One of the outcomes of seriously considering the chart that follows is to think about how we could straddle extrinsic, society-pushed values (the small, blue p’s) … and intrinsic, lasting, higher values (the large, red P’s) – with a strong accent on the latter.
How essential are the society-pushed little p’s, and do I falsely base my self-esteem on them? How important to me are the deeper, big P’s – especially in the World as it has become? What values help me to answer “Who am I?”, “What am I?”
A growing interest in presence
The intrinsic value of PRESENCE has cropped up repeatedly for me in the past few weeks:
- A USA client wishes to embed compassion into her organisation’s culture, together with appropriate behaviour indicators and rituals. To what extent is respectful presence, being alert to and tuned in to another’s needs, essential to trigger compassionate action?
- A project I’m working on with an associate of the Charter for Compassion is aimed at promoting the use of intimate, small group Circle Work as a way to mobilise engagement – through confidential, safe, focused conversation and being present for each other.
- Developing and refining work on the concept and practices of story-bridging to heal divides at individual, community, organisation and nation-state levels. Part of the process of moving away from separation and polarisation is acceptance of the other, understanding where they are coming from, and ‘being present’ non-judgmentally.
- During this time of social distancing, masks, fear, anger, woundedness and uncertainty – there is a heightened need to be present (live and virtually) to others who may be suffering, overwhelmed, confused, fatigued, and perhaps feeling coerced and bullied into doing and behaving in ways incongruent with their natural character and beliefs.
Some snippets for you:
- Presence is an elusive, intangible quality of being fully sensitive to, tuned into, ‘there’ for, coming alongside to listen to and attend to another individual. This sometimes transcends logical explanation. Is outside of our normal cognition. But we know it when we feel it. Those who have benefitted from, felt that sort of presence, describe being blanketed with an inner sensing and knowing, not bounded by time nor a limited awareness, but of being present to the whole of which they belong.
- Presence is definitely not the same as charisma. Charisma is a magnetic quality that attracts other people and benefits the person who has it. Presence is walking alongside the other when permitted. To see the other through. Not to see through the other. With the help of an elusive, mysterious, higher power. A way of being that does not result from our own character or capacity.
- Being present in a super-aware and intentional way of finding meaning and something very special in a thought, feeling or action; whether contemplating an object, relating to someone, or engaging in something. Presence is when our ‘top-of-head stuff’ and ‘bottom-of-heart stuff’ are completely and naturally aligned in the moment. When what we think, feel and do automatically come together. When the mind resides in the heart.
- Happiness does not come from hedonistic pleasure (one of the connected, small, extrinsic p’s). In the Buddhist philosophy and Christian way of being, and other religions, attachment to pleasure and the other small p’s is a sure-fire recipe for unhappiness. Happiness is far more likely to arise out of the gift of being present to this now
As their ship travels from Crete, Zorba the Greek becomes angry when Basil is too preoccupied to be in the present moment to wonder at a frolicking dolphin. Zorba later enlarges on being fully present: “I felt once more how simple and frugal a thing is happiness: a glass of wine, a roast chestnut, a wretched little brazier, the sound of the sea. Nothing else”, and “I’ve stopped remembering bygones, stopped seeking future prospects. What matters to me is whatever is happening right now, at this very moment. I ask myself, ‘What are you doing now, Zorba?’ ‘I’m sleeping.’ ‘All right, sleep well!’ ‘What are you doing now, Zorba?’ ‘I’m working.’ ‘All right, work well!’ ‘What are you doing now, Zorba?’ ‘I’m embracing a woman.’ ‘All right, embrace her well!’ Forget all the rest”. (Kazantsakis, N. 1961)
- Our default setting is all too often MINDLESSNESS. Being frenetically busy, over-thinking, getting distracted, unfocused. Striving. Becoming impatient. A constantly – wandering mind can lead to unhappiness. We can learn to be habitually calm, mindfully present, have clarity, and be non-judgmental.
A young girl approaches her father and asks, “Is it true that when we are asleep, we can wake up?”
Her father assures her, “Of course it is true”.
“Then”, says the girl, “it must also be true that when we are awake we can wake up more”.
- Existential psychiatrist Irvin Yalom views presence as the true therapeutic force in the patient: therapist dynamic. (Yalom, I. 2013)
An exhortation. May we:
- continually work at letting go of impediments to our being present to ourselves and others (both conscious and unconscious).
- learn to drop all pretences and be real to another.
- become ready, willing and able to come alongside and walk with others when our paths cross.
- adopt the reality that we are all imperfect, that we don’t know it all, that we cannot ‘go it alone’ on this life’s journey. That we are all a tiny blip in time, and we are in it together.
