Presence is that state where the past doesn’t exist, and the future hasn’t been written. It’s what’s in the now.
Eckhart Tolle and many other spiritual teachers talk about it. It’s that place where past hurts and future worries seem to dissolve, so that you can experience what’s really happening instead of the picture your mind is painting of reality.
It’s clarity. And it’s what we’re here to talk about today.
(The following is a transcript of episode 52)
We’re actually going to dive into something that’s a tad abstract for this show. I typically sprinkle some abstract concepts throughout each episode, but today is all about the present moment, and practicing that state of being called “Presence”.
The reason I say it’s abstract is because being present is something that’s hard to convey in words alone. If you and I were in a room, I could watch your body language and tell if you were here and now, or if you were wandering in your mind.
Presence, at least how I define it, is being aware of the moment you’re in, and not making judgments about what’s in that moment.
Presence is that place that has no past and no future, only now. The hardest part for me when I learned how to be present is that I could not get past the past, or the future. We all have a world of past hurts and future worries. Hopefully, it’s not all consuming, because we also have a world of past good times and a future of even more good times.
But you know how it goes, our brains tend to hone in on the bad stuff as if those memories and future worries were actual threats to our system in the moment. The past neglect, abuse, or pain we felt in any way, if left unexpressed and unprocessed, sticks around and keeps us in a low-level state of fight or flight. We become hyper-aware of behaviors in others, always subconsciously checking in with ourselves to make sure their behavior isn’t reminiscent of old behaviors from other people that have caused pain in our lives.
In other words, if one of your parents displayed a certain behavior that caused you pain, whether physically or emotionally, you tend to be hyper-aware of similar behaviors in other people today. Even today, I’ll admit, I still get a little triggered when someone in my life drinks a lot of alcohol. The first couple drinks, they’re fine. But slowly, I can see their personality shifting, and their behavior getting more and more unnatural, or erratic.
When I chose to explore this in myself, I figured out it wasn’t the alcohol that was a problem, nor how much they drank, nor the environment or other variables. What it was, and still is, is the way the person changes. It’s the behavior that I’m not used to seeing in someone else that comes out like Jekyll and Hide.
I have a friend that can drink more alcohol than most people, but his personality never changes from who he was before he became inebriated. In other words, his personality is pretty much the same whether he drinks or not. Because of this, I was perfectly comfortable around him when he got intoxicated.
But most people’s behavior changes after they’ve had a few drinks. They become someone else. Their nervous system is set free to roam the wild, and they become completely unpredictable. And the more they drink, the more unpredictable, and sometimes scary they are.
The reason most of us feel comfortable around other people is because of predictable behavior. If I know you’re not suddenly going to slap me in the face, or scream in a public library for no reason, I can be comfortable with you.
But if your state changes and you start doing things that are outside your typical behavior, you create an unpredictable environment, and can no longer be trusted as the person you were before. I’m talking about my own experience with people and alcohol, of course. It’s not like this with everyone, and it’s not just alcohol that changes our state. A lot of caffeine and sugar can do the same thing, and make people act different than they usually do. It’s usually not as extreme as what alcohol and drugs can do to a person, but it’s there if you pay attention.
The point of this is that our brains latch on to what patterns we learned to fear when we were younger, and tend to worry about them in the future. We set ourselves up for fear, worry and anxiety our whole lives if we choose to continue to believe that what we once feared is still true.
I can go out to eat with someone and they can order a drink, and I’ll be fine. The drinking part I’ve gotten over. If they order a second drink, I’m still good. I feel like, if I order two iced teas, why can’t they order two drinks of their choice.
I think my brain starts to wonder after the third or fourth drink if they’re still drinking for the taste, or if they’re doing it to gain the effects of alcohol. Or maybe a bit of both. Once someone’s personality changes, I start to get uncomfortable.
I’ve only recently realized this. I mean, very recently. I have learned that I am judgmental towards people who drink more than what I would deem “normal”. This is definitely a judgment, because any behavior that we compare to our own standards is a judgment. These standards were defined when I was younger, knowing how much alcohol it took for my stepfather to ingest before he became irrational and scary.
Even now, as I talk about this, I can feel myself shifting from this old fear. I can feel something inside me saying, “That’s an old belief, and you are judging other people who drink before they can either prove or disprove whether your beliefs about them are true!”
This is how we bring past pain into the now. We look at someone and see a behavior, mannerism or even a physical attribute that we associated with pain in the past, and think it’s going to happen again now.
This is how racism happens. A person of one color might have been beat up, robbed or worse, by a person of another color, then the victim sees pain when he or she sees that color from that point on.
With me and people who drink excessively, I’m learning to evaluate each individual as just that: An individual. A person with their own history that I may or may not have been a part of. A person that hasn’t even gotten a chance to prove me right or prove me wrong. Someone who is worthy and valuable in my life who is already being judged about something that may or may not even relate to what I experienced in my past.
This is hard, because I immediately want to write them off. “Oh, you’re drinking too much? You are a danger to me, so I want you out of my life.”
We tend to become overprotective of ourselves, and over-judge things that we haven’t even verified to be true yet. All because we never want to go to that place again. We never want to re-live old pain, so our hyper-awareness kicks in and says:
“Eliminate that person, don’t give that person a chance.” And we ruin relationships and, moreover, keep the pain as a reminder that we must once again be hyper aware for the next possible threat to come down the pike.
