What is Presence?

What is ‘Presence’?


What is presence?

What does this word mean – ‘presence’?

There’s a whole industry, of which I’m part, concerned with training people in ‘presence’. There are numerous books written about it – some even called ‘Presence’! I’m writing my own book on the Eight Principles of Presence which I hope to finish and get published this year sometime.

But what do we actually mean when we use the word ‘presence’? I mean, surely if all these people, like me, are offering to train people to become more present, and are claiming that ‘being present’ and ‘having presence’ is going somehow to enhance the quality of your life or improve your capacity to achieve your dreams and objectives, surely we ought to be able to define ‘presence’?

Well, it’s not that easy. Some of the most important and fundamental things in human existence, are not easy to define. My earlier career as a teacher, director and performer, focused on ‘ensemble’. In fact, my first book, published in 2013, was called ‘Encountering Ensemble’. What is ensemble? It is an invisible connectedness between people. You cannot really quite define it – though I and all the other writers in ‘Encountering Ensemble’ tried as hard as we could to do so. Ensemble is something we all recognise when it is there, but none of us can quite define.

Love? The entire culture of the world, across national, religious and all other boundaries, is obsessed with examining aspects of love. What is love? Does he/she/it love me? Love is all you need…..

Well, you can talk about love from a anthropological point of view,. You can talk about it from an evolutionary point of view. You can talk about it from an emotional point of view. Or from a spiritual point of view. All perspectives add something to our understanding, but none are complete. Suddenly that little four-letter word love becomes very confusing and unknowably complex. Yet it remains simple. Most of us have experienced love.

The same is true of presence – which, like the connectedness of ensemble or the feeling of love, is a fundamental human experience.

There are many ways of talking about presence. One book I read recently by four academics concerned with change management in institutions, defines presence as a sort of a spiritual immersion in the interconnectedness of the ecosystem. Excellent. It’s a great book. Amy Cuddy, who wrote a really excellent book on presence, approaches it from a social-psychology point of view. Her’s is a fantastic book. Patsy Rosenberg, who, like me, comes from the world of performance, again takes a different approach. All are useful.

The word ‘presence’ is not a simple word – but one thing that’s really clear to me from my work on ensemble, and is obvious to anyone who thinks about ‘love’, is that it is not ‘a thing’. Presence is not a lump of something you can put on the table and say ‘that is presence’, just as you cannot do that with ‘ensemble’ or ‘love’.

We can consider all these ‘indefinable’ things not as physical objects but as ways of being – qualities of attention.

So we start to get closer to my definition of presence.

Presence is about being present.

Too simple? Maybe – but also undeniable.

If you want to have presence, you must be present. Presence is the quality of being that emerges from open, responsive, aware attention to the present moment. Techniques of presence – the principles and activities I teach and mentor people in – have two fundamental purposes. The first is to enable us (or remind us) to be open to each moment. The second is to encourage us to notice and reject distraction.

Distraction, is the enemy of presence. Distractions need to be resisted.

If we are distracted by thinking about something other than what is actually happening, we are not present in the moment. If we are not present in the moment, we cannot have presence. If we are not present in the moment, we do not get to react to the moment AS IT IS. Instead we react to our opinions about the moment that we’re in, or our assumptions, or our fears.

Presence might seem like a mysterious state that we achieve. It isn’t. Presence is our natural state. You’re present now. You’re always present. Presence is reality.

It’s not that we have to ‘become present’. Our work is to stop NOT being present. What stops us being present? Distraction. Our work is to notice and eradicate our tendency to get distracted. Once we are not distracted, we become present.

Training ‘presence’ is not principally about learning ‘how to do things’. Training presence is primarily a process of stopping doing things. It’s not about ‘becoming present’. It’s about ‘stopping being distracted’.

Easier said than done. Of course. But this is the journey.

Presence is our natural state. Enhancing presence is a process of opening to – and developing the confidence fearlessly to respond to – the natural reality of our moment by moment existence.

We live in presence.

If you would like to listen to this post, you can do so here: https://presencepodcast.libsyn.com/what-is-presence

Leave a Comment