“Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” – Simone Weil
I read an article this week highlighting four questions poet and activist Maya Angelou believed we all ask, whether consciously or not. The first two really caught my attention, giving me great pause.
- Do you see me?
- Do you care that I’m here?
I remembered the story one of my teachers told about meeting the Dalai Lama – the Dalai Lama’s pure presence facilitating a feeling of being completely, compassionately seen.
I was flooded by a series of memories involving sitting with people in an active state of hurt. Regardless of the hat I wore during these different instances (friend, partner, colleague, caregiver, coach…), there was a common theme. Underlying what was/wasn’t said, or did/didn’t happen, was the pain of a person wanting to be fully seen, for their presence to mean something, and the flavors of vulnerability that come with that.
I thought too about times as a teacher I’ve integrated a particular type of compassionate communication practice – eliminating cross-talk (i.e., one person talks at a time uninterrupted, no one chimes in before/during/ after to problem solve or self-autobiographasize). Post-practice, speakers and listeners alike tend to talk about being moved in surprising ways and feeling more connected. I believe it has something to do with the opportunity to not only recognize, but also feel in body, simple examples of a universal humanity.
Heading into a season of prompts to express gratitude and be generous I started to wonder what it might be like to consciously ask ourselves Maya Angelou’s questions while holding in our awareness the possibility that people at our holiday dinner table, office party, or on the yoga mats next to us may, on some level, be wrestling with these questions too.
A couple of days ago in the back offices we were talking about why we really practice yoga. For me, when I follow the bread-crumb-trail of an answer all the way, it’s because of questions like Maya Angelou’s. I’m trying to resource myself in ways that help me muster the courage to be seen and admit I’d like to count. I’m clear too that the world makes more sense when I recognize life as being about something larger than me. This means I also practice to grow my capacity for humility and showing up for others.
Although I find the quality of attention and presence of folks like Maya Angelou and the Dalai Lama to be exceptional, I also believe they are accessible. Below are a few ways to tap into the teachings of yoga as a way to make this pure form of generosity perhaps a little less rare.
On The Mat
- Set an intention at the beginning of class to return awareness to physical sensations in body whenever you notice attention has time traveled (via thinking/feeling mind) into the past or future. Even if that means returning awareness thousands of times in a single class.
- Attune to your presence at the end of class (during final rest or meditation). Let this guide how you transition into your next hour, rest of day, or week ahead rather than auto-piloting into a momentum or agenda that might not actually support you and others.
Off the Mat
- Set an intention at the beginning of a conversation, meeting or meal to listen without interjecting, even if only for a couple of minutes. Instead of acting on impulses to jump in, fix, console, or identify with (we all have these impulses), might you experiment with noting these habits and then returning attention back to listening? (And might it be okay if you discover, especially in the beginning, how often you might not be present?)
- Experiment with non-rehearsing during conversations as another way to grow presence. Ask yourself what it might take to trust that you are capable of responding at the time it’s your turn to speak.
What other ways does your practice support you to give and receive presence? I’d love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted by: Ashley Dahl, 8 Limbs Executive Director
Curious about ways to further grow and offer this type of presence? You may be interested in a couple of our upcoming workshops: Embodied Communication Saturday, November 18, and Day of Kindness Sunday, December 3rd.