Talk given 9/30/2012 at The Unitarian Universalist Church, Pittsfield, MA by R. Hayes

Sometimes it's a form of love just to talk to somebody that you have nothing in common with and still be fascinated by their presence.
-David Byrne

When I was a teenager my first "pro" guitar amplifier had knobs for treble, bass, midrange and the all-important one for volume. I understood all of these. But there was one for “Presence” that was a bit of a mystery to me. I noticed it added a brightness - a fuller bodied sound: more “punch” to my guitar, and the more I turned it up, the more evident it was. Every string rang out , notes were truer, richer. By adding presence, everything sounded better.

Wouldn’t it be great if we had such a control for our life? Well, we do.

This morning I’ll be talking about presence both as something we do when we’re present for another person; and Presence as a noun.

Back when I had just completed my training as a hospice volunteer the first patient I was assigned to was a 90 year old man who was acutely hard of hearing and had mild dementia. I would visit and try to engage him, but due to his hearing difficulties and his dementia, there were mostly large amounts of space and quiet. I wasn’t sure what to do. I felt nervous and ill at ease. Having begun meditation a few years earlier, I decided to try meditating. So I began to simply sit quietly with him. At first this was very hard for me. I felt like I wasn’t doing anything. But I persisted. I’d simply sit, bringing my awareness and attention back again and again to the room, to the present, and to this man lying here in his bed. I did this for a number of months-rarely having more than a few words with him.

After he died his wife told me that my visits had been a great comfort to her and that her husband said he looked forward to my visits!

When I finished seminary I was given a laminated card that I could carry in my wallet containing the following reading: “It is often through our listening and not the wisdom of our words, that we are able to effect the most profound changes in the people around us”.
I don’t keep this card in my wallet but rather where I can see it daily.

Listening requires being present, because if you’re not present, you’re not listening. How many times do we miss what is said because we’re lost in our own thoughts and dramas?

That patient was a great teacher for me. The lesson: “being” is often more important than doing. But the truth is simply this: by being present we are actually “doing” a very precious thing!

People know when you’re paying attention-they know when you’re really “there”. And they know when they’re being listened to. It’s true isn’t it? Long after people remember what you
said or did, they remember how you “were” with them.

Being present for someone does not mean you have to fix or solve their problem, or say the exact right words; all it require is that you be willing to be there with them
in that moment, whatever it is.

And that is HUGE.

No offense to all you guys, but I think this is something that we don't do all that well. For most men it seems easier (more natural) to come up with an answer- to solve the problem – to fix what’s wrong. Listening is passive-or so we think.
But we’re mistaken.

truly listening, can be incredibly healing. Woman do seem to “get” this more than men. But we men can learn. It's about practicing awareness and mindfulness.

Here are a few questions you can ask yourself in order to be present:
Where am I NOW?
How often are we somewhere else when someone else is speaking to us?

*The mind is like a puppy- running off in all directions, chasing things-we need to bring it back-to train it! Asking this simple question can help.

Am I judging the person? Formulating my own opinion and preparing my own view so I can speak my mind? Thinking of my reply rather than what’s being said?
(See above solution)

Am I Afraid? Nervous?
If the person is facing something that scares us we may try to avoid them. Don’t let fear stop you. Face it: ask yourself why it scares you, then become willing to let it go. You don’t stand a chance unless you’re able to look at what frightens you-without this it may stay unconscious and thereby affect your actions and responses to the person in subtle or not so subtle ways that prevent your ability to be present for them. This happens all the time in issues of death and dying and loved ones. And it creates all kinds of issues of remorse and guilt after the fact.

Here’s one more question, which is perhaps the most important question of all:
In our hope to be present for another person, what presence are we bringing to them?
Before you can be present for another, you must be present “within” yourself!
This is not self-centeredness I’m referring to. Not the demands of the ego - the small “s” self with all its delusional thinking and fears. That is the “false self” and not who we really are, although it fools many of us into believing it is.

There is something much deeper- the “I” behind the eyes-the sense of “I” or “I am” that each one of us has had ever since we showed up here in this life. We lose touch with it and it seems to recede as we are caught up in all of the drama of life and this world; we forget it,
but It never forgets us.
Whether we believe it or not, each and every one of us has moments when we remember this “I” ness. It is beyond words and the sense it brings up in us is beyond any description.

Unfortunately, for too many, this seeming inaccessibility to label and quantify has caused them to dismiss it as imaginary and not real. When in fact, it is the most “real” part of who you are!

Art, poetry, music, nature are some of the ways that we connect with this.
Meeting each other is another.

This “I” is not a “me”- “me” is too small to contain it. This is beyond containment.

How do you connect to this? See the above questions!

Spend time daily in quiet-unplug from the busyness and have “time-out”-allow yourself to go deeper and contemplate these questions you’ve asked yourself as you’ve tried to be present for others so that you can be present to the Presence (Capital “P”!).

A great mistake and misunderstanding has occurred by thinking of God as “A” being rather than as “BEING” ITSELF!
Removing the “a” changes everything! “Being”, as in here, now;
“Being” as in the Ground of Being- That
from which All arises (which includes You).
And here we arrive at Presence as a noun.
Jesus said: You are the Light of the world.
Bring that forth and everything changes!
It’s what we are here for.