It is “a relationship organ,” as described by researcher Dr. Daniel Siegel. It can be said that all experience in life is relational. Your experience of self is always in relation to self, other persons, to life itself, for example.
Your deepest strivings are for love and meaningful connection to life within and around you. This explains why responses that convey love enhance your sense of security – and why some of your greatest fears, as rejection or abandonment, have to do with a sense of loss of love or connection.
In Part 1, we discussed the power of what emotion, either love or fear, you choose to energize at any given moment. In this post, we explore five mindful presence practices to energize your relationship.
The link between your health and key relationships?
It’s not surprising to learn, therefore, to learn that when your key relationships are off balance so are many other aspects of life. In other words, your physical, mental and emotional health are affected by the quality of your relationship.
Without question, one of the relationships we are most deeply concerned with is our love relationship.
Whether married or dating, divorced or single, we seem to spend (nearly) a lifetime concerned with how to resolve the intense mixture of feelings we feel with regard to our ability to find the happiness and love we seek in our relationship with a special person.
You want happiness? The best option is to grow your ability to empathically connect to your self and partner, in present moments of awareness. It’s a way of knowing, understand your self, and life around you that is connected to your compassion, and that allows you to best understand and empathically connect to your partner.
The good news?
- The brain has incredible plasticity from what the latest findings tell us, capable of changing and healing, restructuring and reorganizing faster than ever imagined, according to neuroscientist Dr. V. S. Ramachandran.
- The brain not only generates experience, every experience changes the structure of your brain. Thus, your day-to-day life experience wires and re-wires your brain.
- Also notable, according to Dr. Siegel, is that change takes place in the context of new experience in relationship contexts.
Thus, healthy relationship patterns are potentially healing in nature, literally, ones that allow the brain to rewire itself for more flexibility, permitting new associations of neural networks, the growth of new neurons, the expansion of existing ones, changes in existing connections, and so on.
The quality of the functioning of your brain establishes the quality of the functioning of your mind. This means you need healthy (conscious and subconscious) thinking and emoting patterns.
To love authentically is a conscious act of courage in present moments that allow you to respond with love rather than react with fear. You’re human, which means your deepest fears have to do with inborn strivings to feel loved and valued in life. It takes courage to love with your whole heart and it necessitates a willingness to be vulnerable and face your deepest fears.
This is where practicing mindful presence comes in.
Practicing presence is the fastest and most efficient way to transform your relating patterns in order to deepen your connection and understanding of your self, which is the basis for understanding your partner.
How presence affects your brain?
When you practice mindful presence in your responses to one another, your actions send a message that affirms your commitment to the relationship, and good feelings cause your brain and your partner’s to release Oxytocin, a hormone linked to felt sense of safety, love and connection. Actions that stem from a sense of presence convey a sense of safety and trust.
Happy partners intuitively practice presence in their responses to one another. Regardless where you are in your relationship, however, you can learn new behaviors that allow them to create new experiences and thus transformative changes in their behaviors, changes that stem from actual structural changes in their brains.
When partners make a conscious choice to remain aware of what is happening both inside and around them in the moment – and simultaneously, they own the ability they each have in moments that most challenge and trigger their stress response – to maintain an optimal state of mind, one that best ensures they will respond in a way that promotes their overall happiness.
What does it mean to be present?
For partners in couple relationships, it means:
- They empathically connect with their compassion and understanding for self and their partner in the moment.
- They know how to keep their heart open to courageously face the universal fears (i.e., rejection, inadequacy, etc.) every human being has to contend with on a daily basis.
- They are aware of their fears and have developed belief system that allows them to not only feel their fears, but also use them as teachers and assets.
- They remain curious and genuinely strive to understand and find validity in the other’s perspective, regardless whether they agree or not.
- They convey honor and respect for self and the other as individuals with unique yet both shared and unique dreams and aspirations.
- They consciously act in ways that let the other know of their sincere interest and love, and their commitment to nurturing a healthy relationship.
- They treat self and other with dignity — especially when they are triggered — making no excuses or exceptions should they slip up.
Plasticity is now considered a basic principle of all healthy brains throughout life. If you and your partner have relating patterns you need to change because they are preventing you from feeling the love you have for one another, have you considered the power of practicing presence? It can help you energize more happiness in your personal life and relationship.
Here are five areas to practice growing your presence muscles:
- Be present to your breathing.Observe your breath, and allow your inhale and exhale to be deep and complete. Set an intention to connect to your breathing, in key moments, to ensure you remain and keep returning to the present moment.
- Be present in your listening. When you are present to listen, you are listening with your whole heart to better understand, know your self and your partner. More than anything, life is ever inviting you to learn. From birth, in a natural state, your brain is in learning mode. When your stress response gets activated, your brain is in protective mode. Your brain is always in either love and learning mode, or fear and protective mode. When you consciously remain present in difficult moments, you are actively allowing your brain to remain in learning mode, thus, potentially make new positive neural changes.
- Be present to your thoughts. Notice what you are telling yourself in the moment. This helps you tune into any assumptions or beliefs you hold that are not serving you, for example, if you tell yourself “I always get the short end of the stick,” this is likely to activate intense painful feelings inside. This tells you that you are likely holding a limiting belief (i.e., that your worth as a person depends on others). You will improve your life dramatically by replacing this with a life energizing belief, such as “I no longer need others’ approval to love and accept myself.”
- Be present to your emotions and felt sensations. Feel your feelings with your whole heart. This means to be willing to feel painful emotions. When you love half-heartedly, it means you only love the parts of yourself or your partner that please you. This type of love naturally never satisfies, as it is superficial. It is how we love when we are still wounded, needy and feeling incomplete inside. Painful emotions and fear are great teachers, letting you know where you are at any given time in relation towhere you aspire to be in the future.
- Be present to your five senses. What are your eyes and ears and felt sensations in your body, perhaps even your taste buds and nose, telling you about the present moment? This is about being aware, being a conscious observer of events and actions around you, rather than a harsh judge of self and other. Just noticing and observing permits you to identify and release any rigid, limiting beliefs, judgments, etc., about yourself or the other, your life or relationship.
When you stretch your heart to love consciously, you are making a conscious choice to act in ways that express you care about your relationship, one that stems from inner wisdom and understanding.
This allows your wise self, the part that is connected to your highest purpose in life, to lead the way. This is a gift you can give to yourself and one another at any time, in present moments.
In my work, I call this conscious-love, an intention to supercharge your life by embracing your feelings of vulnerability at deep levels, so that you can heal and transform them into joy and meaningful connection in relating contexts. It is an experience of balancing your giving and receiving, your love for self and other, your attunement to your mind and body, your heart and logic.
You can learn to harness amazing inner resources, among them, your brain’s capacity for neuroplasticity, on behalf of your own personal and relational well-being and growth. It is through a set of skills that connect to resources you have inside to regulate your emotions, make effect repairs, release fear patterns of coping with stress, and consciously rewire your brain to be more consistently receptive to create, integrate, shift to the most optimal states possible.
Practicing presence allows you to love consciously, a practice that is to the human heart what swimming is to the entire body.
Ramachandran, Vilayanur S. (2011). The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Quest for What Makes Us Human. NY: W.W. Norton and company.
Siegel, Daniel J. (1999). The Developing Mind: How Relationships and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are. NY: Guilford Press.