What is the quality of our relations with others? What does quality mean to you?
I believe we all have similar longings.
Regardless of what we see on the exterior layer of any relation, our central motivation and need is to feel emotionally well with somebody: feel safe, cared for, understood, valued, accepted, respected, etc…
Deep inside, we know what we need, even if we never tried to consciously define or verbalize it.
But there is a gap…
…between us and others… our worlds coexist but do not meet.
I picture couples, families, friends, and co-workers who, regardless of the physical proximity and shared time, feel alone and alienated. They exchange words, but they don’t touch each other at their core, with their hearts. And all that is happening inside one person is left unseen. But we don’t need to look far to find it.
I lived through many years of feeling emotionally isolated…with people that were supposed to be my closest. We saw each other’s emballage, or packing, but not the content. Maybe I didn’t allow others to see me. Perhaps I didn’t know I was doing this.
It seems we are many times on guard automatically. We feel we need to protect ourselves from a threat…we don’t even know what that is anymore… we just don’t want to get hurt.
We function through a mask of self-protective patterns of thinking and behaving.
But times have changed. Maybe once we needed it, or we took on this behavior by modeling others. Now the threat is the wall that we build around us. It keeps us trapped and alienated.
I know now it can be different. A contact with another being can be a heartfelt authentic encounter of two spirits, regardless of any differences. It is possible to move the exchange onto another level that is so much more fulfilling and real.
Our seeds are hiding in the soil, waiting for the right conditions to propel their growth and spurt into flowers. It is on us, however, whether we want to blossom and likewise help others move out of their comfort zone and show who they are.
The fundamental thing missing in our relations is presence.
It is the capacity to be here and now in full contact with another being. We often are only partially present, pulled into own thoughts, plans, and worries. We don’t really listen because we are preoccupied with what we are about to utter; we think we already know or can guess what the other person tries to explain.
These thoughts run in the background and consume our attention, energy, and presence. Not only do we not really hear and feel the other person, we also assume we know what that person thinks or feels. A lot of information is thus unseen. Our presence is merely physical but less mental and emotional. And this lack of being there entirely influences significantly whether we will be able to feel and understand this person.
Consequently, each person stands on his or her own hill demarcated with a valley, trying to shout to be heard, but the distance is too great. We cannot hear the words and comprehend their meaning, nor we are able to sense the state of the mind of the other.
The interaction is superficial and empty. The emotional attunement is lost. Likewise, the chance of conflict surges; our reactions will be unproductive and overly defensive.
What is presence?
It is the opposite of being scattered and self-absorbed. One is available for the other with his mind, heart, and body. Furthermore, a true presence embodies an open, curious, and non-criticizing attitude. We are there, listening to this person as if we don’t know them.
Indeed, we all change continually, so what makes us think we can guess the other?
Open your heart and feel…
What is most important is being present, which requires us to open our hearts and feel what the person is trying to convey through their message. What do you feel when he or she speaks? Maybe they are masking their emotions, but if you could empathically relate to them, you can sense what is underneath.
Presence permits us to step out of our world and enter that of other people. We abstain from making comparisons (with ourselves or with our ideal) or pass judgments. They are valuable and unique human beings with their own paths, emotions, and struggles, and their own ways they handle them.
Our presence is a gentle caress of attention, understanding, and valuing of another human being. It builds a contact and forges a bond that is benevolent and validating. It strengthens and deepens the relationship and enhances our understanding of each other.
– Be aware of yourself: if you can establish an inner contact and feel yourself, you will be able to attune yourself easier to another being.
– Cultivate compassion and empathy: accepting your vulnerabilities, scars, and things you are ashamed of will expand your heart and soften your beliefs and attitudes. It is by embracing your humanity and flaws that your heart can feel, touch, and receive another one.
– Be authentic: bring your true self out on the open. It can be frightening, but it is far most liberating and gratifying. It also will encourage others to drop their defenses and be real.
– Devote your complete attention to the other: de-center from yourself and your struggles and worries. Listen, without anticipating and concluding. Feel the other—their energy, emotions, and what they need—and imagine how it is to be in their skin.
– Control your “negative” behavior: refrain from disparaging others directly or indirectly (non-verbally with your tone, facial mimics, and body language), giving advice (just listening and being there is enough), and appearing superior or condescending (making the other feel little, inappropriate, or incompetent). Don’t turn attention back on you (after the other shared), shift the topic, or ignore what the other expressed. All of that is a form of non-presence and non-contact.
– Be humble: in front of life and others, we never know when the wheel of fortune will turn and hit us. All of us are or will be confronted with challenges and pain. What makes a tremendous difference is to be surrounded with people who support us with their presence—which emanates care, empathy, respect, and acceptance—and whose heart can touch ours and feel, even if for a moment, what we are going through.