And this leads us to the path we’re taking today. Presence is something that, if you get it, your past hurts and future worries will simply dissolve. Having the realization that I did, that not all people who drink are dangerous, is helping me shift into a new space. I didn’t even realize this was in me until something triggered it very recently. After I got triggered, all my perceptions changed. The person who triggered me wasn’t acting any differently than before, but I started to perceive everything this person did as a threat, and I wanted to get away.
It took me about an hour to realize what was happening. The person wasn’t even drinking, but something about their behavior triggered a defense mechanism in me, and I found myself judging everything that came out of their mouth from that point on. Once a judgment kicks in, for any of us, we put on our filtering lenses and see the world through an entirely new set of glasses. This gives us a skewed view of reality and takes us out of the present moment.
This is pretty deep stuff, because we don’t know how much we’re filtering the world until we are able to step out of our filters and see the reality all around us.
For me, the triggers of other people drinking or talking about alcohol are diminishing. But triggers hang out in the depths of our subconscious minds, just waiting to be activated. You could go thirty years and never once get triggered, then one day, one person does something that reminds you of a previous pain, and you jump into hyper awareness mode, you might become judgmental and you might even get away from the situation, but you are now filtering what’s coming at you just in case.
Don’t get me wrong, you could be absolutely right that there’s a threat there. But there’s a fine line between immediately assessing something as a threat, and just being aware of behavior. One will close your mind, the other will keep it open. One will completely alter your your perception and the other will make you fine tune your perception.
These tiny nuances that filter our realities determine whether we are living with presence, or experiencing the world through old triggers and patterns. Patterns exist to protect us to remind us of what keeps us alive and comfortable. But they can also be old, and no longer useful, keeping us worrying about now and the future.
This is when we need to distinguish what constitutes a good, useful pattern, or an outdated, un-useful one. Once we have the capacity to determine the difference, then we can start making clearer decisions and being happier more often than not.
The end result of determining which patterns from the past are good and which are bad is a happier, more worry-free future. If you are able to figure out the old, un-useful patterns that dictate your perceptions, and subsequently stop letting them control your state, then worry and anxiety about the future can all but disappear. Well, not completely, but at least most of the consistent worrying or anxiety.
Everyone is different, and we all have different things that come up in our lives. But perhaps after today, you’ll have developed a perception that allows you to come back to now and be in a moment, instead of allowing a past hurt or future worry to cloud your mind.
My father once told me, “Never fall in love with a car.” He spouted it as if this was wisdom passed down through the ages. The truth was, he had been through enough of them where his advice came from a lot of experience owning cars.
So my first car was a crappy little 4 door Toyota from 1970 something. I bought it for $500, and I still remember the way it smelled even today. The interior had a funny, but distinct, old smell that never went away. I didn’t fall in love with that car. My friend bought it off me, and he eventually abandoned it somewhere. Not exactly what I would have done, but at least it wasn’t in my name anymore.
Then I upgraded to an AMC hornet or something. It was a crappy, old station wagon. I don’t even remember how long I had it, but it got me to school and other places, so it worked for me.
After that car, I got my muscle car. It was a 1969 Mercury Cougar. This was the car that changed my life. Owning this car, driving it around, was the coolest feeling, and helped me become more confident and outgoing than ever. I talk more about how that car transformed me in the self-esteem episode, if you want to hear more.
After I sold that, I ended up with a some larger cars that I felt more comfortable in. Over the years, car after car has entered and exited my life. I’ve actually had more cars than relationships now, so when I think back to my dad’s advice, I totally get what he means now.
But it wasn’t until I bought my Chrysler Concorde where I actually fell in love with a car for the first time. Oh God, sorry if this sounds like a commercial, but it’s not. Actually, you’ll soon realize it’s not a commercial after you hear what I have to say about it. Let alone, I don’t think they make Concordes anymore.
Anyway, I saw this car on eBay and was like, “Wow, that looks like an Aston Martin from the front. Cool!” This was in the late 90s when I was still into highly ego-driven decisions. But, the car was amazing, because it had a lot of room, which is especially good for a tall guy like me. And, it had leather interior, which just lasts longer and is more comfortable in my opinion. The whole car was just gorgeous and I had to have it.
I saw that where the car was being sold was only a few hours away, so I felt comfortable bidding on it and if I won, could personally pick it up. The last minutes of the auction were intense. Then the last few seconds, the high bid was going higher and higher, until Boom! The bidding stopped at $7700. I started to breathe again, and my heart rate slowed.
I don’t know why I was so tense, but I was glad it was over and I could now go pick up my new, used car.
My then girlfriend and I drove up north a few hours and arrived at this car wholesaler. I gave it a test drive, and everything seemed in order. I paid him, he gave me the title, we shook hands, and I drove off, with my girlfriend driving behind me.
Well, about a mile down the road, the air conditioning stopped working. Instead of opening the hood, I decided to drive back and see if he could check it out. He did say if anything goes wrong in the first few days to simply let him know because he had a mechanic. But I’m sure he wasn’t expecting to see me only five minutes after I left!
But I pulled in, told him the deal, and being a man of his word, he over delivered and told me to leave the car with him, while I drive off in a loaner. He actually replaced the air compressor at no extra cost to me. I was amazed, and was certainly grateful for his integrity. We drove back a few days later, me driving the loaner, my girlfriend driving behind in her car, I picked up the now-repaired car, and again, we drove off.
The car ran great… for a few weeks. Then it had a problem with the transmission. And, a garage checked it out and gave me a quote for $1000. I was like, “Damn! This isn’t good.” So I wrote the guy back again, this time realizing he may not be so accommodating. You know the rules when you buy a used car… once you leave the lot, it’s all on you. But, I thought I’d give it a shot and tell him what was wrong. Also, I asked him if he’d be willing to go half with me on the cost of repair.
