to spend 5 minutes with me. I call out to God. Then I am replenished, renewed, and restored.

And ready to be present for someone else again!

Who can you be present for today?