Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


The Practice of Presence

Finding yourself by learning to rest in the "pause"

Understanding comes into being from the now, the present, which is always timeless.


The present is this exact moment. It doesn't consider what just happened or what will happen in the next moment. It is the pause between life happening; it is the now. The present goes beyond words and actions. It is you communicating with you. All of the external accoutrements of being human are about relating to the world around you-to people, to places, to things. Being present to yourself means being in conscious moment awareness. Learning to be present is the foundation of who you are in this life unfolding.

In mythology, the Roman god Janus (from Ianus, meaning archway) presided over gates, doors, bridges, as well as endings and beginnings. Depicted with two heads facing in opposite directions, legend has it that Janus was gifted with the ability to see the past as well as the future. Symbolically, gates, doors, bridges and the like represent transition.

And that's why January (named for Janus), the end of one year and the beginning of another, is always a good time-a built-in annual reminder-to sit with yourself and reflect on the past year, or just the past in general, and to consider what you want to happen moving forward. How did the events, the happenings of last year compare to other years? Did you actually do what you resolved you would do just one short year ago? Have you resolved the big issues of your past in order for you to move forward?

Most of us are quick to make resolutions that we all too often don't end up keeping. And we do that year after year, very often with the very same resolutions. The fact is you don't have to wait for each January to roll around to stop and reflect on where you are in your life. You can do that at anytime, and perhaps beginning to think about it that way may be a useful tool for helping you access what you want to be and do in the future.

Sitting with yourself, however, is not as easy as it sounds. It fact, it's often very hard to do since most of life as we know it is organized in a "before and after" fashion. We are forever coming from somewhere to go somewhere else. It's very hard to focus on that pause, that gap between things. In reality, though, there is a stillpoint between the past and the future-and that is the present. It's important to set aside the time to just allow yourself to be. But many of us are totally unpracticed at doing it, and frankly, even the thought of it may make us anxious.

But it's only in that "in between" place that you can access who you are at the heart of it all and ask this "self" what you really want to happen...and get an answer. That answer comes from your own "still, small voice" that is the source of your inner knowing. That source has no opinion, no reaction, no judgment or prejudice. When the answer comes you can begin to make plans, to set your course, for the meaningful changes you want to occur and for the things you wish to accomplish.

So how do you practice presence?

Meditation has long been utilized as a means to quiet the mind and get in touch with yourself on a deep level. Actually, the word meditation comes from the Latin root meaning to ponder, to contemplate. But this is not about the "thinking" kind of contemplation. Putting the stimulation of the external world aside, meditation is a proven practice that gives you the opportunity to access your own intuitive, creative, and spiritual awareness. There is nothing new about what meditation is and/or about the myriad benefits it provides. But it's probably safe to say that most of us don't know what happens during meditation, why it works, or how we can consciously tap into our inner stores of wisdom at will.

Some thirty-five years ago, Herbert Benson, M.D., sought a solution to the plague of medical complications caused by stress. The blending of sound scientific data and ancient teachings from both Eastern and Western traditions resulted in what he called the relaxation response which is innate within all humans and can be evoked through several different techniques. Measuring such factors as oxygen consumption, heart rate, respiratory rate, blood pressure, and alpha brain waves leave no doubt as to the efficacy and beneficial effects of relaxation on the human organism.

The elements required to meditate are a quiet environment, a comfortable position, a passive attitude, and a mental device. Of course, there are any number of ways to practice. Having a mantra to recite, or just observing your breath without saying anything are techniques used by many. For those of you who have an aversion to sitting still or just feel like you are incapable of doing it, perhaps walking meditation may work for you. It's a bit harder because you're moving and may be easily distracted by what you observe around you. But if you can stay focused on just what is there before you, not how you think about or describe what you see or sense, this method may work for you. In fact, for some spiritual teachers, meditation is practicing mindfulness about whatever it is you are doing in any given moment.

There's nothing new about what I'm saying. Hundreds of people have written on this topic, so much so that it feels strange to be doing the same without hoping for a different outcome after you've read about it this time. While I know that many of you understand the concept of presence and take the practice of meditation to heart, I also am aware that many of you will read the words and agree with the basic ideas but will not allow yourself the time or opportunity to participate in doing either or both.

Given the seductive pull of the world we live in---the fast paced, ever-changing climate, along with our focus and fascination with the wonders of technology--- it's definitely worth a try, the effort and time it takes, to become aware of your own inner workings. The bottom line is: if you don't know how to show up for yourself, how will you know what you really want, and how will you know how to make that happen?

More from Abigail Brenner M.D.
More from Psychology Today