- be open, authentic, and vulnerable enough to allow others to walk with us on the road that we travel.
- experience love as we pass through storms, darkness, despair, isolation and the absence of hope.
- when conversing, feel being embraced warmly, and being in the presence of something special, something beyond our ken.
- think non-dualistically and be open to the ideas of others that are different to our own – and take on board the observation that “to be uncertain is to be uncomfortable; but to be certain is ridiculous”.
- learn discernment, learn to move more deeply into wonderment, joy and love – for all those who we meet on the road.
- have our wounded souls be restored for the work that we do and wherever presence is integral.
For contemplation and action
Contemplation originally meant knowledge impregnated by love. (Bourgeault, C. 2019) There is a huge need for each of us to be deeply, mindfully and compassionately present to the other, to the stranger.
(Until we have walked in their shoes, we cannot know their experience of meaning or its absence, their isolation and loneliness, their shackles and challenges, their concerns and fears. We may easily mistake and wrongly judge their behaviours, words, and demeanour).
We need to be present to our family members (Partners sometimes have very different work and home life experiences. This can put them into different modes of thinking and acting, causing some friction at home after the day’s work is done. And of course, children always deserve safe, tuned-in care and attention).
We need to be present to the sick and dying, relating and being there for them in a way that honours their existential interaction with the reality and the idea of death or/ and suffering.
In the workplace, participants displaying the quality of presence goes a long way to bridging differences between conflicting employees.
As of course is being present to self, one’s own thoughts, words, actions moment by moment. The need for ongoing inner work, growing awareness of our shadow-side biases, prejudices, standpoints, worldviews, limiting beliefs, goes without saying.
And most of all a knowing and experience of something larger than ourselves that embraces us, cloaks us with presence. I’ve observed this while watching whirling Sufi dervishes.
And specifically for coaches?
It is for every individual coach to explore the nature of being present for their clients, and to develop their own presencing practices.
An analogy I like to explore with clients is that of a crack on their living room wall. They may know about it and want someone to fix it their way. Or be looking for someone they can work with as an equal.
As a visiting coach or consultant, I may see what seems obvious but has become hidden to them over the years. I may not point it out for fear of upsetting them. Or I may point it out with a predetermined solution in mind. Or draw it to their intention with an option of working to repair it together.
In this context I find this excerpt from Wallace Steven’s poem very meaningful:
“They said, “You have a blue guitar. You do not play things as they are”.
An ‘instrument’ or tune is there to offer an alternate reality or encourage a reframing of a situation into an opportunity, to understand and convey that we are all always in flux, and that our reality needs sometimes to shift.
“The man replied, “Things as they are, are changed upon a blue guitar”.
Growth and change is encouraged through reflecting back, holding up alternatives – sometimes by ‘simply’ listening and allowing the client to have their own insights and discoveries.
“But play you must, a tune beyond us, yet ourselves. A tune upon the blue guitar”.
Allowing the client to see another world, new possibilities, make worthwhile stretches, is a must.
This is a tune of freedom, healing, integration. The coaching outcome is not to serve the client’s self-serving requirements. Rather, it addresses their authentic, congruent potential on a whole person basis, including non-dualistic thinking, spiritual and emotional maturity, realisation of social and eco-centric interconnectedness.
Only when the client is ready to hear the tune, that is, to receive what they need – not necessarily what they wanted – and to dance to that tune. (Williams, G. 2017)
“And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music” – Friedrich Nietzsche.
Bourgeault, Cynthia (2019) “Being” is not something you are. YouTube May 15th, 2019
Kazantzakis, Nikos (1961) Zorba the Greek Kazantzakis Publications, Athens. Translated by Carl Wildman, published in English by Faber & Faber, London
Williams, Graham (2017) What is a signature presence and why do coaches need one? September, 5th 2017
Yalom, Irvin D (2013) Love’s Executioner and other tales of psychotherapy Penguin
About the Author
Graham Williams is an executive coach and management consultant who lives in Cape Town, South Africa. He has worked in over 40 countries in a variety of sectors, authored 9 business books and is a Management Contributor for 12Manage, the world’s #1 management network.
Graham uses narrative, anecdote, metaphor, archetypes, poetry, imagery and conversations in his work. He is passionate about facilitating healing and wholeness in organisations and their members. And is often asked to conduct workshops for coaches on competency development and application areas suitable for the effective use of story, and the powerful possibilities inherent in story.
In this six-part series Graham shares his insights into a number of the key skills required by modern-day coaches.
He may be contacted at [email protected]