How to Bring Presence Into Our Modern, Digitized World

girl with laptop

For the past few years, I’ve attended an interactive conference called Wisdom 2.0, an annual event that encourages the ongoing conversation about how to bring more mindful awareness and compassion to our modern-day, digital world. At the most recent gathering in San Francisco, I was honored to be both a participant and a speaker in a weekend full of presentations, breakout sessions, and discussions. 

I was struck deeply by the spirit of openness shared by participants and faculty alike, the energetic encouragement to connect, and the motivation to bring a change into our ever-more frenetic and ironically disconnected ways of living. I call it “ironic” because as we continue to connect digitally, hooked in to our laptops, smartphones, and tablets, research suggests we are feeling ever more isolated and overwhelmed.

And so it may not be much of a surprise to you to hear that many presenters at Wisdom 2.0 suggested a digital detoxification, a time to disconnect from the digital domain and instead find connection with both other real-life human beings and to our inner experience.

Paths to achieve this authentic form of joining between and within are numerous, including simply taking the time to shut off our gadgets, time to meditate and do some form of mindful awareness practice like yoga, tai chi, qigong, or simply going for a walk at taking in the sights, sounds, and scents without an agenda.

The scope of the discourse presented by the speakers was compelling.  Arianna Huffington offered the powerful lessons she explores in her new book, Thrive, such as how we need a new approach to well-being, a “third metric” that we can add to power and money to make sure we don’t get lost in ultimately unsatisfying and even harmful pursuits.

Jon Kabat Zinn focused the audience on fundamental questions of “who are you?” and “who is the person who is aware of being aware?” as he invited us to take a step back from doing and simply drop into being.

And Eckhart Tolle illuminated further the importance of how we cultivate our awareness, stating that for him he does not use the term, “mindful” unless he is saying why he does not use this word that infers a “full mind.”  For him, presence is a more apt term, and he beautifully demonstrated how to get beneath the language of thought and dip into this important way of being in the world.

For my part on the main stage of the conference, Alanis Morissette and I were given a chance to have a dialogue around “conscious communication in the digital age” and we focused on a range of issues, including the exploration of the central function of a process called integration.  Integration is the linkage of different parts of a system, like two people honoring each others’ differences and then promoting compassionate communication as they link together.

Integration can be between us, and it can also be within us, such as when we link the differentiated right and left sides of the brain when we combine the power of linear, logical language with the contextual images of autobiographical reflections, or the integration of the upper and lower regions of the nervous system when we become aware of the body.   In many ways, integration can be seen as the mechanism of harmony, of well-being, of health.  And integration is what our digital age could, but rarely does, promote in our lives.

When we think of digitally disconnecting and inviting presence into our lives, we are creating the conditions of integration within and between.  Even studies of wisdom can be seen as revealing how we integrate the many aspects of our inner intuition and our interpersonal dedication all within an unfolding life of meaning, compassion, connection, and equanimity which the Greeks called eudaimonia.

Recent studies by Barbara Fredrickson and colleagues reveal how living such a life not only feels good, but it is associated with changes in how we regulate our gene’s expression to fight off life-threatening diseases, such as cancer and diabetes.  Studies by Elissa Epel and colleagues have also revealed how presence is associated with enhancements in the enzyme telomerase, which repairs and maintains the important telomere caps at the ends of our chromosomes.

Presence is a state of being which invites us to link a wide range of differentiated aspects of our lives into a harmonious and ever-emerging whole.  Presence permits integration to unfold.  And integration is at the heart of well-being, even at the level of our cellular functions.

Integration made visible is kindness and compassion, wisdom and connection.  Presence is the state of mind that invites integration to unfold.  With this science in mind, our intention can be to cultivate presence in our life to create the conditions of integration within us, and among us.  There is no time like the present to invite presence into our collective lives!

You can watch videos of the presentations from the 2014 Wisdom 2.0 Conference here.

This was previously published on the Huffington Post

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