Without ways to strengthen the mind — to build the resilience that comes with being present, with being mindful —we are at risk of becoming overwhelmed in the moment, and of burning out in the long run.
— Dr. Dan Siegel, The Mindful Therapist
Presence is an actively receptive state. It means being aware of what is and not reacting to it with judgment, biases or emotions tinged by past experiences. Presence depends upon a sense of safety.
I’ve been in survival mode for several years. Presence was absent, for the most part. Oh sure, I’ve had the occasional safe or highly engaging experience or conversation and let down my guard. I’ve let myself be open to someone’s words or touch. I’ve worked on responsiveness, which entails being attuned to another, but these situations were in the minority or one-sided.
Technology kills presence
Over the last few years, I’ve distracted myself or lived in a more reactive state. It is so easy to distract ourselves. Technology helps with that. Our phones are the number one distraction. If we have a few minutes waiting in line at Target, what do we do? We pull out our phone to check for texts, read the news or play around on social media. This is not a present state. When we let technology pull us out of a focused state, we disconnect from ourselves and quite often from our loved ones. We are not receptive and open to possibilities and people. We are shut off in our little world of memes and messages.
Long term relationships invite fear
With longterm and familial relationships we have a lot of skin in the game. There is a lot to lose. Our nervous system continuously scans for danger or disconnection within these close relationships. It wants us to survive. It knows a lack of connection feels lethal.
When we perceive danger, we remove ourselves from presence. We can’t focus on anything but the fear brought on by the threat or worry. We feel alone and may react negatively or simply shut down, which only perpetuates the loneliness.
I’ve witnessed myself react to disconnection in two ways. One, with questions and tears and two, by pulling back. I do both fight and flight. I am either reactive or removed. Neither is very present. Neither helps the relationships grow.
Self-reliance: I don’t need anyone
I have a high sensitivity to being overlooked or left alone. There have been many times in my life when I’ve felt unsupported, like I was on my own. I know that lethal feeling of disconnection. To combat that feeling, I’ve learned to take care of things myself. I’ve learned to support myself. I know how to find resources such as money, information, therapy, fun and friendship. I am amazing at filling time.
Self-care leads to presence
In some ways, the ability to take care of things myself, has led me to more presence within myself. Fitness, for example, is one way I take care of myself. It makes my body stronger and gives me time to go within. I am very present when I workout. I focus on the work and my body’s movements. When I run (jog), I let my mind wander without judgment, most of the time. There have been occasions when I have had to stop because it’s hard to cry and breathe.
Meditation is another example of a way I have learned to keep myself feeling balanced and OK on my own. I recently re-committed to daily meditation. I spend 10-20 minutes each morning connecting with my breath and my inner sense of peace. Meditation is about as mindful and present as you can get.
When I exercise or meditate, I keep the anxious feelings of disconnection at bay. They serve as positive distractions that also foster presence. If someone gives me too much disconnection, it’s now simple for me to revert to taking care of things myself. I don’t want to, but I can. It is a way to protect myself. I’d rather work with someone, but self-care provides avenues for peace within myself, which is a good foundation for a relationship.
Using presence to calm and connect
Through meditation, I am (re)learning how to return to presence. I catch myself spinning stories of disaster in the future. I slowly return to following my breath or using my senses to truly feel and see my surroundings. I stop looking at the hurts and disengagements from the past and stay with the current moment. I’ve even found it useful when I have trouble sleeping. I pause my mind from its torrent of thoughts about what if and why and begin noticing the comfort of my bed and the ease of my breath.
Even though relationships challenge my presence the most, I still long for them. Perhaps my increased presence will create a feeling of safety for the ones I love and they will move toward a state of openness and receptivity too, increasing everyone’s resilience.
How present are you? Are you open to possibilities or do you have set ideas? Do experiences from the past rule your thoughts and feelings? What is your biggest distraction?