What is Presence-based Therapy (PBT)?
Presence-based therapy and coaching is founded on the idea that human suffering has a common cause: disconnection from the present moment, and, hence, our true selves. That is a mouthful to say! Put it this way, when you feel sad or anxious or frustrated with yourself, does it not feel isolating? It feels as if we are not being cared for or "held" very well, right? When we're separated from just being, we begin to feel separated from everything and everyone, including ourselves and the wonderful tenderness of our own hearts. We don't feel held. The aim of any worthwhile effort to living more fully then, is to address those things that keep us from living in the moment.
Why "Presence-based" instead of Mindfulness-based therapy?
I chose the term "Presence-based" therapy (I'm lumping coaching and psychotherapy under the same term "therapy") largely out of dissatisfaction with the word "mindfulness." My perception is that the word "mindfulness" has come to mean just another relaxation technique, or even worse, synonymous with "thoughtfulness." Even the phrase that I often hear as a definition of mindfulness, "emptying your mind of thoughts," misses the mark. Presence feels more accurate, as it captures not only the when (now), but the felt sense, the nowness, the beingness, we experience from being truly in the moment.
So then, how does PBT work?
Presence-based therapy's aim is to help you strengthen your capacity to reliably connect with presence (the non-verbal experience or "flow" of each moment), plain and simple. This can be accomplished in several ways, including teaching or facilitating meditation practices, self-inquiry (exploring the inner road-blocks to staying present), how to work with emotions, and much more.
Most importantly, PBT is a practice of being kind and gentle withourselves. When we can become compassionately aware of ourselves, healing can occur naturally, almost effortlessly and answers come easily, as if we already knew them.
Additionally, presence or mindfulness practices are utilized during the therapy hour as a way of bringing a sense of feeling grounded and supported, which dramatically decreases fears of becoming overwhelmed when exploring difficult emotions. Contrary to popular conceptualizations, therapy is at it's most potent when it is attending to exactly what is happening in the moment.
Do I have to learn to be present to be in this therapy?
No. It is my primary job to be present with you. You can just be how you are! All I would invite you to do is to be open to your present, inner experience.
How does one develop presence?
You don't have to have a friend smack you in the face with a red rubber bouncy-ball, like in the clip above, but you do need to have a direct experience of your body. Eckhart Tolle gives an excellent teaching on how to practice a non-bouncy-ball method to experiencing presence here.
The thing about turning our attention to our direct physical/sensory experience is that it shifts the spotlight of our awareness away from the repetitive, catastrophe-riddled movie reel of our minds. And, as a dear teacher once told me, attention is the greatest reward. When our attention, conscious or not, is on fears, we only encourage them. The more time we spend not paying them attention, the more they wither.
Meditation, or practicing compassionate awareness, or practicing presence, or whatever you want to call it, is really about learning to trust that we don't have to DO anything. That our fullest, richest experiences come from when we are having a complete body experience, absent of analysis or any other activity of our eager brains.
"Everything you want and want to be, you already have and are..."
[Imbed The Blanket Thing clip from IHH?]
What does Presence have to do with depression or anxiety?
Suffering, such as depression and anxiety, are indicators of some type of stuck-ness. Suffering could be defined simply as "the desire to be somewhere (geographically, emotionally, mentally,...etc.) other than where we are right now." Another way of saying this is that our feelings aren't really the problem, it's our thoughts and feelings about the feelings that make us suffer! For example, would sadness without blame be anything but love? Would anxiety without anticipation of future disasters be anything but a physical readiness, even excitement? When we learn to be compassionatey listen to what is going on inside our busy minds, we can learn to drop the stories and find peace and love, even in the midst of chaos and heartbreak.
What is Presence actually like?
I think most of us probably have many experiences of Presence more frequently than we realize. For example, in the morning, have you ever noticed that feeling of sweet serenity that exists between sleep and wakefulness, to a before "the brain kicks in?" Or perhaps you've had moments of clarity, an "Aha!" moment while driving or showering? Do you know what it's like to "be in the zone" or "in the flow" while engaging in some activity? These are all moments of presence, as are smaller instances, like that first sip of coffee, or noticing a bird on your way into work. In these moments, we lose track of time, our insights are "unencumbered by the thought process (as Click and Clack were wont to say)," and we're not thinking about past or present, or even the moment. We even lose sense of "me" or "I," as if the action is being performed through us, not by us. Interestingly, our most memorable moments, our peak experiences have a surprising lack of "I" involved in them at all. This gives just a little flavor of the experience of presence. Try an experiment and keep this in mind as you go through your day, see if you notice being present more frequently, without effort at all.
Books and movies supporting the above
A. H. Almaas: The Unfolding now, Diamond Heart Book 1, Facets of Unity (on the enneagram), Essence, and The Elixir of Enlightenment.
Eckhart Tolle: The Power of Now, and A New Earth, Awakening to your life's purpose.
Thomas Lewis and Fari Amini: A General Theory of Love
Sri Nisarnagata Maharaj: I Am That
Jean Klein: Beyond Knowledge
Tara Brach: Radical Acceptance, Embracing your life with the heart of a Buddha
Irvin Yalom: Existential Psychotherapy, and The Gift of Therapy
Movies and TV: I (Heart) Huckabees, The Truman Show, The Matrix, Sense8, and The OA to name just a few.