We hear a lot about “Presence” these days. Depending on who we listen to, presence is a lot of things:
When I encounter someone who is fully present, my sense is that they “know themselves.” They seem to have an awareness of their energy, and how it affects others, and they know how to step outside of their reactive selves and intentionally interact with me, even if I’m in my reactive self. People who are fully present seem to have a way to look at challenging situations: they turn it and turn it and turn it until they have knowledge, wisdom, and understanding. They are very interesting people to be around. I know I’m with a person who has presence when our conversations feel deeply meaningful.
It seems like Presence might take a lifetime of work, and in some regards it is a life discipline. Recently, I had an illuminating experience that demonstrated just how easy it is to begin that process and get some pretty phenomenal results right away.
I smiled! I didn’t just smile once, I tried to make it a conscious effort to smile all day. I kept asking myself, “Am I smiling right now?” And you know, it was a lot harder to carry a bad attitude that day. Other people noticed. And you know how I could tell? They smiled too! I found that I was practicing a sort of self-awareness, being conscious of what was on my face all day, and finding that it connected me to others. it seemed too simple. So I did a little research. I found out some very interesting things:
First, ancient wisdom literature tells us over and over again to be aware of how we affect others by what is on our face. It does this through story. When Cain was angry, "his face fell." Judah knew he was warned when he was told, "You will not see my face again." Pharaoh's officer's faces were "downcast." The Holy One said "My face (translated as presence) will go with you, and I will give you rest."
Secondly, Our English language is loaded with idioms that use the word "face" to describe emotions. The variety and diversity of expressions, all focusing on the face, seems to recognize that what we wear on our face has a great deal to do with emotions. Here is just a partial list of what I found!
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”. It is a position of disempowerment, perhaps a signal we are feeling sad, anxious, or depressed. A person who is feeling confident, passionate, expansive, optimistic, assertive - they will have an open body and 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.
Here is the real kicker - and why putting a smile on our face every day is important to help us learn our Presence: we actually can change our mood on the basis of our body’s posture and position and by what we wear on our face. Smile or frown, grin or scowl - it will make a difference in your day and ultimately your life.
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 - by others and by you.