Again, a man of integrity, he said, bring it up to my shop, and I’ll split the cost with you. And again, I was floored that someone was willing to keep working with me.
So, about $500 later, I had a $1000 worth of repairs done, and I was off again.
That’s how my relationship with this car started. Then, every few months or so, I would need something to get something done to it at the garage. And soon, a pattern was forming. I noticed that every time it needed something, it cost me about $1000 each time. And it needed at least two things a year.
But I loved this car. I loved it! Big interior, drove like a dream. I installed a nice stereo in it, and enjoyed picking people up because the inside was just so damn beautiful. So, even though it broke down every 4 to 6 months or so, I figured I could afford it so I’ll just keep investing into it. After all, every new part I put in is a part I don’t have to worry about anymore.
Of course, the only problem with that logic is that there are thousands of parts on a car, so that kind of thinking cost me lots. But, I loved that car… and because of that, I always worried about it. I always feared it was going to break down. My love for something that was guaranteed to fail, over and over again, was weighing down on me. But when it was good, it was really good!
But, it kept leaving me stranded. It kept making promises it couldn’t keep. I’m exaggerating a little of course, but you get what I mean. The mechanic would give it a clean bill of health, then something would go wrong once again (are you convinced this isn’t a commercial now? ha ha). This car was simply too unstable and too unpredictable. It made me bi-polar in a way. I could be so happy and comfortable one moment, then so fearful and worried the next.
Loving this car was keeping me from enjoying life, at least on a consistent basis. The past with this car was clear evidence of what the future would be. There was no doubt that I would continue having problems, and continue worrying about it.
And I think God or the Universe knew this somehow, because it finally died that day in Flagstaff, Arizona a 1000 miles from home. And I loved that car so much, I didn’t want to let it go.
But I did. And from that point on, I was able to be present. I loved that car, even though time and time again it proved to me it was untrustworthy and sucking the energy out of me. And when it died, the part of me that was so dependent on “things” died too. And that is when I learned about presence, and what it takes to really experience the now.
What is in your life that has proven over and over again that it will disappoint you? What’s in your life that you are just waiting for it to break or explode once again? What are you “in love with”, either metaphorically or for real, that you know will eventually bring you down once again?
Let’s dive in headfirst and find out where the heck I’m going with all this.
I created the polarity in my life by keeping something in it that I knew would let me down over and over again. I relied on hope and a bit of fantasy thinking that ‘this time, my car is going to stay fixed for a long time.’ And each breakdown was another letdown.
But, after four and a half years of ownership, and thousands upon thousands of dollars of repairs, I let it go.
When you can remove the known breakdowns in your life, you remove the polarity. After I let go of that car, I got used to public transportation and sharing a vehicle with my girlfriend. And soon, I had absolutely no worries! I did this for years, simply because not having a vehicle was more peaceful than having one.
I knew public transportation would always be there for me. I knew my girlfriend’s much more stable and functional car would be there for me. And, I knew I could use my bicycle if I really had to.
Life, at least as far as car ownership was concerned, was good! I got used to not having a car. At the same time, I was saving up for a much more reliable vehicle in the future. But most importantly, I eliminated, whether voluntarily or not, what was a known stressor in my life. When that car broke down in Arizona, it brought peace in more ways than one.
That is one of the ways you can learn presence in your life: Get rid of the known breakdowns. Get away from the frustrations, or finally get that washer fixed so you don’t have to worry about it every time you use it. Do whatever it takes to remove known problems. You know… get closure! Close the door on problems by solving them.
I watched my mom struggle for months every time a website would ask her for her username and password. She usually saw that those fields were already populated. You know, you see a bunch of asterisks in there and all you have to do is click Submit, and you’re in the site!
Well, every now and then, a site would conveniently “forget” what she had in there, so it showed her two blank fields. And, since she has a different username and password for every site she needs one for, she got totally confused when there were two blank fields.
My mom is admittedly easily confused. I watched her dial a phone number a couple days ago and get totally frustrated after hitting a wrong button. It was something we might all do on a daily basis. We miss a key, or press the wrong one, so we start over. But to her, it’s definitely a bigger deal. She gets overwhelmed easily, and is actually a little fearful sometimes dealing with any kind of technology.
There are some people in the world that simply cannot get used to the automations we have in place today. My mom has learned quite a bit, but still gets easily confused if it’s not very simple. A rotary telephone was a simple technology. You put your finger in a hole, then turn a dial, wait for the dial to return, then repeat with a new number. It was slow, but it was extremely methodical in the sense that it made you time things according to the dial’s return speed.
Today though, we can dial faster because we don’t have to wait. So sometimes we dial too fast and our smartphones can’t keep up. Or if you dial too slow, it times out. There are more frustrations that could occur, so because of that, some people are intimidated. They want simpler.
That’s my mom. She loves simple. And, I don’t blame her! She got used to using eBay, so now has a system. So as long as she never has to visit another website, she’s happy! So, she stays within her parameters, and makes the best of things.
She doesn’t get out of her comfort zone if she doesn’t have to. But, my point with my mom wasn’t about websites, it was about passwords and usernames! Sorry, I digressed a little. The point I was trying to make was that when she was presented with a blank username and password field, she would flip through about 20 or 30 different pieces of paper on her desk, looking for her not very well written notes to find the exact information she needed.
