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How to Be Present in Your Life and Relationship

Many people, both famous and obscure, have written about having an enlightenment experience. In describing this, being present is always mentioned, so it is easy to infer that it too requires some great epiphany.

Yet being present is not that inaccessible, and to see why, it helps to look at its contrasts, the past and the future. Even primitive species incorporate these. Learning what plants are bitter or what insects are dangerous incorporates the past as memory. Catching prey by anticipating its path is to model the future.

With the advent of the fore-brain and language, our mental models of the past and the future have allowed us unprecedented control over the natural world, and our thoughts operate like an additional sense about the world, one that sometimes disagrees with our existing senses. No, the sun does not move across the sky. No, lead pipes are not a good plumbing choice.

These dual and frequently dueling perceptions are why we are so often conflicted. Our fore-brains speak to us in one language, while our older animal intuitions, incorporating millennia of experience, speak to us in a completely different language, that of the body and the senses. Being present simply means listening to that language as well.

It’s impossible to shut the fore-brain up entirely. Instead, realize that there are two conversations going on simultaneously, and just like at a party, you can choose which conversation to listen to.

Being present with someone means giving them your full attention; not just their words, but their tone of voice, their stance, their hesitations and where they look and how they fidget. Remember, these cues are non-verbal, you are absorbing holistic information –don’t try to break it down with your thought mind. Sure, you can find words to categorize them and pass them to your fore-brain, but this is a different form of knowledge, just as hearing a bird and seeing a bird are two different things.

We often cannot see what is in front of our eyes until it is pointed out. The message of our senses exists but is usually drowned out by our brain loudly giving its opinion. Learn to distinguish the two voices and use them both. When you pay attention in this way, you are not formulating a response to what the person is saying, you are not passing judgments on them, you are potentially ego-less. You are there with your full self, absorbing all that you can of the other.

When you give your full attention to someone, they feel heard and seen, and they will offer more of themselves; they feel less defensive, more accepted and they most often share more intimacy. This pulls you both into the present and creates the possibility of an adventure, of something creative and new, something that exists only in the present.

When you can take this level of attention into the world, whether it be to nature, your coffee shop, or your relationship, there is the possibility of slipping the bonds of ego, of escaping your identity, of being, even if only for a moment, a part of that landscape. In that very real sense, you are being here now.

This appears on our blog, too, and we would love your feedback in a comment there. Phil reads this out loud here. For those of you who enjoy listening to audio, our book "How Two: Have a Successful Relationship" will be out in audio soon.

Successful Relationship Reading Corner


In this week's blog, we wrote about how to be present in your life and relationship. Here are some interesting perspectives on presence.

Freedom Is Being Present "We live two lives: we live life in our thoughts and we live life as our experience of the present moment. Freedom comes as our life in thoughts diminishes and our experience of the present moment predominates. Freedom comes through learning how to balance thoughts and the present moment. We developed the ability to think abstractly only about 70,000 - 95,000 years ago. Apparently the part of life we live 'in our head' today simply did not exist before that time, and instead human life was solely a series of immediate experiences, like the lives of other creatures."

Mindfulness in relationships "For many of us our ideas of love and relationships are formed from a young age, what we observe in our environment; namely our parents or guardians, to when we mature and begin to read novels and catch a glimpse of The Notebook. We see people around us talk about their feelings, emotions, hope and dreams and we start to dream that maybe some day we too might experience something similar. Our ideas mix with our delusions and get stirred by our beliefs to concoct a recipe of an ideal relationship with an ideal partner. An idea many of us again, rarely shake."

How Mindfulness Can Save Your Relationship "Mindfulness practice doesn’t just enhance our individual well-being. In fact, it’s now being shown to have a positive impact on interpersonal relationships. A 2004 University of North Carolina study of 'relative happy, nondistressed couples' showed that couples who practiced mindfulness saw improvements to their 'relationship happiness.' In addition, they experienced healthier levels of 'relationship stress, stress coping efficacy, and overall stress.'"

Spreading peace one relationship at a time
Phil and Maude
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