What Ursula Andress Taught Me About Presence

Exhibit  # 1: An Afternoon in Rome

My first memory of being in the presence of someone with presence.

I am 21 years old and hanging out in Rome. Like many first-time visitors to this intoxicating city, I am entranced by its history. It seems to seep out of the pores of every building I pass. The moment I am about to describe is like a cliché from a Fellini movie – except that it really happened. As I am strolling up the Via Veneto, Ursula Andress, the original and archetypal James Bond girl, is descending toward me.

Even before I see her I notice people ahead of me step aside. It’s as if I am witnessing the proverbial parting of the seas. Ms. Andress is strolling down the Via with a strong, firm gait, her head held high, her posture erect, her celebrated bosom thrust forward with an easy confidence. She is tall, a fact that is accentuated by her proud and elongated carriage. Her prominent bone structure lends her face a ferocious beauty. As Ms. Andress gets closer and closer – and just as quickly passes me by – I sense that “thing” that I am so often asked to coach people on. I sense animal magnetism. I sense charisma. I sense presence.

Ms. Andress owned her space. Fully. Boldly. Undeniably. And it didn’t matter.

Exhibit # 2: Why Charisma isn’t Enough

For those of us who play in the business world, Ms. Andress’ presence is irrelevant. Yes, Ms. Andress was the undisputed center of attention. She DID part the seas. And she did NOT connect with anybody.

Her charisma is a one-directional presence. It has beauty. It oozes magnetism. It dazzles us. It is, indeed, a supreme social asset. But it is ME, ME, ME, beaming to the world, nothing coming back in turn.

Charisma doesn’t matter a heck of a lot unless it leads to connection. True presence is multi-directional. It sends energy and it receives energy. It dazzles and it is bedazzled by others. It is the sort of presence that connects. Fully, Boldly. Undeniably connects.

Exhibit # 3: The Levels of Multi-Directional Presence

When we state that someone has presence, what is it that we actually describe? What is this person present to? Presence, at its very best, is multi-directional. And these are the levels of multi-directional presence.

Level 1: I am present with myself.

I notice my body. I notice my emotions. I notice my thoughts. And if I view myself as a spiritual person, I notice my connection to spirit. I notice all of these ways in which I show up. Yes, I connect with myself.

Level 2: I am present with the other.

I notice the person or persons around me. I notice their bodies and their emotions. I sense their thoughts, whether explicitly expressed or not. And I notice spirit as it moves through them. I notice all of the ways in which others show up. Yes, I connect with their presence.

Level 3: I am present with the world around me.

I notice the leaf that floats through the air. I notice the wave that crashes ashore. I notice the car that careens down the road. I notice. I am present to the many sensations and stimulations in the world. I connect with the presence around me.

Presence, in its most potent form, transcends charisma. It is multi-directional. It is bold. It connects with absolutely everything. We can play the Ursula-Andress-game. ME, ME, ME. A dazzling one-directional presence. Or we can choose to play on all of the levels. A tall order? Yes. Impossible to attain? Perhaps. But the multi-directional game is the game of life. It is a game of noticing. It is a game of scintillating connection.

And that is the game I long to play.