Almost every time this happened, where a website forgot her username and password, it was an ordeal. It would drive her crazy, and she always feared that her account would be blocked if she got it wrong. Time and time again, going through all these different sized pieces of paper. Some ripped, some half sheets… just random sheets of paper!
So I finally said, “Why don’t you put all your usernames and passwords on one sheet?” She looked totally confused on how to do that, so I made her a spreadsheet that I printed on paper and gave it to her. It kind of confused her at first, probably because it was actually organized (ha ha!), but within a day or two, when she needed to figure out her username and password for another site, she reached for that sheet of paper, and her problems about usernames and passwords went away.
That’s it! They were gone! She could stop worrying about them because she eliminated, well, I helped her eliminate, a known stressor in her life. By keeping all her information on that one spreadsheet, she could easily reference it.
It’s not that she’s not smart enough, it’s that she didn’t even know it was possible. I did, so I helped her. And that has been a good step for her moving into a place where she’s no longer worrying about the future. That stressor doesn’t exist anymore, because all of the information is on one page that’s easily accessible.
I always do this whenever I work. I create quick reference guides that have walk-throughs on all my processes until I know them so well, I no longer need them.
What are your known stressors, and can you get rid of them? Can you pay someone to get rid of them? Now, I’m not talking about paying someone to get rid of a person. Let’s just be clear about this! Although, if you have a person that you cannot work things out with and continues to be a stressor, there are steps you can take to get out of that situation. It’s a matter of taking the steps to make it happen.
But that is one of the first things you need to do to start your journey to presence. You aren’t going to be able to get rid of everything. And you know what happens when you can’t get rid of something right? When you need to deal with something no matter what, you have to accept it the way it is. If you can’t change it, you accept it. Or, at least accept that there’s nothing you can do about it. And if there is something you can do about it, then do it.
When you can accept what you can’t change, you let go of the resistance, and therefore, the suffering.
Of course, if you can change it, then even better. Removing the breakdowns, or known stressors from your life, is a step towards presence, but it’s not the key to presence. After all, we live in a chaotic world, and stressors are all around us! They challenge us, and dare us to be better than yesterday. They are helpful, and can also be harmful. It’s a matter of shifting into someone you need to be in order to deal with the regular stress we’re all exposed to everyday! Whether it’s traffic, coworkers, customers, relatives, physical exertion, or any of a number of things. The stressors are here to stay. It’s us who has to evolve and adapt in order to find presence in a world like this.
But it’s absolutely possible. Making your life easier by getting rid of the unnecessary stressors is one path towards presence. But there’s more of course. And that’s where I want to head next.
Here’s a practice in presence. It’s something I just recently talked about in another episode, so I’ll briefly cover it here, and this is to focus on your external senses only. What you see, what you hear, what you feel, smell and even taste. If you narrow your focus to only those external senses, your attention moves from inside of you, to outside of you.
Now, when you take 30 seconds to do this, you can notice a difference typically right away. If you have trouble doing this, simply focus on one sense and get the most from that. The idea is to simply sense. When I focus on my sense of smell, I can distinguish and identify at least two or three smells. When I focus on my hearing, I hear all sorts of things, well, not while I’m recording this show, but just yesterday I sat outside and heard the wind, the birds, crickets, cars driving by, a plane in the distance, a chainsaw in the distance, wind chimes, and even more. I was kind of surprised how many different sounds I could hear. By the end, it was like a meditation because I had focused solely on what I could hear and not anything else. I didn’t go back in my mind and think things like, “Oh, I was on a plane once!” or, “those wind chimes sound pleasant!” All I did was listen just to find out what I could hear.
Now, here’s the part that gets tricky for some people. Once you’ve done this a few times and get the hang of it, take that same external focus and apply it in your conversations with people.
Just imagine being able to talk to someone where you don’t do any, what I call, internalizing. Internalizing is when you take what you sense externally, and bring that information into your mind to be compared and filtered through your own ethics, values, and beliefs.
In other words, judgment. It’s when you judge what you experience. For instance, if you and I were in a conversation, and you told me that your dog died. I could have one of several responses. I could immediately take that information and “try it on” myself. In the sense that, I could remember an animal of mine dying, and suddenly feel empathic towards you. Or, I could immediately have a thought about how you could have prevented your dog from dying. Or I could project how I believe you might feel about the situation, and become sad or any of a number of other emotions because of it.
In those three example responses, I internalized what you were saying, instead of listening without judgment. I was judging by pushing your story through my own filters. Another way to look at it, is as soon as you form your own opinion on what someone tells you, you are internalizing. And when you share what you internalized with the other person, you are no longer as present. You went inside to process what they said, taking you out of the present moment, then came back to express your internal thoughts to them.
It might be a little whacky to think this way, or even comprehend how it’s possible to not form thoughts as you listen to someone, but let me give you a method that works really well, if you want to try this out.
Bringing presence into a moment, or even your life is possible when you come from a place of curiosity, instead of judgment or evaluation. You can do this by not forming your own conclusions or accessing your own feelings about what you’re experiencing.
But how do you do that? I mean, is it even possible to experience the world without internalizing it and forming our own thoughts and opinions about what’s happening? It took me about a year or so to really get this, so I’ll do my best to share with you what I do.
The first step is outer sensory awareness like I mentioned earlier. Before you get into a conversation, practice focusing on your external senses, even if just one or two of them. Notice what that’s like. Take that feeling of presence into a conversation now. When you’re talking to someone, be present in that way, just focusing outside of your mind, and on your environment.
