Being Present — and the Perils of Non-Presence

Being Present — and the Perils of Non Presence — habitual behaviours are the chief cause of being stuck.

We do what we do, and refuse to consider alternatives. We get so locked in to our ways of being that there seems to be no choice. Our friends think we are predictable, and we can’t see that, either. Bringing our patterns into consciousness, and experimenting with other choices is the key to getting unstuck.

being present

Darbella just downloaded a new book on her tablet, and I’m liking it a lot. It’s called Flex: Do Something Different, by Ben Fletcher and Karen Pine.

Today’s quote:

The rather unpalatable truth is that most of our seemingly conscious intentions are just illusions. Our past habits, which make up our personality, hijack our ability to exercise free will or act differently. They inhibit awareness and take the decision out of our hands. Many intentions to act, or choices, are not the result of having judged the situation and made a conscious choice.They are more likely to spring from past behavioural patterns. pg 4

The authors, with data firmly anchored in brain research, suggest that the brain, while only 2% of our body weight, consumes 20% of our energy. Thus, for the sake of efficiency, we develop habits designed to short-circuit the need to rethink situations.

In realms where such habits are helpful (Fletcher mentions being glad to have developed the habit of putting on his seat-belt when sitting in a car, for example,) not exercising choice makes sense. In interacting with an ever-changing, world, however, not so much.

Those of you who have read my books, and especially This Endless Moment, will recognize familiar territory. And those of you who have worked with me personally will also think, “Hmm. Same story, even balder author!”

Being a Zen sort of guy, I see presence all over what I’m reading. In a sense, we can’t have it both ways. We need to be conscious and present with our habits, too

When I sit in my car, being present means noticing I’m sitting there, while my background habit of buckling up runs it’s course. I don’t have to rethink the need to buckle up — it is, however, in my best interest to notice that this is what I am doing.

OK, so how does this fit with our current topic, concerning Next Steps?

Most people in distress are caught in bad habits. I find it interesting to listen to clients after they “wake up” to what they have been doing. There is all kinds of language around “not aware,” “didn’t notice,” etc. What’s happened is that they have slid out of the trap of habit to the bright dawn of presence.

I have been enjoying many warm, happy, and tingly feelings… Feelings that I definitely didn’t have in the past 10 years, or perhaps… ever? Funny that. And of course, when I think about these wonderful new feelings, I don’t beat myself up over how much I clung [to the past] last summer.

When we fall into habit, we miss what is happening, and sometimes what is happening is that a hole is opening up, right in front of us, and we topple in, yet again.

Clues to non-presence


The word “but.”

Of course, there’s discipline involved in coming into presence, and the “first discipline” is listening to yourself.

One of the “worst” bad habits is confusing reality ( the actual world) with your stories about it (the subjective world.) Not only confusing the two, but preferring the story version.

So, you drag your but out.

  • But… I’ve been thinking about this for years.”
  • My father left, but I’m not angry.”
  • But, I just know that she’ll hurt me…”

But, but, but.

The ego controls the habits of a lifetime — Your ego wants you to keep doing what you’ve always done. One woman I know is convinced that she is both special and smart. So, for 11 years, she’s been trying to figure out why she keeps choosing to do stuff that gets her nowhere. I suggest she “Do something different,” and out comes her but. “But, I have to know (the outcome) before I do something different!” Knowing, in this case is a bad, bad habit.

Missing the repetitions


One client described her husband as, “A little boy. Once in a while, he acts like an adult, and then boom, right back to irresponsibility.” At one point, she was beaming. He’d changed! Her manipulations had worked! A few weeks later, “He’s so irresponsible!” I described all the other times this had happened, and she looked genuinely perplexed. “Really? This has happened before?”

Habits repeat. That’s why they’re called habits. We do something, get lousy results. People who are present try something else. Most simply repeat the non-working behaviour, louder. And think, because the volume is louder, they’ve done something different.

Not listening to your body

Your body is not habitual. Can’t be. Think about it. 100,000 generations ago, your “father” is walking along a jungle path, and a tiger appears. If he was habitual, he’d have frozen in place, or kept walking, gotten eaten, and you wouldn’t be here. His body reacted before his head could get scared, and here you are!

Bodies react to what is right in front of them. It’s why, when you see someone attractive, you get turned on. When you are confronted with danger, you are immediately in “fight / flight.” Why, when angering yourself, your fist tightens. Stimulus, response.

Notice, however, that we can divert the behaviour by paying attention. Anger can be directed to a nearby mattress, for example. (Bodywork 101.)

The key is, those tight muscles and aches and pains are your body’s way of screaming, “Wake up!” So, figure yours out, pay attention, and then shift what you can — your next behaviour!



You’ve made your bed, now lie in it!” Most people choose habitual behaviour out of guilt, or obligation, or resistance to change. Paying attention requires focus, energy, and perseverance. For many, entirely too much to ask. So, out come the predictable reactions. Of course, they are only predictable if you notice.

Settling for “what is” simply keeps us stuck. Thinking that your stories are real, or describe the reality of others, is patently absurd. It boils down to, “Here is what is in front of me, and here are my choices.” That, at least, is the “door out of habitually being stuck.”

The Way of Presence

Begin choosing

The chief skill for presence is finding anchor points to presence. For example, physical ones. I monitor the back of my neck and my stomach for tension, as paying attention to my experience has taught me that either or both will tighten up if I’m missing something. For others, it’s the small of the back or butt, shoulders up around ears or sagging. Or headaches, acid indigestion.

I guess that really, the first step is a willingness to pay attention at this “small level.” If you aren’t willing to exert minimal effort toward your body, you’re doomed to stay stuck in habituality.

Secondly, begin to experiment


We break habits not by stopping the errant behaviour, but by choosing to do something different. I was speaking with a client yesterday, about one of her intimate relationships. Hasn’t been going the way she wanted, and she was resisting talking about it with her friend. I did my “pitch for honesty.” She told me that she immediately thought she couldn’t, that it wouldn’t end well, etc.

Today, in an e‑mail, I read that she had the conversation that very evening, it went well, and the two were talking at another level.

She did what she was scaring herself over, and got different results (Of course. When you change something, you get different results. The only question, then, is, “Are these the results I want?” If yes, do more, if no , stop and try something else!)

Figure out, as you explore your sticking points, what scares you, and do that next.

Explore yourself, body, mind, heart. Notice your habitual behaviours, and play around with doing something else. Open yourself to dialogue, to Bodywork, to other experiences and approaches. Of course, meditate, as learning to be present requires it.

Shift your doing, and you’ll shift your being.

Make Contact!

So, how does this week’s article sit with you? What questions do you have? Leave a comment or question!

About the Author: Wayne C. Allen is the web\‘s Simple Zen Guy. Wayne was a Private Practice Counsellor in Ontario until June of 2013. Wayne is the author of five books, the latest being The. Best. Relationship. Ever. See: –The Phoenix Centre Press

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