Real and authentic connection can be hard to come across, especially in this age of multitasking, productivity and distractions. We have access to more frequent contact with others but the quality of the interactions can often be superficial and diminished. In addition, many of us have become so caught up in (and even addicted to) busy-ness, we don’t even realize how much we’re missing in our relationships. Even when we are physically with others, we’ve become so glued to our screens and preoccupied with virtual friends, we neglect the person sitting right in front of us.
We’re physically there, but we’re not present.
And many times, the friend in front of us can see that we’re not present. They can see that something else has our attention. And yes, it can be hurtful because we are essentially communicating to them the thing that has our attention is more important than them.
What does it mean to be present?
It means slowing down enough to notice not only what is happening around you but who is around you. It means listening attentively, noticing facial expressions, body language and other nonverbal cues. It means taking deep breaths and noticing what’s happening in your body in real time. It is being fully in each moment.
Why do we need presence?
Presence is the foundation for human connection.
When we are present, we are communicating to the person in front of us that they are worthy and deserving of our attention. We are showing them that their experience matters.
Presence is not achieved simply by putting our phones away (although this is a great start). It also means putting our distracting thoughts and opinions away. Though intangible, these things still have the power to divert our attention.
Giving advice and focusing on solutions can also be considered a distraction because the focus is on the future instead of what is happening now — in the present. When we are present, we are able to be with another without the urge to do anything, without the distraction of solutions, opinions, biases, etc.
Parker J. Palmer¹ alludes to presence when he explains: “The human soul doesn’t want to be advised or fixed or saved. It simply wants to be witnessed — to be seen, heard and companioned exactly as it is.”
Witnessing requires presence.
When someone is able to be with us in whatever we’re feeling without agenda, there is an implicit acceptance of who we are. This acceptance is so nourishing to the soul. And in this acceptance, our feelings and even suffering find release.
 Parker J. Palmer. (April 27 2016). The Gift of Presence, The Perils of Advice. https://onbeing.org/blog/the-gift-of-presence-the-perils-of-advice/