Introduction to the Practice of Loving Presence
by Ron Kurtz and Donna Martin
Nothing we could ever do or work on or accomplish or achieve in life is worth as much as making our relationships more loving and kind… no task is so demanding, so difficult, so significant, so valuable as the task of being loving with the people in our lives.
“Earth’s the right place for love. I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.” (Robert Frost)
Loving presence is easy to recognize. Imagine a happy and contented mother looking at the sweet face of her peaceful newborn baby. She is calm, loving, and attentive. Unhurried and undistracted, the two of them seem to be outside of time… simply being rather than doing. And, gently held within a field of love and life’s wisdom, they are as present with each other as any two persons could be.
When someone offers loving presence in relationship, it has a powerful effect on another. Possibly without even noticing it, the other feels safer, feels heard, appreciated, and even understood. When that happens, healing has already begun.
Loving presence is a state of being. It is pleasant, very good for one’s health, rewarding in and of itself. It’s a state in which one is open-hearted and well intentioned. In its purest form, it is spiritually nourishing and sensitive to subtle energies. It is also the best state to be in when offering someone emotional support.
By emotional support, we mean support for the processes that create and sustain a healthy, happy emotional life. One look around will tell you that this is desperately needed. A healthy emotional life requires a safe place to express and someone loving to bear witness. It requires the release of old emotional hurts and an opening for new paths to pleasure and joy.
Loving presence and emotional support are big parts of relating to each other. In all areas of life, whether personal and professional, their presence or absence is significant. We have all experienced the difference. Loving presence is not only easy to recognize, it is easy to teach. We have taught it to thousands of people around the world in the past ten years. It is taught experientially using a sequence of simple steps.
As the sequence of exercises unfolds, we first become aware, in a gentle way, of some of our habitual agendas around relationship. We then learn to relax our attachments to these agendas.
This relaxation brings an opportunity to establish a whole new sensitivity to others.
As we do this, we begin to experience a pleasant, relaxed, present-centered, open-hearted state of mind. Finally, we practice relating to each other from this state.
We use mindfulness to discover and study our habits. Mindfulness is a state of consciousness in which we turn our attention to the flow of our experience, with the added and unusual condition that we have no intention to control what happens. For most of us, this is not our usual state of consciousness.
In mindfulness, we are not just reacting. We are also noticing our reactions. We are participating as observers of our own behavior. We are at least one step removed from anything that seems to happen by itself in our experience.
The Hakomi Method of psychotherapy uses evoked experiences in mindfulness to study and understand our beliefs and habits, how we unconsciously organize our experience. We use a little experiment to evoke an experience. The first thing that happens is that we get mindful… just quietly noticing whatever happens inside us in the moment. That way we can discover our automatic knee jerk reactions and just study where they are coming from. This method is used to study the habits and attitudes that organize our experiences. Habits reflect our images, assumptions, and beliefs about the kind of world we live in and who we are within it. Since most of what we do and feel and think is habitual, these habits are very connected with our idea of who we are.
Mindfulness is also a traditional method of spiritual practice. There is a basic freedom that comes from relaxing our attachments to who we think we are and how things should be. There is a lightness of being, a peacefulness, a kind of spaciousness that makes room for humor and compassion.
This spacious mind is about celebrating mystery and humour and a way of being that goes beyond the limits of the ordinary ego. One aspect of this spaciousness is the ability to see things with a wide-angle lens and from many different angles. Acting without controlling. Not being attached to particular outcomes. Being sensitive and open. Lowering the noise of internal chatter and the preconceived ideas that generally interfere with clarity, insight, and intuition, as well as with true acceptance and understanding. From mindfulness, to spaciousness, we begin to see more clearly, and to open to new possibilities of how to be nourished, to feed the soul. This kind of non-ego centered nourishment fills us up and radiates out as loving presence, providing the ground and context for healing to unfold spontaneously.
These are the steps we move through to cultivate the practice of loving presence: mindfulness, self-study, relaxation and spaciousness, seeing clearly (perceptual wisdom), non-egocentric nourishment, and loving presence.
Loving presence in Psychotherapy
Loving presence is a state of mind that the therapist practices. It was named by the creator of the Hakomi Method, Ron Kurtz, and is taught in the Hakomi trainings as a basic state of mind for the therapeutic relationship. In this state of mind, the therapist’s perception and understanding are greatly enhanced. In loving presence, a high priority is given to being present and compassionate. All other task-oriented agendas are minimized. With loving presence, the first priority is to find something in the other person (the client in this case) to feel loving about. It is not difficult, when it’s a priority. However, when the therapist is busy looking for what’s wrong with the client or for problems to solve, it can be difficult to develop or sustain. Inspiration and loving feelings are cultivated by focusing on aspects of the person that reveal his/her basic humanity, with all its grandeur and vulnerabilities. Because clients respond to the therapist’s state of mind, either consciously or unconsciously, when that state is loving presence, the client feels safe, trusting and understood. When the therapist is present and compassionate in a way the client can easily recognize, defenses relax and the therapist gains the cooperation of the client’s unconscious. The positive effects of that are immense.
