Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of July 30, 2012

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Speaking Presence

(Presence in Daily Life: Part 5)

To be fully present while speaking is not as easy as it sounds. First, there is the illusion that because words are coming out of my mouth, I must be here, present. I talk, therefore I am. Not so. Usually we are just in one small part of ourselves when we talk, namely our heads, our thoughts. And often even that is at a fairly low level: through lack of any particular intention, we allow the ever-present associations free reign in our mind and let them pour out of our mouth as speech. Sometimes we may not be in ourselves at all: just lost in the situation.

Second, talking is easy, so easy that it goes very well by itself, without our interference, with little intention behind it, and without our presence. We can talk effortlessly, maybe even with charm or wit, all on automatic, on autopilot. It is like drifting along in our automatic, associative thoughts, except these thoughts are voiced out loud.

Third, there is a strong pull toward being identified with ourselves when we talk. This is me. This is my personality. This is my opinion. This is my story. This is who I am. Or so it seems. But itís just my habitual patterns of interaction, of thought, of emotion, drawing on a storehouse of memory to string together some utterance, or a whole series of utterances, usually coherently. Nevertheless we speak so often and so much, and what we say and how we say it matters enough, that despite its difficulty, speaking is an important area for our inner work, for the work of presence: to be fully present as we speak.

To help us overcome the difficulties of being present in speaking, we can use various strategies. One involves preparing our intention prior to speaking. If you see that you are about to enter a conversation, even one as brief as saying hello, you can take that as your cue to come into presence. Then when you do speak, your inner preparation gives you a greater chance to stay present as you begin speaking. Or if you find yourself in the middle of a conversation, listening to the other person speaking, listening in presence, knowing that soon you will speak, then that listening presence, if you intend it to, can carry over into speaking presence when itís your moment to speak.

Phone presence may be a little easier than presence in in-person conversation, because on the phone fewer of our senses are engaged and it takes less attention. Plus we have the advantage of a clear signal that a phone conversation is about to begin. Either the phone is ringing or we are initiating the call. In either case, we can set ourselves to use that signal as our opportunity to enter presence and stay present when we speak. When the phone rings, we first take a moment to come into ourselves, then we answer. When we initiate a call, we take a moment to come into presence before the call connects. And then we work to stay with it and to recover when we notice we have lost it.

It helps to set ourselves to work on specific aspects of speaking presence. Such aspects might include being particularly aware of our tone of voice, actually hearing our voice as we speak. Or being aware of our gestures or our facial expressions as we speak. Such self-awareness in speaking teaches us about ourselves, about our personality, in ways that we might otherwise overlook.

Another aspect of speaking presence is to focus more than usual on how our words are affecting the person we are speaking to. To see from their posture and facial expressions, from their tone of voice and from their words, how they are. This awakens us to considering the other person, to communicating well, to kindness in our speech, to all the nuances of the interaction.

The essence of speaking presence, as with presence in any situation, is to be ourselves, to be fully in our whole body and to be the one who is speaking. Our words are not just forming themselves as they usually do, without our participation, with little intention. In speaking presence, we are there, behind our words, the author of what we say. In speaking presence, I am speaking. We speak from ourselves. We mean what we say.

And we do this in such a way that it is not noticeable to others that we are doing something different. Speaking presence does not mean speaking with intensity or speaking in a slow and ponderous way with emphasis on each word. We speak in a natural, easy way, but inwardly we are there, we are the one who is speaking.

For this week, practice speaking with presence. For most of us this is difficult and requires sustained and persistent intention. What usually happens is that we keep noticing, just after a conversation, that we forgot to bring presence to it, that we were not fully there. Despite finding ourselves forgetting the practice at the very moment we start to talk, we persist, coming back to it again and again at each opportunity. Then a moment comes when we are there speaking, fully there, and the inner difference is remarkable.


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