Practicing Presence in Relationships

Presence is an important value of mine. I try to practice it in every aspect of my life – not just in meditation or similar activities. One major opportunity I discovered a few years ago is in relationships. Presence in relationships cultivates connection – which research indicates is a key factor for well-being.

In my relationships, I continue to realize how often I am NOT present – and what it’s costing me. It looks something like this: I see someone I know walking down the street, and I look down and away so I can avoid talking to them and get on with whatever I’m doing. Or I get to my office and say “Hi, how ya doin’?” to my coworker, without actually pausing and giving them my attention. Or, heaven forbid I actually get involved in a conversation, I just go through the motions and all my attention is focused on getting out of there ASAP.

The core issue in all these scenarios is that I’m focused on something outside of the present moment. I’m grasping so desperately for the destination that I view the journey as a nuisance. Every time I repeat this pattern, it is strengthened. I’d prefer to strengthen the intertwined muscles of presence and connection.

So what I’ve been trying to do is simple (trying is the key word – mostly failing).  If I find myself in conversation with someone, I give them 100% of my attention. I stop whatever else I may be doing. I make eye contact. I listen, and respond authentically and appropriately.  When I attempt to do this, my first response is to feel uncomfortable and awkward. I’m doing something I’m not used to, so this is to be expected. If I get over the discomfort, I feel warmth and connection.  I create and deepen meaningful relationships. I learn things about myself and the person I’m talking to.

Some people do this naturally – my roommate is one example. Just the other night as I was making dinner, he was on his way out the door to meet a friend. We had yet to have a conversation of any substance that day, and even though he had already opened the door to leave and was carrying two bags of stuff, he came to a complete stop and asked me how my day was. His intention to leave the apartment got put on hold completely in order to talk with me, and I felt no sense that this was a perfunctory conversation.

I was in the middle of something and not even facing him when he started talking to me. But I was moved by the attention he was giving me. I put down my box of mac & cheese and turned to look at him, and we had a nice conversation for a few minutes before we both got back to what we were doing. It quenched my needs for connection, being cared about, and friendship. It felt warm, touching, inspiring.

I aim to have more moments like that one. What’s your experience with connection?  Are you a natural, or is this something you want to work on?

This post has focused mainly on my experience of connection, but this world is about more than me – and connection can be too. I’d like to write more about that in another post.  I began to understand the importance of connection and how to practice it by studying Nonviolent Communication. Ask me about it, or read more here.

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