The creation of a healing relationship grounded in loving presence involves understanding and implementing the following six ideas:
- The context in which emotional healing takes place plays a very significant part in that healing. The most important aspect of that context is the wisdom, compassion and quality of attention of the people involved.
- When offering emotional support, what is most important is being present, caring, and, paradoxically, having the intention to search for inspiration in something about the other person. This inspiration becomes so nourishing that it sustains the attitude of loving presence. Giving priority to being inspired and nourished by the other may seem like a radical idea. Such habitual agendas as analyzing advising, interpreting, reframing, problem – solving, and asking questions, usually take priority. For loving presence, we want to avoid being preoccupied with such agendas. Rather we focus on being inspired and translating this inspiration into compassion, patience, understanding and constant, loving attention.
- If we are to drop our habitual agendas, we must first be aware of what they are. And it is crucial that this awareness be as unbiased as possible. For that, mindfulness is essential. We use mindfulness to study the perceptions, ideas, attitudes, beliefs, images, and memories that sustain our habitual agendas. The whole process starts with self-study.
- Self-knowledge eventually brings freedom of choice. Once habitual agendas are made conscious, we can relax them move into loving presence. This step involves creating an open, relaxed state which we call spacious mind.
- Spaciousness is an opening. Because it is not preoccupied, it allows more receiving. Being open, perceptions and understandings deepen. In this intimate connection we can receive the spiritual nourishment we need to sustain loving presence. Spaciousness allows inspiration to happen.
- Out of this growing intimacy, a cycle of reinforcement emerges. The outer signs of loving presence (calm, loving eyes, relaxed posture, steady attention) are seen and felt by the other. Recognizing this and sensing perhaps that this moment is special, the person opens to deeper places within. This opening further inspires and nourishes the listener(s). Each person inspires the other.
Loving presence inspires emotional healing. Healing inspires loving presence. Each sustains the other, one moving towards healing, the other towards caring and compassion.
These are the stages in the practice of loving presence:
- mindfulness and self-study,
- relaxation and spaciousness,
perceptual wisdom and sensitivity,
- inspiration and non-egocentric nourishment,
- and the practice of loving presence which is allowing ourselves to express – verbally and nonverbally – this state of loving presence in our responses to others.
The basic idea of this whole approach called the Practice of Loving Presence is that it is possible to set up a specific pattern of interaction between two or more people (members of a community or support group, for example) which enhances the probability of peaceful healing relationships, as well as creative and successful interactions. The creation of this pattern involves understanding and implementing the following ideas:
When one person (or a group) sets the context for someone’s healing, the most important aspect of that context is the state of mind of the person or persons creating it. The state of mind that creates the best context for people to feel safe, accepted, welcomed, appreciated, and whole, is loving presence.
In loving presence we are attentive, with no other agenda than to see and take in spiritual (non-egocentric) and emotional nourishment from some beautiful, touching, or inspiring aspect of the person who is unfolding in our presence.
To many, especially therapists and helping professionals, this can be a radical idea: giving priority to the taking of this kind of nourishment by the therapist over any other outcome. It would seem that the first priority would be to provide emotional support for the client. That is an important goal. What we are proposing is: that goal can best be met if the therapist can feel inspired by something about the client. It could be the client’s courage, depth of feeling, innocence or anything that makes one feel appreciative or compassionate or joyful.
The challenge is to drop egocentric pursuits. Fixing people, solving their problems, having answers to their questions, saving them or changing them can all be ways to feel safer, smarter or better than the client, to be the savior or whatever. Such egocentric pursuits do not generate the same feeling of connection and safety that loving presence does. The first priority is simply to be inspired in one way or another by simply being present with the other person. Then, turn that inspiration into patience, compassion and loving attention for the other.
When you are taking in this kind of nourishment it creates a loving, compassionate state, which is seen and felt by the person you’re with.
In this way, a reinforcement cycle is established, in which you inspire each other, and a flow of loving presence and healing is established. With this as context, the possibility of healing (or just an emotionally satisfying relationship) is greatly enhanced.
Be what you are: intelligence and love in action. —
Here are a Few Guidelines to Remember for the Practice of Loving Presence:
- be yourself and trust that you are enough
- let it come simply and naturally
- keep letting go of unnecessary tension or efforting
- keep looking for, finding and enjoying non-egocentric pleasure and nourishment in being with others
- letting yourself enjoy this nourishment and allow it to show in your face and demeanor
- do not expect yourself to be constantly in loving presence; just keep coming back to it