The Gift of Presence

Photo by Harli Marten on Unsplash

by Steve Boehlke

If you’re not sitting across the table from me, sipping your tea, attentive to the murmurings of my soul, are you no longer present? If we Zoom once again, or WhatsApp a text, or maybe even write a letter, is your presence lost or just displaced?

A smile, a knowing nod, a glance that tells me you are here, alive and listening; a hug that holds the warmth of friendship embodied — these are elements of presence that one does not experience in a digital world of connection and communication.

Presence requires attention and intention. I’m embarrassed by how distracted I inadvertently become, picking up my omnipresent mobile device to check a message that just landed on my screen, excusing my all too familiar gesture with profuse apology. Meanwhile, yet another remote workshop permits me to multitask discreetly, engaged with more preoccupations than I acknowledge even to myself. I fool myself too often into thinking that I AM attentive.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Presence can often be readily confirmed with the eyes, though a penetrating stare can quickly become threatening, somehow trespassing interior boundaries of another’s essential being. To be present, I choose to see you without judgment and know you as you are, however imperfect you may be.

The capacity for silence, a stillness that has a movement all its own between us, creates a space that may even feel sacred. Solutions are not required; the most powerful responses are often non-verbal. My attention is focused not on you or me, but on simply being there in the moment. It feels a bit awkward at times, but it also feels real. And makes a difference. All the difference in the world. Have you experienced that?

My sister, Jane, was powerfully present to me as she sat just a few feet across from me, almost knee to knee, in her artist’s studio in some of her final hours before her untimely death. I am acutely aware that before I ever arrived at her home last summer for that final pre-death visit, she was clear about her intentions. There would be no prayers, no toasts, no holding hands all together, a remnant of a family ritual from years past. She arranged time with each of us privately and had the intention of giving each of us something to remember her by.

Her MFA learning journal, a collage of reflective writing, original art, clippings, and other diverse mementoes from her fine arts studies, reminds me of her attention and intention even today, as it sits above my desk where I work. Jane embodied presence for me, staring down her death to the very final hours. She wanted all of us to share a savory grilled meal together outside around the patio table. She was clear about what she wanted!

Intention requires will. If I choose to be present, I must risk letting go of the compelling distractions which I so readily entertain, much to my chagrin. I have a firm belief that, if we are clear about our intentions, the world, the Universe, a sense of something so much bigger than ourselves, will meet us more than halfway. Perhaps I am anxious about what I will discover if I choose to be more attentive, more present? Nevertheless, I am exceedingly grateful for the gift of presence when the immediacy of the moment reveals a beauty and wonder that cannot be contrived.

This is a season of gratitude, gifts, and giving. I encourage you to consider how your presence might be delivered as a gift, unwrapped and shared, with new resolve and intention. It may well be the most appreciated gift of all.

Founder and President of SFB Associates, a global leadership consulting practice, Steve Boehlke has 40 years of experience working with leaders around the world. As a leading voice in The Room, Steve’s gift for enabling people to develop leadership capabilities through a greater awareness of themselves and their world is unparalleled.

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