Last week, a coaching client (I’ll call her Jill) and I were debriefing her experience at the meditation morning I facilitated a few days prior. Jill hadn’t meditated before, and wanted to learn a few “how tos” to jumpstart her meditation practice. To Jill’s surprise, she experienced something far richer than meditation basics. In the quiet of the space, surrounded by strangers, Jill felt a deep connection with the other women. She was so moved by her experience of connection, that Jill imagined herself walking around the room and individually thanking each woman for her presence and support.
Remarkably, Jill wasn’t the only one to have an experience like this. Another woman (whom I’ll call Sara) also felt a deep connection while meditating. Like Jill, Sara did not know the other attendees, and we started meditating before we socialized. At the conclusion of the morning, Sara shared her vision that each woman in the room was a dot, and that all the dots were connected by a string; she laughed aloud as she shared her experience, as the image took her by complete surprise.
As Jill and I were debriefing, I suggested that the unexpected intimacy in the room was the result of a common effort – everyone in the room was diligently working to be present. Even without words, there was a collective intention, and effort, to truly “be here.” Together, we were using techniques to quiet our busy minds and experience seconds, or even moments, of actual presence. The energy of that collective effort was palpable to everyone and the source of our shared connection. It reminded me of my experience in a spiritual community that I practiced with for many, many years. Though I knew minimal facts about my fellow meditators, I felt a closeness to them in our collective space of presence that was beyond shared words.
It’s unfortunate how seldom we feel this sense of connection. When we’re in direct conversation with others, it is rare for us to give each other our undivided attention. How often do we listen to each other intently, without interrupting, advising, or correcting? How often is neither person distracted, rushed or seemingly judgmental? It is so fulfilling when that happens. And, sadly, it’s rare.
What’s more typical is multitasking while talking. You know, chatting while driving, walking the dog, or chopping vegetables (ok, those are mine). And even when we are physically still, our minds can be a million other places – revisiting an earlier interaction, planning what to say, making a grocery list, etc. It’s very frustrating to be on the receiving end of a distracted person, and it’s disappointing when we realize that we are doing that exact same thing to others.
In my experience, our capacity to be present to others boils down to two things: intention and practice. We have to make presence a sincere intention, and then we get to practice it. And keep practicing because it’s not easy. It’s why meditation is referred to as a meditation “practice.”
Here are few pointers to help bring presence into conversations:
- Make truly listening an intention.
- Avoid multitasking when in conversation.
- Listen with an open, nonjudgmental heart.
- Refrain from saying anything until the other person pauses or asks for input.
- Practice being present by meditating.
Your full presence is the most precious gift you could ever give another person. In the words of David Augsburger, “Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person they are almost indistinguishable.”