We hear a lot about “Presence” these days. Depending on who we listen to, presence is knowing who you are, where you fit in the world, and being “in” the moment. Presence is being fully attuned to the person or situation around you without distraction. It is more than just showing up and being conscious. It is acknowledging the unique energy that you bring with you into every encounter, being fully aware of your energy and how it feels, and being able to harass that energy intentionally for the purpose of interchange with the environment or with another individual or group. Sounds amazing, right?
The difficulty with “presence” is that people don’t know where to start! How can I tell if I’m “present?” How can I practice “presence?” It seems so nebulous it is easy to discount and back burner the concept for a retreat or the next corporate offisite.
I invite you to consider that the beginning practice of presence in a powerful way is as simple as making a very conscious effort to smile as much as you possibly can.
In wisdom literature, presence is interestingly often connected with “face” in various ways. In numerous examples, when one’s face is turned toward another, the energy between the parties flows; when the face is turned away, it is very close to being absent all together. From this, I think we can infer there is great power in the expression of the face.
Some examples from the Bible (and there are many more:)
“Cain was very angry and his face fell” (Gen 4.5)
But Judah said to him, “The man solemnly warned us, saying, ‘You shall not see my face unless your brother is with you.’ (Gen 43.3)
So he asked Pharaoh’s officers who were with him in custody in his master’s house, “Why are your faces downcast today?” (Gen 40.7)
And [G-d] said, “My presence (face) will go with you, and I will give you rest.” (Exod 33.14)
In our English language many idioms using the word “face” describe an emotional state (see table below).
According to social scientists, our physical bodily expressions (call it non-verbal signals) convey how we’re feeling. If we hunch over and make ourselves small, we are “hiding”, in a position of disempowerment, perhaps feeling sad, anxious, or depressed. A person who is feeling confident, passionate, expansive, optimistic, assertive - they will have an open body, take up a lot of space. Body language is perhaps underrated in terms of its importance in communication. Others can see it, we can feel it. I think most of us understand that this is true.
What is most fascinating to me is the idea that we actually can change our mood on the basis of our body’s posture and position. The wisdom literature hints at this - so much is revealed by the face. It is our presence. And we are in complete control of what shows up on our face.
Dr. Amy Cuddy gave a great TedTalk on this subject. She makes the point that our body language does not only reflect how we feel, it reflects who we are. We can change our beliefs about ourself through small changes in our physiology: opening up our shoulders, lifting our heads, straightening our back and… smiling! Try smiling - even when you don’t feel like it. You’ll find it is harder to stay “small” and your connection to others will open up as your presence is seen… and felt.
I think this is such an important step that I made a SoulCollage® card to help me remember the importantce of a smile. It isn't just an outward expression of how I feel, it changes my outlook, my disposition, the way I communicate, and who I believe that I am.
I’d love to hear how this works for you. Leave a comment!
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