The following article was origionally published December 2013 and in being republished this month by popular demand.
Giving Your Presence
During the holiday season we can spend a lot of time trying to find the right present to give to our work associates and loved ones. I'd like you to consider a different kind of present, the gift of your Presence. Presence is more than being physically in the same room. It is a commitment of your time and attention. It starts with the decision to put down your cell phone or move away from the computer or TV. And deepens when you decide to set aside any competing thoughts and give someone your full attention.
This giving of attention is the first level of presence. I have learned over time, that consciously deciding to give someone my full attention makes it much easier for me to stay focused. Sometimes I need to move to a closer chair or physically move away from my work at hand. Occasionally I will jot down some notes of what I am working on so that I can totally free my mind to listen, knowing that I can pick up where I left off at a later time.
The second level of presence is being genuinely curious. We deepen our presence when we rise above our own needs and desire to express ourselves and begin to wonder almost exclusively about them. How does the world look through their eyes? How are they feeling right now? Do I understand them? Can I understand what they are saying to me without reacting or contradicting? Take a moment to think of your own life. Are there people you wish would become interested in knowing you more? How would it feel if they made the time to spend 30 minutes with you and were genuinely curious about who you are and what you think about? A gift like that would be highly appreciated by me. This holiday season I am thinking about who might be hoping that I will take the time to genuinely inquire about them at a deeper level than what their holiday plans are.
The highest level of presence is empathy. When I am able to offer this level of presence, I feel like I am seeing into someone's heart. It is the level of acceptance, compassion, support and patience. A memory of empathetic presence still lingers in my mind from 40 years ago. I was in high school when my older sister died. When I returned to school I wasn't prepared for all the sorrowful looks I encountered in the hallways as people passed by. The exception was an acquaintance who came up to me and silently held my hand. No words were spoken but it was probably the greatest sense of comfort I received during that time. In mere moments this classmate gave me his full presence without agenda.
This holiday season, I encourage you to think of someone who would benefit from your presence. Take them out for coffee and give them your undivided attention. Give them the chance to talk about what is on their mind without turning the conversation around to talk about yourself. Call up someone you think about frequently but don't actually make the time to contact …commit the time to give the phone call your full attention. Perhaps you know someone who is going through a challenging time and the potential for awkwardness is keeping you away. Commit to spending some focused time with them, be patient, let them reveal to you what it is they need at this moment in time.
The gift of our presence goes beyond the holiday season. It can become our reputation. We can develop our ability to slow down and notice people; regularly offer others our time and attention; and extend our genuine interest because everyone has a story worth hearing.