What does being present have to do with a conscious relationship? I’ve been told that one of my gifts is to be present. I saw a sign in Vegas once that said you have to be present to win. This is true in relationships as well.
Webster’s defines “present” as “the period of time that is happening right now.” This idea is linked to the spiritual concept of “being here now.” So what does it mean to be present in a relationship? Few of us really experience relating to our partner in the moment or being fully present. It’s much more difficult than it appears for the simple reason that our thinking mind is usually in the past or the future. To be present in conversation is a difficult challenge because conversing usually takes us out of the present moment. It is much easier to be present when alone than when in dialogue with another human being. Since so much of our lives are spent in relationships, you need to ask yourself where you are when you’re conversing with your partner. The answer is caught up in our relentlessly spinning minds already planning the next statement as your partner is talking. We are distracted by the words we are busy interpreting, distorting, judging, and forming opinions about. We are distracted by sounds in the room, discomforts in our body, as well as in our reaction to what are being said.
So how do we create a sense of presence?
One way is to simply become a better listener. Active listening is a skill that can be learned with practice. There has been much said about listening. What does it really mean to listen and how can we become better listeners? One way is through mindfulness meditation practice. Meditation can be instrumental in the practice of listening and being present because in meditation we practice becoming an observer. We sit still and listen attentively to what’s going on in the environment, in our bodies, and within our minds. This type of training can prepare one to listen attentively in a relationship; one must quiet down in order to learn how to listen. It’s amazing how quiet we can get. If you have ever been in a flotation tank you know the experience. In a flotation tank you can not only hear your breath but also your heartbeat, your pulse rate, and your thoughts. So, quieting down is an essential part of listening and being present because once you have settled down, you can begin to hear what your partner is saying. However, it’s not enough to listen – you must really hear what your partner is saying. Additionally, your partner needs to feel heard. In order to listen and hear you need to suspend all your judgments and opinions and listen openly, and empathetically.
Is it really possible to suspend judgment and opinions?
Dr. Harvell Hendrix has found a way; it’s called the Imago Dialogue. This dialogue includes an exercise where you reflect back what you’ve just heard your partner say. In essence, you mirror back to them their exact words, mirroring, as accurately as possible, the message your partner is sending. It means repeating back or paraphrasing what the other person said without interpreting, distorting, emphasizing, adding, or selecting out what is important. As a listener you need to temporarily suspend your own perspective and be open to hearing your partner’s view of the world. You also need to be willing to allow your partner to have a view of the world which is different than your own. Additionally, you need to exercise the capacity to contain your reactions and responses and allow your partner to be the focus. By mirroring your partner in this way you will be present in the moment and on your way towards cultivating a conscious relationship.