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To Give and Receive Presence

Feather and Sky“Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.”

– Simone Weil

I write a monthly column for 8 Limbs Yoga Centers. This month my article speaks to a central theme that regularly comes up in both classes and coaching – the way many of us, deep in side, long to be seen.

Below is an excerpt. While some of the practices offered relate to yoga classes, they’re easy to apply in meditation classes and other areas of life. To read the full blog click here.

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I read an article this week highlighting four questions poet and activist Maya Angelou believed we all ask, whether consciously or not. The first two really caught my attention, giving me great pause.

  • Do you see me?
  • Do you care that I’m here?

I remembered the story one of my teachers told about meeting the Dalai Lama – the Dalai Lama’s pure presence facilitating a feeling of being completely, compassionately seen.

I was flooded by a series of memories involving sitting with people in an active state of hurt. Regardless of the hat I wore during these different instances (friend, partner, colleague, caregiver, coach…), there was a common theme. Underlying what was/wasn’t said, or did/didn’t happen, was the pain of a person wanting to be fully seen, for their presence to mean something, and the flavors of vulnerability that come with that.

I thought too about times as a teacher I’ve integrated a particular type of compassionate communication practice – eliminating cross-talk (i.e., one person talks at a time uninterrupted, no one chimes in before/during/ after to problem solve or self-autobiographasize). Post-practice, speakers and listeners alike tend to talk about being moved in surprising ways and feeling more connected. I believe it has something to do with the opportunity to not only recognize, but also feel in body, simple examples of a universal humanity.

Although I find the quality of attention and presence of folks like Maya Angelou and the Dalai Lama to be exceptional, I also believe they are accessible. Below are a few ways to tap into the teachings of yoga as a way to make this pure form of generosity perhaps a little less rare.

On The Mat

  • Set an intention at the beginning of class to return awareness to physical sensations in body whenever you notice attention has time traveled (via thinking/feeling mind) into the past or future. Even if that means returning awareness thousands of times in a single class.
  • Attune to your presence at the end of class (during final rest or meditation). Let this guide how you transition into your next hour, rest of day, or week ahead rather than auto-piloting into a momentum or agenda that might not actually support you and others.

Off the Mat

  • Set an intention at the beginning of a conversation, meeting or meal to listen without interjecting, even if only for a couple of minutes. Instead of acting on impulses to jump in, fix, console, or identify with (we all have these impulses), might you experiment with noting these habits and then returning attention back to listening? (And might it be okay if you discover, especially in the beginning, how often you might not be present?)
  • Experiment with non-rehearsing during conversations as another way to grow presence. Ask yourself what it might take to trust that you are capable of responding at the time it’s your turn to speak.

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What supports you to give and receive presence? I’d love to hear from you here.

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