For three months in 2010, the Museum of Modern Art staged a work of “performance art” that consisted of nothing more than an artist gazing at a visitor: two people simply looking at one another for an extended time.
By then, Marina Abramovic had become known as “the grandmother of performance art” for the extreme and often courageous ways she had explored her own physical pain, trust and vulnerability. For example, “to jolt viewers out of patterns of thought” and make suffering real, she once allowed viewers to harm her if they chose to do so, and some did. Yet it was not something shocking, but the simple act of “being fully present,” which had people standing in line for days just to sit opposite her for a few minutes.
For eight hours each day she moved only her head, slightly, as 1,545 people sat down or got up. “I was trying to express unconditional love constantly,” she explained, “and I never saw such pain.” Many were indeed in tears. But others were joyful, as shown in the HBO movie “The Artist is Present.”
This is an extreme and stagy example of what it means to “be present.” However, it is not only in impersonal cities like New York or a museum that people weep when seen clearly by another. It is a universal longing, and it comes to work with us.
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This is a second column on “the practice of mindfulness,” whose practitioners urge us to “be there all the time.” For example, in a Statesman interview, a family doctor in Eagle, Deb Roman, spoke of the difference between “being nice” and being “fully in the moment with you.” Only then could she understand her patients and explain their condition and options.
Business colleagues aren’t going to be gazing silently at one another at any time soon. For reasons of privacy, it’s not appropriate. Nonetheless, we yearn for greater connection with one another. Recent business advice books tell us there’s still a lot of room for us to be more present, caring and and consequently more successful at work.
Saying the workplace is “a family” or that customers are “family members” often seems a bit overdone. Yet this language speaks to what we search for: the good work, wise co-workers and caring customers who provide much purpose and fulfillment for us.