Presence: The Practice of Self-Awareness and Self-Management

research and innovation processes
Of late I have been practicing meditation, and it is finally starting to bear fruit. What I have realized is that I (and perhaps most people) have always lived life automatously: Reactive, un-self-aware of what I am doing, and why. Mechanically.

Now that I am starting to learn to pay attention to these things, I’ve surprised myself: I’ve caught myself on some occasions acutely aware of what I’m doing, the process I’m following, and why, and on (too many) other occasions, operating completely dysfunctionally, embarrassing myself. The difference, I’ve concluded, is that in the former cases I’m present, and in the latter cases, absent. I have no idea who this mindless idiot is that operates my body most of the time, but it can’t possibly be me.

There are two parts to this presence: The first part is this self-awareness — knowing and noticing and paying attention to what you’re doing. It is hard to both do something and to pay attention to yourself doing it, but it is not impossible. The second part is following a process, one that you’re comfortable with, but not so much that it’s subconscious.

I think the key to both is practice. We can learn to be both active, engaged, in the moment, and aware that that’s what we are. Being and observing ourselves being. And we can learn to use a process diligently, consciously — a process that we’ve found to work, and that we’re so comfortable with we can adapt it to suit each different circumstance. We’re so comfortable with it that we don’t have to think about it — but we do. These things take a great deal of practice.

I don’t like practicing. Perhaps it’s a vestige of being forced to practice things when I was younger. Perhaps it’s impatience, inattention, lack of self-discipline. Perhaps it’s that often what I have practiced (e.g. four-finger typing, bad musical instrument playing) have been poor habits, such that practice actually made me worse at it.

Here are just some of the things that I do all the time that I have started to become aware of my process for doing them (two of which are illustrated above):

  • processing information 
  • designing things
  • making things
  • solving problems
  • conversing
  • writing (fiction & non-fiction — different processes)
  • researching
  • crafting and telling stories
  • meditating
  • facilitating
  • sensing, listening, observing, paying attention
  • intuiting
  • explaining, teaching, coaching and interpreting
  • creating
  • imagining and envisioning, letting go and letting come
  • advising
  • collaborating
  • deciding
  • innovating
  • achieving consensus
  • self-directed learning, especially of things I like that are also needed
  • inviting
  • provoking and infecting others

For a few of these things, I have evolved a very good process, and do tend to follow it. But for most of these things, I have no process. I have no clue.

Some of these processes are linear. Others are iterative, or interactive, or improvisational. In some of them I adapt the process to suit others, and to suit their processes for doing these things. In others, I confess, I’m still far too dogmatic, still too fervent in the belief that my way is the best, or nearly so. In some cases my collaborators use different processes than I do, so everything in the collaboration becomes a building of bridges, a translation of frames, an adaptation and co-production. A dance.

I think it makes sense to develop (and evolve) a process for doing each of these things, and then practice using it until you become very competent (but not dogmatic) at it. And then, each day, each moment, as you begin to do things, be aware consciously of the various activities you do, and the process you use, deliberately, to do each. That doesn’t mean designing new processes for everything you do. It means simply being aware of what process you do use, and letting it evolve to become better. And also being aware of being aware, self-aware, present, deliberate.

Chop wood, carry water, as my friend Rob Paterson reminds me. Do each task, mindfully, until you understand exactly what you are doing and why you’re doing it precisely that way. Practice, consciously, getting better, improving the process and the execution of the process, refining, getting faster, more skilled and competent, presently aware, managing, adapting oneself.
This is a different take on the being versus doing discussion I’ve had here, and with myself, lately. Presence requires you to be self-aware as you do the activity using the process.

At last I understand when meditators speak of mindfulness, what they are referring to. Simply being aware of what you are and what precisely you are doing, and how, and why. The word attention is from the Latin “to stretch to”. Such folly to be constantly stretching, in all directions,without knowing, being aware of where or how or why you are stretching.


Category: Let-Self-Change
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1 Response to Presence: The Practice of Self-Awareness and Self-Management

  1. and of course – presence is flavour of the month. More and more i see something very fragile getting screwed by what is in effect a consulting intelligentsia.Varela and Scharmer ‘coined’ the phrase in the context — I don’t think what they were talking about has much to do with ‘chopping wood’ et al – or any other of those western cogitational modes of ‘selling and shifting’ what is subtle beyond — our ken.COS: Yes. May I ask a last question? Francisco Varela: Please. COS: In one of your books you quoted Merleau-Ponty

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