Presence


“We can say that being present with others involves the experience of openness to            whatever arises in reality. Presence means being open, now, to whatever it is.”

Source: The Mindful Therapist: a Clinician’s Guide to Mindsight and Neural Integration
                     Daniel J. Siegel, MD (2010) 

            I’ve been reading an excellent book on mindfulness (cited above) and it is written with clinicians in mind, but there are some wonderful ideas of his I think you might enjoy thinking about and maybe even discussing with friends and loved ones.
 
Let’s take a moment to try something. Start by taking a breath and clearing your mind. Ready?
 
“Sports.”
 
 
“Baseball.”
 
            What happened? Well, by beginning with an open mind, you didn’t know what was about to come next. That is, you were open to whatever word came next – Siegel calls this experience of openness “being on the plane of possibility” because any thought, word, or image is equally likely to arise in our minds when they are truly open.
            He uses the image of a graph, which I’ll break down here – think of a simple graph. The closer to the bottom line (plane of possibility) you are, the more open you are, and the wider the range of thoughts that may arise in your mind. The farther away from the bottom line/plane of possibility you are, your mind is more highly focused on a specific thought. If we graph it out as a line, this line naturally rises and falls throughout our day, sometimes peaking as we become very focused on something, sometimes plateauing as we can become stuck on a specific thought, and hopefully returning back to the baseline/plane of possibility and presence once more.
            By reading the word “sports” earlier, you were primed to think of various types of sports: tennis, football, etc. As I mentioned earlier, this is called the “plateau of probability,” because thoughts related to (in this case) sports are more probable than other thoughts and images. Though your mind was more focused and directed toward a topic or area, you were still not zeroed-in on a specific thought, rather, you had moved toward the general area of sports. When you read “baseball,” your mind became focused on that specific sport, your mind likely filled with experiences and images related to baseball – known as a “peak of activation.” That is, your mind becomes focused on one specific idea or image, as opposed to a range of possibilities.
            Dr. Siegel’s main point is that when we let our minds focus on specific things (such as that thing that someone said to us, that grade or performance review, or bill that came in the mail), we are hindering our ability to remain open to whatever is happening now. Sometimes that means that we are so locked-in on something that we fail to pick up on cues that others are sending us about their needs in that moment. Other times it can mean the thought that we are locked into (the plateau or peak) becomes a tinted lens through which we experience the world, such as receiving a biting comment from a peer that we get stuck on and begin believing that other interactions have been or will be similarly negative. This happens because we can have difficulty recognizing when we are locked-in on a thought (at a peak or plateau) and consequently, we do not consider the effects that can have on us. Instead, Sigel recommends (and I agree!) that it is important to practice returning to a state of openness or presence so that we can take new experiences and interactions on a case-by-case basis, instead of as skewed or tinted by our previous experiences.
 
Here are a few discussion questions for you or your family and friends:
 
            Have you ever paid attention to how present you are? If so, what was it like? If not, would you like to try it now? 
 
            Can you think of one time that your mind was at a peak or plateau and you intentionally returned your focus to the baseline “plane of possibility”?
 
            Are we in control of our minds or are they wild and random? Some of both? Why?
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