Now, when you have a conversation, someone will bring up all kinds of subjects that may elicit emotion from you. Their pet dying, someone cutting them off in traffic, they made a bad investment, a whole slew of things that you might immediately relate to.
But here’s the trick, instead of internalizing and thinking about how those same things happened to you, turn your focus into wanting to know more about what they are talking about. Really hone and just listen to what they’re saying. Show intense curiosity about their story. Act as if you’ve never heard of what they’re talking about and have them expound on the topic as much as possible.
The key is to stay outside of your mind, where all those judgments take place. And stay focused on the person, as if you are there only as a sounding board, not as an adviser.
A good example of this is when I was in IT working on the computers at this bank one day. One of the bankers told me that she actually dreamed of killing people in various ways. I’m pretty sure I told this story before, but it’s the perfect example.
So, I focused on her, and wanted her to know that I was really listening to her. She said she had different dreams with different scenarios of how she would kill people. In one dream, she’d hide in the closet and pop out at them. In another, she’d follow them in a car and wait for them to park somewhere. She had some very vivid, detailed dreams.
So, normally, when you internalize something like that, the first thing that may come to mind is, “Oh my God, you’re sick. You need to get therapy right away!” but I don’t typically go there when talking to someone.
What I did was say the following. “Wow, that’s absolutely fascinating. Do you know these people you are killing? Do you find it exhilarating or scary? Tell me more!”
I approached her story with intense curiosity, as if she just told me she won the lottery. This is a non-judgmental space to be in, when you can turn off your own opinions about someone else’s story.
So when I said that to her, she looked at me funny and said, “You’re the first person I’ve ever told that to that didn’t tell me I was crazy.”
You should have seen her body language just completely relax. She became more open, and was able to freely express herself even more now that she knew I wasn’t reacting hysterically to what might be shocking information to some people.
And I continued to listen as she described these things. Some of you may be thinking, “Yeah, but she obviously needs help.” Again, whether that’s true or not doesn’t matter, it’s your judgment that is trying to filter the content you are hearing. Your judgment is coming to conclusions. That’s one thing that always gets us, we come to conclusions!
So, without forming a conclusion myself, I then asked her, “Why do think you have these dreams? What do you think they mean?”
Again, intense curiosity. And also notice that I am more interested in the story she is telling, as if she were unraveling the plot to a great mystery, than I am my own thoughts about the story she is telling.
She answered, “Well, I’m going to school to study criminology and I read a lot of books about serial killers. As I read them, I pretend I am the killer and try to figure out why I’d do things in a certain way, and what would motivate me to kill. I’ve learned a lot by role modeling in this way. So in my dreams, it’s like I get a chance to act it out to get into the head of the killer.”
When I heard this, it all made sense! I didn’t form my own conclusions about her story and just let her continue telling it as if everything she said was perfectly fine with me. I’m not there to judge her or give her advice, I’m there to listen and let her express freely.
This is presence. When you can be there for someone to allow them to express anything they want, where they have no fear expressing the worst of the worst, and you don’t come back with any sort of shock or surprise or fear or anger, but instead intense curiosity for what they’re saying, and want to know more, you are being present.
It’s not full presence without ego, but it is presence. But, I don’t believe in getting rid of the ego because it comes in handy for things like motivation and being active and productive. But this is still being present. It’s a break from your own thoughts, to really allow others the freedom and safety to express theirs.
In the end, this banker really appreciated our conversation, and actually felt so much better that someone supported her instead of thinking she was crazy.
And let me tell you a benefit of being present with people that may not be immediately apparent. When you don’t react, but just respond with curiosity without judgment, you empower the person to figure out if they themselves need help or advice.
In other words, when we stand back and listen instead of giving our advice when it’s not asked for, we empower them to ask for it, or let them figure out if they even need it.
Some people, when you give them advice, will resent or rebel against it, and never follow it. But by allowing them to be who they are and express freely, they may actually ask you for your advice or opinion. At that point, the door is open for you to share what you think.
I’d still be careful not to judge what you hear, and I would approach some things more cautiously than others, but when they ask for advice, that’s usually the best time to offer your thoughts and opinions.
Now how can you be present when someone tells you a story about you? What happens if they want to express their anger or resentment towards you? What then? Can you stay present? It is harder, but you can with practice. Let’s talk about that next.
I learned one of the biggest lessons in interpersonal communications when I was married. And that was to allow your partner to express anything they want, even if it was about you. Not only that, but not be triggered by it either.
If you can sit across from someone while they say how much of a problem you are, and you act intensely curious and want to hear more, without having an emotional reaction, that is the ultimate test in presence.
After all, if your partner yells at you and tells you how pathetic you are, will you be able stay focused on them and their needs? If you can do this, you will have a much better relationship. Because after someone is able to express freely without you reacting to what they said, they will start to feel safer around you, and typically become more calm and less emotional over time.
Now, that’s not always true. I know someone who did this, and the person they were with saw their patience and non-reactionary position as permission to be even more aggressive and manipulative. That’s because they were that type of person to begin with.
Either way though, you’re better off staying focused on them and their need to express than you and your need to defend. If you can listen to your partner tell you, “You are always criticizing me and making me feel bad” without reacting offensively, then you will surprise them, and allow them to feel safer. They may not feel safer immediately, as it does take time, but it will allow them to vent and get it out of their system.
By being present for someone, even when they are talking about you, you create the ultimate safe environment. Really, in any relationship, creating a safe environment where both of you are free to express yourselves in any way is the ultimate in freedom. This creates a closer, more bonding experience for the both of you. It does take two though, because once one person gets defensive, the other person closes up a little and can get defensive as well. Unless one of you is cognisant enough to stay present and aware without reacting, you’ll both get sucked into an argument.
