Saturday, June 16, 2007

Presence and Peacemaking

As Eckhardt Tolle tells us, presence is the ability to be conscious of the moment and be in that moment all the time. In conflict, presence is a very hard state to find. I have been wondering about this difficulty and had an insight during today's meditation.
Our brains are designed to pay attention to what is going on around us. At a primal level, we are interested in finding sex, food and water, and shelter. We are also interested in detecting and avoiding threats. We have inherited this neurobiology from our ancient predecessors, and I suspect that our ability to focus on our environment was a strong evolutionary adaptation.
The sacrifice we make for this outward focus is a natural and easy ability to focus inward and be aware of our emotional states as they shift moment to moment. I think that the lack of inward focus may be a substantial cause of conflict.
In conflict, I am focused on what the other person has done and its effect on me. If I am aware of my emotional state, my awareness is from a state of reactivity. I am not present with my emotions, but am intent on what the other person is doing and thinking. I may be anxious, angry, hurt, or frustrated. I will experience those feelings without much thought and they will drive me to behaviors that will likely escalate the conflict.
The reason I am not able to be present with my feelings is probably because of limited cognitive resources. The brain's ability to think, analyze, and interpret information takes up a lot resources. Consequently, splitting awareness between the external conflict situation while monitoring and being present with my internal state is almost overwhelming.
I say almost, because I think that we can train ourselves to focus on the outside while remaining present on the inside. This strikes me as an essential skill for anyone wanting to be a peacemaker and may be a skill that can be taught to those in conflict. If people were present with their feelings rather than being reactive to their feelings, they may be able to make better choices about responding to the dispute. I intend to try this out myself in the next few weeks and see what happens. Perhaps I will have another tool for my peacemaker's toolbox.

Labels: , , ,