The further along the path of conscious evolution we go, the more we need to adapt to changing circumstances and adopt new tools. Just as we begin as ‘junior mechanics’ with a basic toolkit of a pair of pliers, a couple of screwdrivers and a few spanners, our toolkit expands. My evolutionary tool #23 is presence.

What is presence?

Let’s start with what isn’t presence. Wikipedia thinks it’s something to do with social media. No, it isn’t—it’s almost the complete opposite.

Presence is also the name of a 1976 Led Zeppelin album. The cover art features a family sitting around a table staring at a weird black thing, apparently known as “the object”. Now we’re getting warmer.

The Oxford Dictionary gives the following definition:

  1. The state or fact of existing, occurring, or being present.
    1. A person or thing that exists or is present in a place but is not seen.

What an incredibly vague definition! There’s a collision between physical and non-physical states inherent in the phrase “being present.” What I’m talking about is emotional presence. It’s entirely missing from this definition.

Emotional presence

Emotional presence is about focusing our total awareness on our physical and emotional surroundings at any given moment. We may think we do this already but, for the most part, we don’t.

Emotional presence is about focusing our total awareness on our physical and emotional surroundings at any given moment. We may think we do this already but, for the most part, we don’t.

Mostly we live in a fog of disconnection from the present moment: physically present but only dimly aware of both our physical surroundings and our own emotional state.

Presence is the tool that brings you into connection with both of those.

Try it.

Pay attention

Notice your surroundings. Pay close attention. Become acutely aware of them. What do you see? Notice the shapes, the colours. What can you hear? There are layers upon layers of sounds at various distances and directions. How much of that background noise can you unpick? What can you taste? Can you feel air or water on your skin, or any other external physical sensations?

Then pay attention to your internal state. Do this while maintaining the external focus. How does your body feel? Is it comfortable, does it have aches and pains? Feel the rise and fall of your breath.

Tune in to your emotional state. Are you agitated or relaxed? Do you have a fantasy conversation—either some kind of showdown, or a situation where you’re the hero—running on a constant loop?

You may notice that the more present you are, the more the mental chatter dies.

Expand

Try and hold all of this in your awareness at once. Breathe a little, fully—into the belly, to get your diaphragm working. Then expand your awareness to the next level.

Pay minute attention to your surroundings, like a glistening drop of dew on a single blade of grass. Feel into your body. Push your awareness into yourself. Can you sense the dancing quanta that animate life?

You’ll experience several things:

  • It stings a little
  • It’s really hard to maintain
  • It brings you into deeper connection with life

Presence stings because you’re feeling parts of you that you haven’t felt into before. It’s really hard to maintain because our awareness is habitually restricted to not being fully present, physically or emotionally. Changing that habit takes a lot of effort.

Yet the reward of presence is that it brings you into deeper connection—even communion—with life. Everything becomes more vivid, more intense. Nature becomes incredibly bold and luscious. Yet we also become aware of parts of ourselves that are dormant and disconnected.

Presence teaches us to perceive the incredible richness of each moment without blinking. Once we become aware of this greater depth, we are changed forever. That’s what the family on the Led Zeppelin album cover are trying to grasp.

Photo by Rhett Wesley on Unsplash