I once had a boss discipline me for an inappropriate email I sent to a coworker. It offended this coworker, and he reported me. I was young, in my 20s, and had a more brash sense of humor back then, so I’m certain my email was offensive.
Well, I went into the office, and my boss showed me the email (this was on the internal network, before emails on the internet really went mainstream). He asked me what I had to say about it.
I could have told him one of a thousand stories or excuses, but instead, I stayed present and, instead of saying why I wrote it or what that person misunderstood, I just said, “I’m sorry. It will never happen again.”
His eyes got wide for a second, and he looked surprised that I didn’t say anything else. And he told me, “That’s all I care about.” and that was it! It was done.
I could have reacted or gotten triggered, but I instead chose a productive response. I did this by asking myself one question. And we’ll conclude our discussion with that question next.
Being present, especially in the face of blame, anger or other not so pleasant states, takes practice. It takes slowing down the process between hearing or seeing something, internalizing it so that it goes through the filters in your brain, and responding or reacting to it. This all happens so fast which is why most people think they can’t control it. But, it’s still a sequence, and any sequence of behavior can be altered, if repeated a different way enough times.
If you can catch yourself before you internalize, you will be able to start interrupting the pattern, so that you can change your responses, and be more present.
Again, internalizing is when you take what you experience inside and try it on for yourself. If someone tells you their dog died, and you take that information and remember what it was like when your pet died, you are internalizing things. You are “trying it on”, and forming your own thoughts and opinions on things as if you were experiencing it instead of just listening with intense curiosity.
If you react from something you experience, then you are engaging your emotions. If however, you practice asking yourself a question right before you react, you can start developing more awareness, more control, and especially more presence.
This is tough, it’s no lie. Interrupting the process where you go from experiencing something to reacting to something is a challenge, because it seems instantaneous. But you can break it down into steps, and interrupt those steps repeatedly, until it becomes automatic.
For instance, let’s say someone comes in the house and says, “A tree just fell on your car outside.” Your first thought might be, “What? Oh no, my car!” and you’d run out of the house fearing the worst.
But you can practice asking yourself a question before you react, by thinking about how you reacted last time and slipping that question in there in your mind.
That sounds a little confusing, sorry. Let’s just use the tree example again. Let’s pretend this really happened and that you are recalling a memory right now. In your mind, pretend a week ago, someone ran into your house and told you a tree fell on your car, or your bike if you don’t have a car, or whatever. And let’s say that you did exactly what I said, and yelled, “What? Oh no, my car!” and ran out of the house.
Now, we just created a fake memory, but let’s pretend it’s real. So, in your mind again, go back to the moment someone told you about the tree falling down on your car, and stop… and before you react, ask yourself this question:
“What is the best response for this situation?”
Now you can say, “What? Oh no, my car!”
Now let’s do it again. I promise, this is going somewhere. Remember when that person ran into your house and told you that a tree fell on your car. Now stop…
And ask yourself, “What is the best response for this situation?”
And think about what comes up? Is it to freak out and run? Is it to calmly ask “Is anyone hurt?”, or, “How bad is it?”
This is just practice. The more you repeat this, even with past situations in your mind, the more likely you’ll be able to stop yourself in the future when anyone surprises you with information. You are generating a new pattern simply by replaying scenarios in your head and adding an extra step. This will roll into new situations in the future, giving you an opportunity to choose presence over reactions.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s always a moment that reaction is necessary. If your neighbor is screaming for help, it won’t be helpful to stand there contemplating best responses. You probably need to take action now!
But here’s where presence really takes the stage. The more present you are, the more aware you are of your surroundings. The more aware you are, the more observant and action-oriented you’ll be.
Instead of reacting to things most of the time, you’ll act on things. When you can be present, or what some people refer to as mindful, you are more likely to be available if anything needs attention, instead of wrapped up in thought.
By practicing in your mind asking yourself the question:
“What is the best response for this situation?” before reacting to things, you’ll find your life goes much easier, and that you aren’t bringing drama into it by flying off the handle about things that can be approached with a more level head.
When my boss showed me that email I wrote that offended my coworker, the best response for me was to own it and promise it would never happen again. So as I sat there, reacting in my mind, coming up with a thousand and one excuses, I asked myself, “What do I really want this outcome to be? What would be the best way to respond so I can get closure and get back to work?”
The answer was to just apologize and make sure I never did that again. So that’s what I did. And it turned out to be a good response!
Of course, you may not know the best response for every situation, but at least with presence, you’re more likely going to come from a place of authenticity and practicality, over an emotional and irrational place
Now, that’s easier said than done I realize, because we all have triggers inside of us. Especially if you let the conversation get heated. And that’s the first clue that you are losing presence, when you feel yourself getting slightly agitated or upset.
Presence slips away when negative emotions appear
Hopefully, you’re practicing awareness outside of your mind, and on your senses so that you won’t be totally consumed by your negative emotions, but really, it’s gonna happen to all of us.
I was once told by an emergency room nurse about something awful someone did to a five year old girl. To stay present in the face of such evil takes an enormous amount of willpower and determination. To not go inside and think about what you’d do to that person who could do things like that to a child, or even become very sad about her emotional and physical pain, takes a lot of continuous practice being present.
