Christmas presence

Yesterday I got an email from Loren Ekroth of Conversation Matters. It touches on a favourite theme of mine and here it is verbatim.

“Christmas Presence and the Gift of Listening”

One of the finest, most personal gifts we can give another person during this season is our presence, by which I mean “being present to,” or “being with” another person.

This gift is perhaps most poignant when given to persons who are older, infirm, or isolated. For them, one’s living presence offers the possibility of connection. and validation. John Donne’s lovely poem asserts that “No man is an island, separate from the main.” Still, we observe that many people in our society and world experience the feelings of separateness. Hungry for connection, they can all use more of our personal presence.

Presence is not intrusive. It does not push or nudge or prod or probe. As well, presence does not judge, or challenge, or impose. When we are present, we show up, we are aware, and we extend our awareness to the other with our eyes, our ears, and our intuitions. Presence is hospitable and welcoming. Deep attention and deep listening are the activities of true presence.

When a person’s presence is fully available to me during a conversation, I feel touched and appreciated. Even when only I am the one bringing the presence (because the other is troubled or distracted), I still experience similar feelings.

Everyone has a story to tell, and when we invite others to share a personal story, they are almost always invigorated. I like to ask people to tell me about one of the most memorable Christmas experiences they’ve ever had. As they recall and tell this personal story, they relive many of the feelings of that experience, and as I listen carefully, I vicariously share in their personal history. (Now while I write this I think of a Christmas in Ferrara, Italy in 1960, walking through light snow with my friends to deliver hand-made Christmas cards to their neighbors.)

During the holidays we have so many distractions with phones ringing, FedEx deliveries, timers going off in kitchens, office parties, and last-minute shopping. Maybe this fragmented situation is what makes personal presence so precious at this time of year: It acts as a healing antidote to our seasonal anxieties and disconnectedness.

Some people tell me that they resist being more personal and more generous during the holiday season, specifically because it’s expected of them. I suppose they have a point. On the other hand, we can use the busy season as a clear reminder that at this time – when old feelings are re-stimulated, sometimes as “the holiday blues,” expressing a generosity of spirit by being present to others can be just the right thing to do.

Last week an old and wise friend told me that elderly people experience a special kind of loneliness because they almost always have lots of regrets for times they didn’t come through in life. The times they didn’t say what was needed, the times they didn’t make the courageous choice, the times they didn’t seize an opportunity before it passed them by. When we are present to these people without judgement, they once again can feel validated and worthy.

So we can take a breath and center ourselves as we approach family, friends, and colleagues. Strangers, too. Now we are ready to give others the gift of our attentive presence at the same time we give them other physical gifts. And we’ll all be better for having shared our selves.

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