When it comes to abundance and faith, I’ve got a lot on my mind. I had an incident last week that threw me – was almost like a wake up call. Sadly as with most wake up calls, it involved sadness, hurt, disappointment, and anger. At the heart of this happenstance was presence – or lack thereof. I’ve worked very hard over the last few days to turn this all into a learning experience – because I never want anything like it to happen again. I’m sure over the coming weeks, much of my writing will be somehow connected to it. But also, I’m wondering how the learnings from this social experience are relevant to the world of policymaking. Yes, I’m trying to return back to that topic. The question I’m toying with right now is: “How can presence or greater mindfulness help us to develop more effective social policies?”
Mindfulness is increasingly in vogue, including in social policy circles. The Chief Executive of the RSA – for example – mentioned mindfulness in his annual lecture last year, in the context of 21st Century Enlightenment. I haven’t really thought about it, but I guess ‘presence’ is a subset of mindfulness – or maybe a by-product. Anyway, it is presence that is front of mind for me.
In essence, here’s the happenstance: I had a new friend over for dinner the other evening. This was our second meeting. The first one took place at a party and involved a couple of hours of relaxed chatting. The other person, in fact, concluded the evening by saying I had a hugely calming effect on them. This apparently was no small feat since they were in a period of anxiety and stress. That was a few weeks ago. Last week, this person was at my house with another friend. The evening – to me – seemed pretty relaxed. But then it all went pear-shaped. A huge cross-communication took place.
The evening ended with this person leaving after a very uncomfortable exchange – you know one of those ones where no doubt much was left unsaid – or was said, but in ways that required a bit of digging and exploration to really discern what was being communicated. When I think back on it, I can see loads of openings to thoughtful, clear communication that could have been entered. However, I was really thrown by the sudden break/shift in connection that took place – so thrown, I wasn’t able to pause and reflect thoughtfully in the moment and seize opportunities to re-connect.
One particular aspect of that evening which interests me is how disconnected I was with what I was feeling, what the other person was feeling and how I was struggling to communicate honestly. In fact, at one point, I said something which was the opposite of what I was feeling. Have you ever done that? You want to go in one direction and than you say something that takes you a totally different way? It stinks, and is confusing and frustrating. But that’s for another posting.
So, what does all this have to do with presence? Well, I reckon that the evening we first met, I was very present. I was not thinking about what might happen at the end of the conversation – let alone beyond that. I was very alert to the other person’s body language, apparent emotions and mood. I was focused on them for no other reason but to be attentive: enjoying human connection. No agenda. No expectations. Just being in the moment (ahh, that old cliche). The second meet up, albeit subconsciously I think, I was less attentive. I was only half with the person. I was instead mentally in the world of expectations, future-happenings, a ‘me’ agenda.
Consequently, here I was with someone who was still experiencing anxiety and stress and trying to talk about it. But I wasn’t really listening. I was partially wrapped up in my own inner world which was, if I’m honest, full of nervousness, fear, anticipation, insecurity – all of which are connected to a mind absorbed with past and future rather than the current moment.
And so it is, that we hit a loggerheads of really bad communication, of tension, of frustration, of dis-connect. As I type, I feel like it is obvious how this is relevant to policymaking – you have a group of people coming together to create. Each of them comes with an agenda, comes with a foot in the past, a foot in the future – is anyone really listening to each other? Are people connecting in the ways that are essential for connection, creativity and collaboration? Hmmm, I doubt it.