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The Practice of Loving Presence – Applied Buddhism


The Power of Loving Presence in Therapy

by Donna Martin





Introduction to the Practice of Loving Presence

by Ron Kurtz and Donna Martin



"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 very 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 and is most likely to continue in a fruitful direction.

Loving presence is a state of being. It is pleasant, 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 experientially to hundreds of people in the past few years. It is taught using the following 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 loving presence, a pleasant, relaxed, present-centered, open-hearted state of mind. Finally, we practice relating to each other from this state.

As in the Hakomi Method generally, 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.

In the Hakomi Method, we use evoked experiences in mindfulness to study and understand ourselves. We may use little experiments to evoke such experiences. The first thing that happens is that a mindful state is established. Then, while in that state, something is introduced (it may be a statement, a movement, a touch etc.) and whatever experience is evoked by that is studied and discussed. This method is used to study the habits that organize our experiences. Since most of what we do and feel and think is habitual, these habits are very close to who we are. Habits reflect our images, assumptions, and beliefs about the kind of world we live in and who we are within it.

Mindfulness is also a traditional method of spiritual practice. In distancing oneself from all that creates the everyday habitual self, one begins to recognize the Self that does not change, the powerful and universal Self that permeates all. 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 humor and a Self 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. It is 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 possibilites 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.


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