I’ve had a golden book under my wing for the past week, Amy Cuddy’s Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Life’s Biggest Challenges. It’s golden in at least three ways: in colour; in its sunny, empowering message, and in drawing attention to its reader. Whenever I’ve been with the book in public, I’ve been approached by strangers who want to talk about presence: what it means in this age of constant distractions; can we ever achieve it totally?; and is it even desirable?
Cuddy defines presence as authenticity manifested through the body. When you’re present your intention, vocal range and body language are all synchronised and you are the most powerful and compelling version of yourself for that moment in time. Presence isn’t a permanent or inevitable state, but one you can key yourself into through certain physical cues. It’s about taking up your fair share of space rather than shrinking, and also, interestingly, about taking up your fair share of time when you’re speaking or making decisions. Cuddy observes that a lack of confidence doesn’t just make us hunch and avoid eye contact, but we might rush our words or hurry an important decision for fear of taking too much of others’ time.
I definitely experience presence as mutable. It’s both connected to my mood and a tool-kit of tricks that I can mobilise for an instant dash of courage. On good days I instinctively stand tall, intuiting my yoga teacher’s advice to keep the back of my neck long and expand my vision. I love this posture because it means I can actually see more, gain perspective and connect better with what’s around me. Then, there is Wonder Woman pose- hands on hips, feet apart – which is a life-saver before difficult conversations or walking past a band of leery dudes on Regents Canal. There’s something about this simple pose that makes me feel solid and puts me in touch with what power I have.
Where I really struggle to be present, though, is in goodbyes. Even in everyday partings from people I see habitually, I find it difficult to maintain eye contact and keep my voice from dropping into my shoes as I turn away. I wonder sometimes, if part of me doesn’t quite believe I’ll ever see them again and that I’m somehow protecting myself by not being fully present at the moment of goodbye. Sometimes, I’m so absent when I say goodbye, that the moment etherealises and barely sticks in my memory.
Oddly enough, I find it easier to be present in emphatic partings- like the end of a relationship or a job, where it’s mutually obvious that it became terrible and you won’t see each other again. These situations replay concretely in your memory for months, in all their awful glory, but they are also in a way simple, because when you said goodbye you meant it; you felt it.
No, it’s hardest to know where to place yourself, mind, body and soul in the goodbyes where there isn’t too much ill-feeling, but you’re leaving one situation for another. These are often slow goodbyes, and should be painless, but drag out torturously. I’m so tempted to create a drama, close the old situation with a bang, and rub salt into old wounds. See, there was a reason to leave! Or, I’ll go for a fade-out, and drift through the goodbye, so I don’t have to feel as much. Because the truth is, any kind of parting, even if it’s from a situation that suits me less, to one that suits me more, is a loss. I leave someone behind, I leave part of myself behind, and that hurts.
Right now, I’m in the process of moving house. I’m leaving the certainty of the home I’ve lived in for nearly three years, for something riskier and more exciting. I’ve been entertaining this decision for a while now, and am confident that it’s the right one for me. I’ve been lucky with where I live, as it’s hardly a hole and my flatmates aren’t the textbook definition of sociopathic. But leave I will, and this past week I’ve obsessively marketed my room via any means possible, and thrown actual tantrums when my flatmates insisted that they wouldn’t settle for a marriage of convenience with Mr Perfectly-Nice He’ll Do from Spare Room and instead wanted to be wooed and taken to the ball by several High Recommendations (you know what kind of high). I point out that if their Dream Princes (sorry Recommendations) don’t materialise, I will be the one crying. Slams door.
When I step back and reflect, I realise that I’ve been unconsciously trying to make leaving this place as Guillotine swift and unpleasant as possible. It’s a way of hiding my feelings about going (which are more mixed and chaotic than I’d like to admit) under a shock parting. It’s a mask of false confidence, saying: I’ve definitely made the right decision, now watch me go! Of course the grown-up option, of standing by my decision to leave, but dealing with all the inevitable fall-out of parting, will be much more difficult. I’ll have to be awake to the conflicting feelings of excitement, fear, loss and nostalgia. There will be some moments when I’m raring to go, others when I’m much more reluctant. Indeed, when the first Mr Perfectly Nice He’ll Do from Spare Room came for the viewing I’d so carefully arranged, I felt something between butterflies and nausea, and was grateful that I had an excuse to leave the flat while he was there. To mis-quote Shakespeare, ‘Parting is such sweet sorrow…’