Present. Couple being present with each other while having coffee on a couch.

Here and Now—Being Fully Present with People

What does it mean to be fully present when you’re with people?

When we’re with other people, our minds can wander, as they do during any other activities. But with people, there’s the added dimension of what the other person is thinking. It can be challenging to follow the dynamic of both minds and how they engage. In conversation, for example, some people are naturals, while for others, it can be a struggle. But being an easy conversationalist doesn’t always translate to being aware of and intentional about the dynamic between us and other people. A meaningful encounter with someone doesn’t even have to involve talking. When two people are completely present when they’re together, there’s a whole other level of engagement that can involve conversation, but it also involves body language, empathy, and mood. It can be incredibly meaningful.

Be curious and interested

To truly be present for someone, it’s important to care about who they are—to get in touch with their essential self. This means being delving into their interests, desires, and passions—to really get to know them. This doesn’t necessarily mean conducting an interview. If you are attentive to the dynamic of your interaction, this kind of sharing will happen naturally, along with them getting to know you deeply too. Be as generous in sharing of and about yourself as you are curious about them. Let yourself be open and vulnerable. This is a vital element in building a bond of trust. It may seem like you would only do this with people who are very close to you or that you care about deeply, but you can employ these aspects of interaction with anyone you come across. It will lead to a much more genuine and sincere interaction.

It’s not all about talking

There’s a great line from the movie Best in Show by Jennifer Coolidge, playing the character of Sherri Ann Cabot, talking about her elderly husband: “We could not talk or talk forever and still find things to not talk about.” A meaningful encounter often involves deep and thoughtful conversation, but it doesn’t always have to. Depending on the circumstances, a shared experience can be just as meaningful without a lot of talk. This might involve doing something you both love, engaging in a moving experience, listening to music, or enduring a shared hardship. Being fully present and available for someone when they are going through emotional trauma can be as meaningful or more than any conversation. People often categorize pauses in conversation as awkward or a sign of weak rapport. But silence can be incredibly comfortable if there isn’t the pressure for constant conversation. My late father-in-law and I would frequently hunt together. To say he was not a big conversationalist would be a massive understatement. In one instance, we sat in a duck blind for hours, and the only conversation was him saying, “Come on, ducks…” But it was never uncomfortable or awkward.

Awareness of other people’s dynamic

Part of being interested in someone is being aware of their mood, their energy, and their desire to be with you. These aspects may be totally unspoken, so it’s important to observe them and learn to translate other people’s body language and changes in their physiological responses (e.g., blushing, rate of breathing, pulse, or goosebumps). Awareness of a person’s mood can help us gear our interaction with them in such a way that it will be welcome and helpful. If they are happy and carefree, the interaction can be fun and irreverent. If they’re upset or anxious, we need to be more caring and constructive. The other person’s energy also matters. People’s energy can be felt in a variety of ways, but it’s mainly intuitive—you feel the vibe they’re giving off. It takes a strong empathetic connection to sense this, and because it’s so instinctive, it’s hard to describe explicitly. But once you have a handle on it, it can become a vital tool for interacting with others meaningfully. Finally, it’s important to gauge a person’s desire to be with you. Just because you have had a good dynamic with someone doesn’t mean they always want to be with you (or be with you for an extended time). When you sense that another person is ready to part, ending the interaction is as important as the time you’ve spent with them.

Give all of yourself

When you’re with another person, being fully present will always make the experience more meaningful and rewarding. It’s very natural when interacting with someone to have other things on your mind. You might have another appointment, have a lot of work to do, or be thinking about any of the details and dramas of life. But if you can put all of that to the side, if you can be in that moment fully, you’ll get more out of your interactions, your relationships will be stronger, and you’ll generally have a more fulfilling life. This should be your goal not only with people you care about, but with anyone you come across—they should feel like the most important person to you in the world at that moment.

Give all of yourself to other people. You’ll find what you get in return is truly special.

For a Time

Here you are, in front of me.
In all of your glory, telling your story,
I enter through your eyes. I travel in your soul.
We become the same person, for a time. 

For a time, you are all of me.
My whole mind, my whole heart, my whole being.
I live your life, I feel your strife.
I am you and you are me.

You are me, for a time.
For a glorious time, we share a soul.
I’m not alone, it’s like I’ve known,
you forever, as you become me.

To others who see us,
it’s just people talking. They think as they’re walking
by us, “what close friends they must be.”
But they cannot see, that we’ve become one.

For a time, we are one.
Then the moment is done, and we go.
But you are in me, and I am in you.
Each of us changed, for a time.

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