Developing Presence

What is presence and why is it so transformational?

Presence is a word you hear often these days in regards to leadership and personal development. It’s a highly desired quality that you can’t fake. But what is presence exactly, how do we cultivate it and why is it so transformational? In these challenging and constantly changing times, we need to tap into a deeper source of authentic energy that goes beyond pushing through and getting stuff done; we need a deeper energy source that has to do with tapping into our authentic self. Presence is the outward manifestation of this deeper energy source and can help us transform situations for the greatest outcome. 

Have you ever met anyone who radiates a quality of embodied presence? I once had a teacher that when she walked into a room, the atmosphere would shift. When she spoke she didn’t have to speak very loudly and you could still hear her. She chose her words carefully and everything she said had weight and impact. It helped that she had the authority of being a very skilled teacher, but it was more than that, because I’ve also had very skilled teachers with whomI can’t wait to get out of the room. When someone has presence, they radiate a palpable sense of embodied authority that comes from a deeper source than just their title. And this presence can affect the atmosphere and the people around them. 

What is this quality of presence? It’s more than just being present. Being present means being in the here and now but we can often do that and still not feel presence. Presence has the quality of being embodied and integrated-meaning we can both be with what is and be open to what’s emerging. Someone who has presence radiates a quality of stillness and energized engagement at the same time. They are not quick to jump to solutions but rather have the capacity to listen into what’s present and what’s emerging from the people around them and collective space. 

In the book Presence, Otto Scharmer et al, describe presence as a “deep listening, of being open beyond one’s preconceptions and historical ways of making sense”. This implies that we are letting go of old identities and methods in presence and being open to ‘the evolution of life’ as it wants to emerge through us. 

I experience this not so much as a letting go, but more as an integration, of becoming larger and more encompassing of all the different parts of myself. At work we might be in a meeting and there is an opportunity to contribute our ideas. If we are present, we are aware of what everyone’s saying, of what the temperature in the room is, we might be aware that our stomach is getting ready for lunch… many thoughts pass through our minds and we can still listen and contribute to the conversation. But we might have an old identity where we feel our ideas are not valuable, that not one will listen and that we don’t really have a voice in the room. And so rather than contributing our ideas we start to mildly complain that lunch isn’t sooner and sort of check out from the meeting. 

There are many scenarios like this, where we usurp our ability to live into a greater field of presence and show up in a more integrated way because we get hooked by our old patterns. If we pay attention, there are several times this happens everyday. It doesn’t mean we’re not present, and in fact we’re often painfully present to how this happens. It means we need to practice integrating these old parts of ourselves and opening ourselves to what’s possible-in the above scenario that would mean contributing our ideas and insight even if our voice is a little shaky. Presence means we hold our seat. We sit up straight and become the dignified humans we are meant to be. 

Developing presence is a practice and like all precious qualities does not come overnight. It’s not something we can buy or get certified in. It’s the result of daily practice and intention to show up in a way that both stays in embodied with what’s happening (that means being aware of our shadow parts) and is open to what’s emerging-the aliveness of life. We might surprise ourselves by acting in new ways that allow for an emerging future to take shape in ourselves and in the organizations we’re a part of. 

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