I thought I knew what presence was…
…until I held my first nephew in my arms and stared into his eyes.
I thought I knew what presence was…
…until I stood beside my father-in-law as he took his final breath.
I thought I knew what presence was…
…until I held my wife’s hand for 36 hours through losing the baby in our first pregnancy.
Every time I think I know what a presence is, something happens that shows me an even deeper experience of it. Without exception, it is an experience that reminds me of the temporality of our existence – be it the phenomenality or tragedy of it. These experiences tear me out of time and bring me deeply into the present moment.
My intention when coaching is to bring myself as close to these experiences of presence as possible. I can’t say I manage to recreate the same presence I have when awoken by the miracle of life or death, but the more I practice, the closer I come to it.
+ What is Presence?
For me, presence is the absence of time, and with that, the absence of engaged thought. Thoughts may come, but they pass like clouds over a field.
Presence is seeing and feeling everything at the same time. It is both the widest periphery and the tightest focus.
Presence is the blurring of self and other.
Presence is the moment an old television turns off and there is just that fading, high-pitched squeal in the silence as the electrons drain from the tube.
Presence is knowing all of it without explaining any of it, even to yourself.
+ Why Presence in Coaching
There are two reasons I believe presence is so powerful in coaching.
First, the more present I am, the more I receive from the person I am coaching. Every neuron dedicated to engaged thinking is a neuron not dedicated to being aware. The difference I’m aware of is only a fraction of the actual difference. The more present I am with a client, the more my whole body perceives, experiences and comes to be aware of what is happening for them.
As a coach, the ability to communicate someone else’s truth to them is one of the greatest gifts we can give them. Being able to communicate this truth depends on our being able to see it. Powerful presence is the foundation of our ability to see.
The second reason I believe powerful presence produces powerful coaching is because presence has people feel safe. The more present I am with someone, the more they relax. The more they relax, the more they can hear, understand and ‘receive’ what I communicate to them.
In summary, the more present we are, the more we are able to see a person’s truth AND and the more able they are to receive it.
+ How to Be More Present
The more unattached I am from the past or future (and for me, my distraction is almost always ‘future’), the more present I am.
One of the places I am always working on deepening my presence is with my wife.
Earlier this year, I heard someone say the words ‘all the time in the world’.
Before that moment, I’d always heard those words as a single phrase that simply meant; ‘I’ve got time’.
For some reason, in this instance I heard the words more literally.
It suddenly struck me that I could actually give ‘all the time in the world’ to something. Granted, if I did spend the rest of my life doing exactly the same thing I was doing in a particular moment, I would certainly die before very long. But still, it was possible. I could conceivably commit the rest of my life, no matter how long it happens to be, to absolutely anyone or anything.
So I asked myself…
“What would it be like to actually commit ALL of the time I have, for the rest of my life, to being with someone, just fully listening to them? What would it be like to forfeit everything else I had desired, planned for or dreamed of for the sake of being here, right where I am, and doing just this one thing, forever? What would it be like to resolve that I am willing to die, right here, doing this?”
One day, while my wife was chopping some vegetables, I decided to try it out. In that moment, I chose to have all the time in the world to just watch her. A few things came up and I decided that I was willing to sacrifice them, in service of watching her, no matter how long it took – even if she chopped vegetables into eternity. (When she is preparing dinner and I am NOT present, it does sometimes seem to take this long!)
The experience was extraordinary. I saw my wife in a way I’d never seen her before. I enjoyed watching her and my experience of time melted away. The presence was deep and palpable. Not the same, but very close to the times I have faced life and death.
When I choose to have ‘all the time in the world’ for someone I am coaching, it is as if I am deciding in that moment, right then, to be with them forever. I essentially clear the slate of anything and everything that was ever supposed to happen in my future. I’m saying…I give up on ALL of that and I choose to instead be just here, now.
Being with you forever, right now, has me see you in ways I was never able to see you before. In ways I could never see you when I was, in my mind, anywhere else in time.
When I am coaching you, having ‘all the time in the world’ for you is the only way I ever want to see you because it is the only way I can see you. The past and future do not exist other than in story and I do not want to dirty my reflection of you with them.
It might seem weird to say that during a coaching conversation I am going to commit all time for the rest of my life to being in that conversation. ‘Isn’t that unrealistic? What if it takes all day and I have other appointments?’
Having ‘all the time in the world’ for someone is not an external commitment that is subject to the rules of time. It is an internal commitment, experienced moment by moment. It is not an assertion or a promise about the future, it is a way of being that unhitches you from the future.
After my wife’s miscarriage, she told me, “I have never felt you like I did yesterday.” She called me her ‘feeling stone’, describing it as a rock with tears dripping down it. Feeling and yet immovable. I’m looking forward to being this for her again in a couple of months through the successful birth of our first son. My commitment is to continuing to bring more and more of this into my work as a coach too.
There are three main approaches I have to developing more powerful coaching through greater presence. The first is noticing when deep presence is thrust upon me and gleaning as much as I can from those experiences. Second, I spend time in stillness and become more familiar with a quiet mind. Third, I make choices using insights (like having ‘all the time in the world’) to intentionally practice presence each time I coach someone.
** Coaching Questions to Ask Yourself **
– Who would you like to have more presence with?
– Would you be willing to literally give them ‘all the time in the world’?
– If you chose, in a particular moment, to be with them in that moment for the rest of your life, no matter how long it happened to be, what might be different about your experience of them? How might this impact them?
– What takes you out of presence? What distracts you?
– What else could you do to create even deeper presence?