Humans need each other. The biologists say that human beings are one of the most social of species. We cooperate, support, share, empathise and look after individuals who are unable to look after themselves. Care and empathy are hard-wired into the human psyche. Several years of altruistic behaviour are required to ensure the survival of offspring. This isn’t to deny our capacity for selfish behaviour. It simply recognises that, because of our biology, we are primed to feel good through cooperative behaviour. Being with others who care, and caring for others, has been shown to be good for our mental and physical health. Remembering this as we move into the festive season – with the increased pressures, consumption and commitments – can help remind us of where we should be concentrating our efforts. Rather than doing more and getting more stuff, maybe we can bring the gift of presence to our interactions.
Last night was the final Mindfulness – From the Inside Out class for 2017 and there was a beautiful Christmas tree in the venue we use in Manning. One of the participants joked: “But where are the presents?” This was a perfect opportunity to recognise that our presence may be needed more than additional stuff. In our society, where most of us already consume far more than the planet can support, it is worth explicitly valuing presence. We feel the gift of presence when a friend, colleague, family member or complete stranger, has time to listen and share – when their attention is in the interaction, rather than anticipating the next thing on the “to do” list. We can give the gift of presence by pausing before each encounter and choosing to be here and now, not caught up in thoughts of the past or future. Now that is an environmentally friendly gift!
This week saw four programs I run come to an end. Participants in the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program and the Introduction to Mindfulness program at Royal Perth Hospital were invited to name the benefits they have observed from cultivating mindfulness over the weeks of the programs. Many of the different things that were named illustrate the value of connection and relationship to human beings.
Here are some examples of what participants were observing and valuing in developing their presence:
- A deeper relationship with their partner
- Their children noticing that they are more chilled and less stressed
- Easing off on an existing pattern of trying to control others
- Not reacting to someone else’s elevated emotions
All these benefits contribute to strong and healthy relationships. When we are present and non-reactive in our interactions we give a gift to the world. To cultivate non-reactive presence it helps to slow down, not input so much into our minds (eg disconnect from technology), find time for regular meditation and take time-out in nature. Befriending ourselves, exactly as we are, is also an important ingredient. Making peace with ourselves, we can make peace with our external world much more easily.
May there be peace, love, bread and rest for all.
Kathryn Choules (PhD)
Dr Choules is a certified instructor of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction from the University of Massachusetts and a Senior Teacher of Meditation (Meditation Association of Australia). She has been offering mindfulness programs, workshops, training and retreats in Western Australia since 2013. With many years’ experience in government, academia and the community sector, both in Australia and overseas, she understands the challenges and benefits of finding calm amidst the storm of modern living and the modern workplace.