How Do Presence and Acceptance Add to Your Relationships?

How Do Presence and Acceptance Add to Your Relationships?

PHIL: Imagine you’re driving to a doctor’s appointment and planning to drop by the supermarket on the way back for the weekly shopping, and afterwards you need to pay a bill that is due, and call your friend back, and BAM! You’re hit by a car you didn’t see because you were checking which street to turn on.

Regret floods in. Take it back, please! You so desperately want to be at the doctor, be in the grocery section, get that bill paid, but instead you’re staring at shards of plastic and wondering if it was all your fault.

Here’s the news: you can’t take it back. The sooner you accept that your day, your week, your world has abruptly changed, that a fold in the fabric of the universe has landed you in a different reality, the sooner you will be able to deal with the present situation, and you do that by being present.

That is sometimes touted as an exotic state associated with enlightenment, whether arising spontaneously, earned through years of zazen, or triggered through an extreme experience like a Tony Robbins workshop or an Enlightenment Intensive.

On the first occasion (aged 8-10) I was in the garden, muddling about alone. A cuckoo flew over, calling. Suddenly, I experienced a sensation I can only describe as an effect that might follow the rotating of a kaleidoscope. It was a feeling of timelessness, not only that time stood still, that duration had ceased, but that I was myself outside time altogether. Somehow I knew I was part of eternity. And there was also a feeling of spacelessness. I lost all awareness of my surroundings. With this detachment I felt the intensest joy I had ever known, and yet with so great a longing–for what I did not know–that it was scarcely distinguishable from suffering…

The second occurred a good while after the first. It was an absolutely still day, flooded with sunshine. In the garden everything was shining, breathless as if waiting expectant. Quite suddenly I felt convinced of the existence of God; as if I had only to put out my hand to touch Him. And at the same time there came that intensest joy and indescribable longing, as if of an exile, perhaps, for home. It seemed as if my heart were struggling to leap out of my body.

Religious Experience Research Centre account.

But being present can also be a matter of degree. I see language as a recent skill grafted on to our earlier sensory and emotional ways of dealing with the world, and we have used it to construct an understanding of the world that is often different from our earlier non-verbal responses. We have two voices that sometimes disagree, and we have to choose one or the other. Sometimes we act impulsively, and sometimes we suppress our feelings.

Language has been such a resounding success that our consciousness largely abides in the world of words. To take our experiences into account, we label them with words, and if we do not find words for them, they drop out of sight and become those impulses that move us.

Being present is moving our attention away from our verbal model of the world to our direct experience. It is a different way of knowing, and (surprise!) there are no words for it; the best we can do is to point to it, for instance with poetry. Meditation practices help with this by quieting the voice with zazen or distracting it with mantras so our attention is not caught up in words.

It is not a question of one or the other. We can be open to both. We can reside in silence in our senses and also make a grocery list in our head, though probably not at the same time. Making peace between the two is worth working on.

I started out by discussing acceptance as a part of being present, and this applies in relationships too. Maude explains it well.Being present is timeless because time is an idea, a construction of the mind #quote #presence Click To Tweet

MAUDE: To be truly present you must acknowledge what is and accept what is. The moment you move into wanting something to be different, you are no longer experiencing what is. Any pushing or pulling away is stepping out of the present. Instead, you are trying to conjure something other; to defend against what is, to go backwards or forwards in time, to manifest a creation of your mind and your desires.

The connection between presence and acceptance is a pivotal one. When you are able to embrace and accept what is, you become a part of the present moment and consequently, can contribute your Self to that moment. Presence is a state without anxiety or fear. When you are actually just being and not evaluating the moment of being, you enter a state where truth, beauty and goodness exist. Being present is a shift away from fear responses toward love responses.

This holds true within your relationships as well. When you can accept another person without wanting to change or adjust them, you can be with them and be present in the shared moments. The difference can be felt, it is palpable. The kind of presence that this acceptance brings creates a deepening of every interaction and creates a circle of connection. You can feel when you are being seen and heard for who you are without any attempt to alter you.

This eliminates the need for defenses and allows relaxation, humor and a deep sense of peace to permeate those relationships. It may take a while to realize that the usual defenses are not necessary and that there will not be an attempt to invade your person. Being together in presence is such a strong and recognizable experience that it can change many potentially difficult interactions, creating a previously unimagined closeness.

When someone offers you their presence, it is a deep act of love, of trust, of sharing. To know you are being seen and appreciated for who you are is a joyful, affirming realization. When we are present, we bring out the very best in each other.

Photo credit: Maude Mayes
Photo note: Rock on Hendry’s Beach

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4 Comments on “How Do Presence and Acceptance Add to Your Relationships?

  1. I love this subject and how you both enveloped it! Words are kind of a complicating of Being. Your descriptions nailed it
    But Phil, if you’re hit by a car, why surrounded by shards of plastic?! I imagine glass, metal, vinyl. Lol

    • Ha! I had the image of the bumper or lights broken into pieces. I sometimes see the evidence like that of an accident when walking around.

  2. Ohhh man, I just went on the best trip reading this fine narrative. Thanks, Phil and Maude. Some of the greatest existential suffering I can say I’ve lived with, or through, is as a result of trying with every cell of my being to express “myself” in words. Total insanity and total depressing exhaustion — unless on one occasion, I get lucky haha — which only serves, it turns out, to quicken the blood flow for a moment and to keep alive the search for that perfect verbal expression. To let go of that desperate need can seem untenable! Isn’t that the “greatest of human gifts,” the ability to use words in clever, deeply revealing, and brilliant ways?? Oh my God, what will I be if I give up all that pain, as of childbirth?? Is there anything else? Or do I just die now… ?

    Thanks, you two. I love you.


    • I ran into Zen and encounter groups fairly early on, so I’ve long had the understanding that there is more than words — finger pointing to the moon and all that — but I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the “two voices” model (not that Freud didn’t get there long before me) and using it to understand myself and other people better. Thanks for grokkng this piece.

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