How we know- PART 2
Heartfulness eMagazine|July 2021
TOBIN HART is a humanistic transpersonal psychologist, professor in the University of West Georgia’s Humanistic, Transpersonal and Critical Psychology program, and co-founder of the ChildSpirit Institute. In this three-part series, he is interviewed by VICTOR KANNAN, Director of the Heartfulness Institute USA, and in part 2 they focus on Tobin’s book, as well as presence, wisdom and the heart.
TOBIN HART
Q: So, Tobin, in your book you basically talk about presence, heart, wisdom and creation as four virtues. In each of these, you also add and talk about other things. For example, in presence, you talk about the beautiful, the sensing, the focusing, the witnessing, and the opening.

Can we dig a little bit deeper into this one particular virtue of presence? And then see how that is perhaps the most important starting point in one’s life?

Sure. In the West, the most enduring depiction of the good life is captured with the words “the good, the true and the beautiful.” So, for me, I was surprised to see those tracked with each of these things that you mentioned, and we’ll add another one, too.

Presence, for example, really tracks with beauty. So the extent to which we’re present to another or present to the world, is the extent to which the world opens to us. And in that opening, we find and hear things (and people) as beautiful. To really sit with and see somebody beyond their persona and beyond their actions, we find that they have this incredible quality of luminosity. We get the sense of feeling a soul. What comes out of that is often a sense of love and a sense of beauty.

I have a friend who was on a mission to be with people on death row, years ago. Those people had committed horrific crimes, there was really little doubt of that. At some point my friend stopped trying to preach anything, convert anyone, or change anything. Instead, he simply was present to these inmates, listening to them to see who they were. What really surprised him was that when he really allowed himself to lose his own agenda and just be with each person, their soul poured out and their beauty was revealed. It shocked him how much he felt love for them, despite what they had done. In his being present for them, they were able to be present for themselves and begin to feel a glimpse of their own divinity. This is how he described it. It’s magic in some way.

It’s so simple, yet we come in with an agenda that we’re trying to get something from this encounter rather than being there, and we lose something. While an agenda can be a good motivator, a good starting point, it can also cover deeper experience – whether that is to get my walk in today, my 10,000 steps, or whatever else it is. It’s a good motivator but we can lose the opportunity of presence if we don’t leave the goal behind and be present in what we’re doing. If we can’t suspend the surface goal or agenda, whether it’s meeting a death row inmate or going for a walk, beauty stays in the background. It’s not there in the same way.

Q: So presence is to be present to the extent that we can appreciate the other.

I think that appreciation is both an outcome and also a portal – to lead with curiosity and to move into contact with the other to see who they are. It’s what Martin Buber would call an “I–thou” relationship, and through it appreciation emerges organically.

Q: So the quality of time spent in the encounter is one way to look at presence, right?

Yes, I think quality is the right word for this. I remember one time when my wife had to go out of the country. I had our two little kids and my work, and I was also filling in for some of her work. I was overwhelmed. I remember the first night putting the kids to bed and sort of shouting with frustration, “Okay, just go to sleep now!”

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