Presence is far more than the fact that you are there, that your body shows up at a certain time and a certain place.
Presence has to do with a state of being, existing on more than one level. For example, when you are in love with someone, you don’t have to see him/her to feel that you are with him or her. He/she is always with you, and you can’t help but think of him/her. Which is more real, your love or his face?
Presence is often recognized when a certain someone walks into the room. You may not be looking her way, but your eyes are drawn irresistibly to her, even without her saying a thing. It is not always the words she uses, but what she does with her eyes.
You will see a kind of aura surrounding her and feel her energy radiating outward. We may think of celebrities and great politicians who seem to ooze on stage.
I have been privileged to see extraordinary people for whom there could be no mistake: Elizabeth Taylor, Steve Jobs, the Dalai Lama, Dr. Deepak Chopra and Werner Erhard. Even without their being formally introduced, you knew that they are the speaker for the occasion. I have even walked into a large auditorium, where Sri Chinmoy, former chaplain for the United Nations, was giving a concert where my eyes immediately teared up for the entire show without knowing why or how.
Presence is often experienced when you enter into a deep conversation with someone, whether business or pleasure, and you immediately feel at ease, truly at home with them. (Versus, when you have a conversation with someone, but they are not totally there… as if their mind and soul left the room and you are talking to the wall).
When someone is present, they hear every word you say without anything seeming to go on with them. They smile and throw their whole attention on you. They seem to radiate compassion; not pretending their life or agenda is of any great importance.
Throughout my life, certain people, male and female, have been there for me where I felt much more myself around them. During a summer while going through school, I worked with an older woman who later became a college president. She studied people closely as a professional interviewer and drew me out in such a way as to express myself. My confidence grew, both in person and on paper, and I found my whole life orientation shifting as I began to grow up.
Presence is supremely realized when, being together with an individual or a group, you lose all sense of space and time. It is a much deeper way to experience presence. As if everything falls into harmony.
Whatever preconceptions and agenda you might carry with you suddenly evaporates. You look at the other people around you and see yourself, and you see them in you.
You feel an uncanny intimacy and a complete openness to the point of vulnerability, where there is just US, just I AM. In this state of being (present) things flow and you usually don’t experience any resistance. This could even happen in cyberspace, on a telephone or videoconference.
The Self that emerges includes all the people, and yet is more than all the people… where we no longer separate or look at each other differently, but care about each other and our values.
In spirituality, this is thought of as a Sacred Presence where community emerges through a divine consciousness and true communion ensues.
I remember walking at night in San Francisco a few years back in a seedy neighborhood and yet felt completely safe. Billy Graham was speaking at the Cow Palace, and I felt total calmness as I approached the surrounding area. It was raining lightly, and an overflow congregation had been set up in the neighboring parking lot where I saw his face only through electrovision. Although I had seen this great evangelist live on two separate occasions, he never felt more real, even though he was in a building to which I had no access.
Presence adds charm and enchantment to life. It can take many forms, and there is no one formula. You will find yourself doing better at anything, including business negotiations, which will require a lot less effort to arrive at a totally win-win option (more on this topic click here) . All that is required is to be open to presence as a possibility. At any moment, you can be delightfully surprised by it.
These opening words from T.S. Eliot’s immortal Four Quartets capture it in a wonderful way:
There they were, dignified, invisible,
Moving without pressure, over the dead leaves,
In the autumn heat, through the vibrant air,
And the bird called, in response to
The unheard music hidden in the shrubbery,
And the unseen eyebeam crossed, for the roses
Had the look of flowers that are looked at.