“Your reflections on presence ran through many of the conversations during your last workshop and is also a continuing theme in your written works and elsewhere. Could you condense your views on this into an easily understandable, everyday definition? What’s necessary to become more present in every moment?”

My personal sense of presence that I kind of carry around with me is along the lines of “Somebody has to be there first before acting.” The more fully present one is, the better the results in whatever they’re doing — more precision, subtlety, relevance… — and much less dispersion and depletion. When you watch someone who is good at this, you can sometimes feel like they’re actually stretching out the walls of possibility in a given situation, literally creating open space. Much of this comes only through time and experience, eventually understanding that how one does something, not the specifics of action, is what impacts others most.

In thinking of people I know who have an exceptional presence, they all embody these common traits, which I hope serves as a decent working definition:

~ Open receptivity and panoramic perception

~ Attentiveness and conviction in engagement

~ Unselfconscious equanimity and generosity

~ Close, conscious proximity to essential priorities

~ Self-generated enthusiasm and inspiration

I hesitate to give a single example of this because there are so many variations in tone, mood, and forms of expression, but here’s someone with obvious presence who also happens to be talking about the subject…

Photo of peregrine falcon by P. T. Valo

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Jade Wood says:

    It’s interesting how « Presence » is something you can actually analyze and describe that much. I didn’t think that it was something we could really talk about, because for me it was first the simple fact to be there , then, something that we feel about people’s presence but as we feel it more than we see it, it’s complicated to analyze it.

    I remember Herzl Tobey, reading a text about women. You asked him to read, because he is amazing at it. He was often looking at me during his end of sentences. I don’t think it was on purpose, I was right in front of him after all ..

    But that day, I cried so much, and not for the text, which I understood nothing about, but for the intense and calm look of Herlz who put his whole body and presence at the service of this magnificent (I suppose) text.

    I was also a little scared because I didn’t understand why I was crying so much. But it was simply the presence of Herzl that impacted me so much and touched me right into my heart. He was so there, so true, so transparent. And that day I could almost touch his presence with my fingers.

  2. This is a great description of the impact that exceptional presence can bring. Mr. Tobey, being a formidable film actor with many years of practicing presence, certainly has an unusual gift that most of us don’t. But the elements that make him as powerful as he is are well defined, I believe, in the highlighted text in this post, especially Attentiveness and Conviction in Engagement. Unlike many performers, perhaps especially actors (yes, we know you can act crazy, but can you act sane?), he takes such work on not as a form of pretending to be someone or something but as an unraveling and revealing of some aspect of his real nature. When someone is good at this, it can strike like lightning through our defenses into the deeper parts of our beings. You feel that you are really being spoken to, and you are.

    That’s a wonderful phrase you came up with: “whole body and presence at the service of this.” (A kind of. “I am only here to offer my service.”) It’s really secondary, and in some cases irrelevant, what that service is to. Just that you as “performer” hold it with absolute conviction as you truthfully express yourself, with no runoff attention toward manipulation or conning your audience. As you point out, the presence creates the impact even if you don’t know what the hell he’s even saying. Any real conversation will leave you with this experience; the information exchanged is often forgotten and not the point.

    “…touched me right into my heart”… This is what we so often seek in communication of all kinds, yet we most often try to (uncourageously) appeal to the rational intellect with the occasional token gesture toward common, familiar sensibilities and emotions. Thereby missing the point and the opportunity (like a door that starts to close the moment we lose our honest sincerity and quicky slams shut). I’m not only referring to emotions here – I mean the experience of recognizing someone truly giving something of themselves, your “He was so there, so true, so transparent.” That is what cuts through all the commonplaceness and drudgery of existence. Suddenly life is real (which, yes, can be scary, too, because it is so unusual and curiously affecting.)

    As D. T. Suzuki said about this failure of true presence, and I have this quote up on my most recent Immersion post: “ONLY TOUCHES THE FRINGE OF PERSONALITY, IT DOES NOT CAUSE A COMMOTION IN THE DEEPEST PARTS OF THE SOUL… WE MAY BE CLEVER, BRIGHT, AND ALL THAT, BUT WHAT WE PRODUCE LACKS DEPTH, SINCERITY, AND DOES NOT APPEAL TO THE INMOST FEELINGS.” We don’t fully “buy” it because we know intuitively, instantaneously, that it lacks soul itself, that nothing of significance or genuine personal risk was invested in what was produced.

    Your own courageous, creatively insightful and revealing comments here certainly meet Mr. Tobey’s and Mr. Suzuki’s guiding presences, and it’s inspiring to share in the conversation.

    A piercing line to go along with your own from the song above in this post: “Whoa Free to be sure of what I am and who I need not be.”

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