But, it can be done. It’s just something you have to practice. And the more you do, the more you don’t let life get to you. Having emotional reactions to offensive or even terrible things puts you in a less productive, less empowering place. It’s not that you’re apathetic, in fact, if anything, you’re more compassionate, because you are more aware of the needs of others, and not wrapped up in your own emotional turmoil.
It doesn’t mean you have to be present all the time. But being present, or mindful, or in the now, gives you clarity. And when you have clarity, you have no past hurts or future worries. You have now. And that’s all we ever really have anyway.
Here’s a quick summary of what we talked about:
1. When you can remove the known breakdowns, or the stressors in your life, you remove the polarity. What in your life is a known stress time after time? Is it that damn remote control you can’t figure out? Is it that loose step in front of your house that nearly kills you every time? Whatever it is, find a solution! Take the time to fix the problem, whether you have to learn a new skill, pay someone to fix a problem, or whatever. The daily happenings of life can bring us down or rise us up. A repetitive problem continues to chip away at your happiness, so do whatever you can to fix it.
And, if it simply cannot be fixed or removed from your life, then fully accept that it is something permanent in your life. Once you accept something, you no longer resist it. And, you simply become happier whether it exists or not!
2. Focus on your external senses only. What you see, hear, feel, smell and taste. When you do this, you have what’s known as a sensory experience. You are present because you aren’t in your mind, you’re in the world. The world can happen all around you, and you are experiencing it without your history filtering the experience.
Your history is everything you know. When you experience the world without comparing it to everything you know, you are present and aware. You are in the now. It takes practice, but 30 seconds at a time, and soon you’ll be doing it automatically.
3. Don’t internalize what others are saying. In other words, stay intensely curious about them and what they’re talking about. Stay outside of your mind. If they talk about bad news, don’t go inside and feel bad about it yourself, stay present with them and ask questions to help them explore it in themselves. Make the conversation about the other person, not about you.
Another trick you can do to help you stay present is to watch their body language while they talk. Notice how they move their eyes, and their hands, or how they tilt their head. There are so many subtleties you can observe to help you be present, which allows you to be there for them, listening and showing them that you are someone safe to tell anything to. How safe do other people feel with you? When you aren’t reacting to their stories, and are just there to listen, you become safe You become someone that they can depend on to not overreact. You aren’t going, “Oh my God, you dream that you kill people! Are you sick!?” But instead act curious and let them express what they are expressing.
It doesn’t mean that there aren’t psychotic people in the world that you have to watch out for, but as long as your present, you’ll be more aware when those people are around you.
4. Stay away from conclusions. You will immediately jump out of presence when you jump to conclusions. “Oh no, a tree fell on my car? It’s probably totalled!” is a conclusion. It could be right. Or, there could be a branch that fell and did no damage. By not jumping to conclusions, you allow yourself to stay focused and aware.
This is really great for control freaks. If you consider yourself a control freak, be present. And don’t blame me when after you practice presence a while, your need to control disappears on its own.
5. Ask yourself, “What is the best response for this situation?” This will help you break the pattern of reacting, and especially, overreacting. You can practice this by thinking about past situations where you might have overreacted. Think about the moment before your reaction, then ask yourself, “What the best response for this situation?” and wait for the answer. Then respond.
This is all in your mind of course, but believe it or not, you’re developing a pattern. Then, after some practice, and you come into a real situation where you may just find yourself coming to a stop… then thinking of a better way to respond. And you will amaze even yourself!
When it comes down to all this presence stuff, you don’t have to do it 24 hours a day. But the more you practice, the less the past matters, and the less the future concerns you. Life still goes on, of course. You need to earn a living, you need to support others if you have a family, you need to plan for your future, or at least, tomorrow. The world still runs, but you become more of an active participant instead of a passive follower, always waiting to react.
When you’re active, you’re present. You’re aware, and ready to act, because you’re aware. When you’re in your head, you’re letting thoughts change your state and your mood. And you’re allowing the past to dictate how you feel about the future.
Yes, there are hurts in your past, and there are things that are yet to happen in your future. Believe me, that’s why this show is here! I’ve been through a lot, you’ve been through a lot.
Practicing presence means being conscious of what is – here and now.
And here’s a quick, 10 second presence walk-through. Listen closely to the sound of my voice. Really listen. And as you listen, notice if you can hear the subtle differences in the volume, the location, whether my voice is over here, or over here, and when you hear my voice slowing down, it allows you to be even more present and more aware of what’s going on right here, and right now.
Isn’t that a wonderful place? Right here, and right now? I think so. And you can choose to stay present if you want, but I need to make sure that you come back so I can finish the show! So stay present as I wrap things up. Because the here and now will always be here. But the show’s gotta end sometime. So let’s take that step!
Before we wrap up the show, I want to share a personal shift I’m going through. Not just the one I shared at the beginning, where I am working through the triggers of people drinking around me, but a second shift that I did not expect to happen.
Last week I talked about Fran and her generous donation to the show when she sent a check out of the blue. The amount doesn’t matter, whether it was ten thousand dollars or a dollar, it was the fact that someone appreciated what I’m doing so much that they actually took the time to thank me.
Time. Time is the most precious commodity we have. It is what can never be repeated, or returned. Where you invest your time is where you end up in life. Where you invest your time is what determines your outcomes. That’s why every decision matters. That’s why every moment, every now matters.
Everything we do has time in the equation. Even now, the time you take to listen to me is time that could be spent anywhere else, but you’ve chosen to invest your time into the show.
This concept of you, as an individual person with your own life and history and family and friends, who wanted to invest your time with me, wasn’t immediately understood by me. I mean, on this end, I see statistics. I see numbers that tell me how many times the show is downloaded, and how many countries are listening. I see facts, but I don’t see your face or hear your voice.
