Whether you look forward to celebrating Valentine’s day or see it as a commercial endeavour, the 14th February can serve as the right opportunity to gift your loved ones with one of the most inestimable yet disregarded signs of care: your presence.
We invest so much energy in attempting to surprise our loved ones with the perfect gift or the most romantic evening to prove our love on this “special” day. The delightful gifts and intricate plans can indeed make your partner feel appreciated and loved. Yet, relationships are built on day-to-day gestures more than yearly gifts presented in red ribbons, even more so if the gift-giving is fuelled by social pressure and expectations to outdo last year’s efforts.
Thich Nhat Hanh, a global spiritual leader and mindfulness pioneer explains that, “The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence.” There are a number of ways by which you can be (the) present for your partner or loved ones. The first step is to set the intention, to make the conscious effort of paying attention to the person. Show interest when they are talking to you by directing your gaze at them. Listen to the words, their tone of voice, the emotion by which they are conveying their message, while noticing their facial expressions and body language. Inevitably, your mind will drift off to your own thoughts and concerns. The conscious effort lies in noticing that you’re drifting off and pulling your mind back every time it wanders.
As simplistic as this may seem, individuals in committed relationships may suffer from feeling unheard or misunderstood. Have you ever been in a situation where you were recounting a story and the other person was fidgeting with their phone or clearly not listening? This makes us feel quite irritated and disrespected, no matter how trivial the conversation. By intentionally setting the goal of truly being present in your relationship, the quality of communication and interaction will improve significantly. This is due to the fact that, through feeling listened and attended to, a deeper connection is created between the people at the receiving and giving end.
Offering your full attention to someone requires mental effort, energy and setting aside of your own concerns. Hence it is not a task that can or should be engaged in continuously, day in, day out. Rather, it is best to choose at least 20 minutes from your day when you are able to offer that undivided attention and presence to someone you love. Best is choosing a time when you are fully awake, rested and nourished in order to be able to maintain presence without drifting off to thoughts and urges directed to your own personal needs.
So, next time your partner is talking about their arduous day at work or your mother gives you a 45-minute call to ask you how you’re doing – check with yourself whether you are paying attention to their words or to your own stream of thoughts. As Eckhart Tolle explains, “the moment you realize you are not present, you are present. Whenever you are able to observe your mind, you are no longer trapped in it.” Tune in to the conversation you are engaged in; rejoice for their achievements and empathise with their suffering. If your personal urges are too strong to allow you to be present, then be honest. Postpone the conversation to a later time of the day or week, when you are able to provide the desired attention. It is far more appreciated admitting not being able to provide attention, rather than drifting off and staring mindlessly while your loved one is opening up to you.
Presence is one of the purest signs of love one can offer to another human being. Despite its perceived simplicity, it is a challenging intention and effort, hence making it a beautiful expression of love.