Having recently presented a program on Cultivating Mindfulness to the Colorado Chapter of the International Coach Federation, and wanting to elevate my own mindfulness, I decided to address here the topic of relationship presence. I have observed that my ability to remain present varies from fairly weak to very strong, depending on many circumstances. I'm typically most attentive when working with clients. Lately, though, my wife Ruth has been requesting greater attunement from me when she is speaking about herself.
Paradoxically, presence can be the easiest act, yet sometimes one of the most difficult of behaviors. On the one hand, we're always aware of something. However, staying engaged or keeping attention riveted often presents a considerable challenge.
Sustaining at least a moderate level of presence is foundational, or a prerequisite for connection; it's a basic gateway to intimacy. Remaining attuned to your partner's conversation, needs, feelings, or desires essentially can be facilitated in two ways:
- Staying in contact with yourself, i.e. your thoughts, body and emotions, and
- Regularly observing when your attention strays and returning it to your mate.
Some simple (at least in form), yet effective tools or practices for enhancing presence are:
- Developing and reaffirming a clear intention to be mindful
- Attending to and deepening your breath
- Studying the details, even the minutiae, of your immediate environment
- Playing the card game "Concentration," during which you memorize the locations of turned-over cards
- Scanning your body for areas of tension, relaxation, energy, and various sensations
- Similarly, witnessing the speed, nature, and quality of your thoughts
- Meditating on your breath and/or on a mantra or theme
- Deepening your listening in conversations, and, at times, reflecting in your own words or clarifying what you perceive your partner to be saying
- Refraining from interrupting your partner or prematurely turning your mate's speaking back onto yourself
- Expressing genuine interest in or curiosity about your partner via open questions--also known as appreciative inquiry
- Approaching your mate with a beginner's mind--an innocence and desire to experience your partner in new or fresh ways
Regularly engaging in even a few of these practices will definitely benefit you in every facet of your life, in addition to nurturing your love relationship. I'd welcome hearing about your breakthrough or aha experiences.
Toward the kaleidoscopic majesty of presence,
Your Relationship Coach,
Jim Sharon, EdD is a licensed psychologist and couples' coach who has over four decades of professional experience serving thousands as a counselor, as a life and relationship coach, and as a seminar and retreat facilitator. Dr. Sharon has authored two books and many professional publications, most recently, Secrets of a Soulful Marriage: Creating and Sustaining a Loving, Sacred Relationship (with Ruth Sharon, MS), published by SkyLight Paths, 2014. Jim and Ruth have been married since 1970, have raised three adult children, and have two young granddaughters.