Focus on the other person and listen (or do things) compassionately.
Your bodily presence is important, but more important is your mental and emotional presence because it helps you give yourself and receive well what’s given to you. So focus on the other person and the context in which you interact. If it is a discussion, focus on the discussion. If it is a dance, tune in to your partner’s actions. Make an effort to chase away any intruding thoughts from your mind that may or may not relate to the situation at hand. Good intentions or predispositions for another person’s well-being is necessary for this kind of focus. In this case, compassion or an effort to identify charitably with the other person will help.
Analytical listening usually does not help because it draws your attention to analyze, categorize, and evaluate the person or the situation. Unless it is a must, you can postpone that. For example, if you are interacting with someone whose life choices disagree with yours, it won’t help your presence if you think about arguments to persuade him during the interaction.
Use your empathetic imagination to put yourself in the other person’s shoes.
A good and compassionate interaction does not happen in a vacuum. People often bring in their own experiences to understand another person. But an experience devoid of imagination is dry and does not have the flexibility to build bridges. That’s because everyone’s experience is unique. To build bridges through experience, you have to use your imagination and identify with the other person. Use your mind’s eye to live and feel what the other person went through. You can even do a thought experiment if you want. Empathetic imagination implies a good will that tries to identify with the other person and share in the burden. Here, attentive listening and noticing the details come in handy because it gives you food for imagination.
Accept the person without judgment at least as you listen.
I don’t use the word judgment as a negative term although in modern society the word has a negative connotation. We all judge for better or worse because life is impossible without passing judgments. When you make a decision to go to this school and not the other, you pass judgment. When you become angry at evil, you pass judgment. It is so natural to us that any interaction while withholding judgment becomes difficult. Sometimes our judgments interfere with our intention to be present because they make it hard to open up without evaluating and reacting emotionally. Especially undisciplined and uneducated judgment lacking in charity often leads to distortions. To escape judging, avoid categorizing, analyzing, comparing, or making moral evaluations during the time you are required to be present. Obviously it is easier said than done, but by being good-willed and compassionate, accepting someone as they are without evaluating them would help in withholding a judgment of them.
Ask meaningful questions and observe.
Asking deep questions appropriate to the action or conversation and carefully observing the other person’s reactions also increase your chances of being present. These questions can be open-ended to encourage the other person’s talk or can be rhetorical to enforce their statements. Observation includes an attention to body language, facial expressions, and the other person’s reactions to change in the environment and context. Usually, this requires a prolonged attention and some level of analysis as the interaction takes place, so don’t overdo it. Otherwise, you will begin making premature conclusions that can affect the subsequent interaction. Be careful not to give the impression that you are interrogating or investigating because that will dramatically influence your relationship. The person may withdraw, and that would make your presence unwelcome.
Avoid dominating the discussion or redefining the purposes of the activity one-sidedly.
Being fully present means hearing the other side, and for that you have to leave room for people to bring whatever they need into the conversation or activity. True conversation happens when both sides contribute equally. If only one of the partners dominates the activity, then that person is self-oriented and is present to herself but not to the other. So listen and be open the other person’s lead during the conversation. Encourage if necessary, but don’t forget to make your contributions too; otherwise, you rob that person of being present to you as well.
Although it may look like your presence to another person is completely in your hands, in reality it takes cooperation from both sides to be fully present. In a sense, being fully present to our partners and friends requires going with the flow and convincing the other person that you are in the here and now for their sake. That’s the time when partners become truly open and the miracle of presence takes place.
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