But, I know in my heart and mind that people are getting a lot from this show. And more people are tuning in every day. So that is how I gauge whether the show is actually helpful to people.
Like, when I started getting thank you letters, I was blown away. This allowed me to connect with people on a more personal level, and read their stories of transformation and growth.
And just recently, for some reason, people are donating to the show. I don’t know why now, or what cosmic dance is taking place, but right now, the show seems to really be making an impact in people’s lives.
A few months ago is when I started getting really serious about what I’d talk about. And one of the underlying themes for every show is taking steps along the path to happiness. I call it a journey to a stress-free life. When I started focusing on that, the show became what it is today.
So maybe this focus, helped shape what it is now. And, your letters have helped shape what I talk about. And now, your donations are helping shape it as well. Everything counts and every moment matters.
Don’t worry, I’m not turning this show into a pledge machine. I won’t ask you to send anything. All I want is for you to have an amazing life, and I’ll do everything I know to do to make that happen.
So the shift I am going through has to do with becoming the person I need to be to accept everything that is happening to me and the show. I am learning to grow into the person who is able to feel worthy to accept your supportive letters, and quite frankly, your supportive dollars.
Yes, I thought I was so worthy until someone paid me to do this show. When I found out people were actually using my Amazon link, I was actually quite shocked. Then when the first check arrived, I realized I had a lot more growth to go through.
So my shift is occurring and I will step into my worthiness, because I know it’s in there. I just thought I was already there. Funny how sometimes others can see what’s in us more than we can see it in ourselves.
Thank you for giving me this opportunity to serve you. I couldn’t be more blessed that you are in my life.
I thank Tim, Chelsea, Keith, Holly and Darcy this week. And I especially thank you Liz for your generous donation. You actually forced me to put a Donate button on my site (top right), something I never thought I’d do in a million years! Well, you didn’t force me, but I appreciate you giving me the boost I need to make it happen. And if I didn’t call your name, just know that I appreciate you and thank you for being there for me, listening, learning, and growing.
Keep up with the show by signing up for your weekly personal growth message here!
I want to thank the many listeners who are using the link theoverwhelmedbrain.com/amazon. If you find this show valuable to you, just say Thank You, by using that link before you make a purchase. You are making a difference. And, it’s going towards a good cause: You.
The present moment isn’t tomorrow, it isn’t yesterday, it’s now. Right here, right now. This is presence, as if time didn’t exist. When you are present, you are enlightened. Yes, I said it. When you are present, you are enlightened. So just imagine those 30 seconds you take to practice presence. Each and every time, you experience those tiny moments of enlightenment.
And don’t worry if you don’t feel it at first. Life is practice. Presence is practice. The journey is the purpose. Practice enough and life lets you go so that you can live it freely.
I believe in you. You are worthy and can do anything you set your mind to. You have a light inside of you that shines brightly. And when you let it glow, others will see the person you’ve always wanted to show the world. And when that happens, you’ll soon realize the truth, that you are amazing.
What a timely episode for me, Paul! I’ve been putting one foot in the past a little and the other in the future rather than being present in the now. Thanks for the reminder, your great stories and the instructions, too!
I think it’s a great idea to know your past and be aware of your future, but be present to the world today, even if that means preparing for your future (or getting beyond your past).
Thank you so much for your amazing comment Maritza!
Great episode, Paul! Asking oneself “What is the best response for this situation?” does really work and can help to keep you in focus again on things. Great reminders and tips! 🙂 Truly Amazing!
Thank you so much Justin! Love that you get it. I appreciate your comment very much.
“Any behavior we compare to our own standards is a judgment.” That really hit home with me and made me start to think about how I judge others and how that stops me from staying present with them in the moment. Powerful stuff!
Thank you Charlie! I still check in with myself on that too. I appreciate your comment. 🙂
I see this happening so much in marriages. The experiences of another relationship can get between two people currently in love and innocent of behaviors perhaps experienced before. I really believe this is a major daily vitamin for the longterm success of relationships. 🙂
It’s hard to be present with so much history. The history is what gets us! Old triggers, old pains… Presence can seem harder when there are so many old triggers. There’s so much more to say on this, but I’ll leave that for the show. Thanks so much for your comment!
WOW! Love the emphasis on Presence. Again I know keep talking about my kids, but that is a big issue for my daughter who suffers from Anxiety. She can’t bring her mind into the present to get rid of those ‘bad thoughts’. We are trying some recommended exercises, but it’s a constant struggle.
I may actually do an episode on anxiety soon, so stay tuned! In the meantime, I really enjoy this exercise: Think of what you’re anxious about. Now, think about 10 minutes after the successful completion of whatever it is you’re anxious about, and notice if there’s a difference in how you feel.
Just for fun 😉
Being present in the moment and not focusing on the past or the future is always key. There are only so many things that you can control in life… and the one thing you can control is being present in the moment. Thank you for sharing your personal experiences.
I think you meant, “There are so many things you *can’t* control in life” and that is a great perspective. Present moment is full control of self, and it makes life a lot easier! Thank you for your comment Anthony.
Being present, is difficult, but I find that for me often playing music helps. With what you were saying about staying away from conclusions, I think it is really important to know what is an observation and what is an inference. Then we know what is true and what is merely conjecture.
Wow, that’s an excellent comment! Thank you for that perspective. And, I agree, playing music brings me into the present moment as well. Great add, thank you!