“Presence with others is first about showing up.”
Presence (Amy Cuddy)
Who are the most important and influential people in your life? Growing up, very likely it was the friends and family who you were around and see on a regular basis. They showed up for birthday parties and graduations. You hung out in each other’s homes just doing whatever, sometimes nothing in particular. Simply being around each other was enough. In high school, college, and into your 20s, regularly being around people this was often still the determining factor in who you were close to and you mattered to you. That setting could be a school, church, or your job.
What’s the common thread? Time spent together meant time getting to know each other. It meant trust was often quietly being built with each interaction. Fertile soil was available for vulnerability to exist and for the relationship to deepen its roots. For all these things to happen, however, one has to be present. Often, this means literally showing up in each other’s lives. Amy Cuddy writes about this in “Presence” saying, “…trust is the conduit of influence, and the only way to establish real trust is by being present. Presence is the medium through which trust develops and ideas travel.”
This past summer, I thought a lot about what it means to be present in each other’s lives. More painfully, I thought about what it meant in my own life and how it felt when relationships that you hold dear began to fade and feel like distant memories. Part of the Open Seating photo series I took this summer was subconsciously in response to what I was processing: a sense of loss, of emptiness, of longing for what was there: the presence of friendships that had lessened.
There are numerous studies and articles that have found in spite of the numerous ways technology gives us to stay in touch, the isolation and loneliness we experience (perhaps because of it, ironically) are very real and profound. The cliches about introverts not wanting much, if any, human interaction, do carry some truth. However, what they overlook is that we still want and need those connections just typically fewer of them but deeper at the same time.
I also thought a lot about what it meant for me to be present, wherever I was and for whomever, I was with. I wavered between being “in the moment” and feeling like I was watching the moment as a silent spectator of my own life at times. It’s easy to fall further into the pit when you feel like things are already dark because you don’t immediately notice the depths to which you’ve fallen to. As someone scores very highly on “quality time” on the 5 Love Languages spectrum, the sense of loss I experience when I don’t feel like friends or family isn’t present with me is significant. That feeling of distance, of not being there whether physically or more specifically emotionally, stings deeply.
Over time, I have also begun to understand how my distance to others has affected others too. Being present for others is not something to be taken for granted. It can’t be fabricated, faked, or easily replaced. It’s difficult to express how important it is to show up to every moment and for every person.
To my close friends near and far who I haven’t been as connected to: our relationships have deep roots, but we’d both be lying if we said the lack of being in regular proximity of one another hasn’t affected how close we are. Yet, it is those old roots that make the short times when we are in the same place that much more important to be in the moment and fully available and present.
For every coworker I’ve had that worked in a different office (or state!): we had to work extra hard to get to know one another, to collaborate, and to understand one another because nonverbal cues like body language weren’t available for us to know how the other person was doing that day or to get how they felt about a conversation in a meeting.
When proximity of time and space is lacking, closeness is lost. That unspoken intimacy is missing. The small, little, seemingly inconsequential moments and banter about nothing tell us more about each other than we can imagine. Remember, being present isn’t only about sharing your thoughts and ideas; sometimes being a quiet still friend does far more than any words will ever be able to communicate.
When you listen to someone, it’s the most profound act of human respect. – William Wry
“Words aren’t remembered. Presence is” – Center Aisle, Caedmon’s Call
The invitation of your presence to any moment should be taken sincerely and met with the weight and importance it deserves. Our interactions matter. Every single one. Our presence in every situation matters immensely. Be there for each other. Be there for yourself. It’ll make all the difference in the world.