Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of October 19, 2009

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Sensitive Presence

(Aspect 7 of 12 of the Path of Right Living)

Fulfilling the first six aspects of the Path of Right Living, with their emphasis on external action, will make us a mensch, a responsible and respectful person of integrity. The more people act in that way, the better off the world will be. But in the spiritual path we also aspire to become an enlightened or perfected person. And for that we also pursue the remaining 6 aspects, the first of which is sensitive presence.

Our physical body serves as a scaffold for our soul, for the building of our inner body. Body presence is thus a fundamental practice of spiritual development and offers many benefits as an important enabling factor and foundation for the whole of the Path of Right Living. When we practice body presence, we are working directly and tangibly on building our soul.

This tangible quality of body presence is the source of its power, giving us a vivid and relatively stable place in the present. Once we grow familiar with sensing, we clearly know the degree to which we are present in our body and we clearly know how to increase and enhance that presence. To practice body presence we simply direct our attention to our body and open to direct awareness of it. Sensation is the name we give to the form of sensitive energy that connects us with our bodily sensations.

If you sit quietly, holding your attention in your right hand in a relaxed manner, gradually the hand will become more alive, more sensitive. Comparing your experience in that moment of your right and left hands makes the difference more obvious. The right hand has more of the sensitive energy than the left, due to the attention you have given it. In the same way you can practice sensing the right foot, left foot, and left hand in succession, each for a minute or two. And then move on to entire limbs: each arm, each leg. And then begin sensing your body as whole. Building up the sensitive energy in your body, helps build your soul.

Sensitive presence, however, goes beyond body presence to include awareness of our thoughts and emotions. We can practice thought awareness by sitting quietly in meditation, stabilizing our awareness and attention by focusing. We might focus on body sensations, our breath, sounds, a repeated word or phrase, or some other object of meditation. Once we are inwardly settled, we can turn part of our attention to watching the thoughts and images passing through our mind and being aware of their meaning. This is one, but not the only, method of bringing the sensitive energy, sensitive presence into our thinking.

Another way occurs when we intentionally think about a subject or problem. Such intentional thinking is less common than we might suppose, since the great majority of our thoughts are not at all intentional, but rather self-generating, automatic associations reacting to inner or outer stimuli or just chaining off a previous thought or image. In meditation our thoughts may slow down and even cease temporarily, though we generally do not try to stop our thoughts directly, because they always come back. But we can work to bring more awareness to our thoughts, to see our thoughts and know their meaning. By doing so, we clearly see that they are not all “ours,” they are not initiated by us, and we are not thinking them. Our associative thoughts are thinking themselves and only pretend to speak for us.

As for sensitive awareness of emotion, we find a wide range by looking in any given moment at how we feel right then. Often it may appear that we are not feeling at all. But some emotional state is always there, even in such cases of quiet emotions. The latter might be slight degrees of contentment, boredom, happiness, satisfaction or the like. Stronger emotions are more obvious, but also tend to submerge us in them, so that we are lost in the emotion without awareness of our state. We get so carried away with anger, fear, jealousy, greed, lust, frustration, excitement and other potent emotions that we have no sensitive presence, we are not aware of our emotion as an emotion, of fear as being fear or anger as being anger. We are just angry or afraid, having disappeared in the emotional storm.

So our practice is to be aware of our emotions and their qualities, to see them as emotions, to see that they are not us. Most emotions, like most thoughts, are self-generating in response to inner and outer events. We rarely choose to feel a certain way, but rather allow our feelings to be chosen for us. As a help in this, we can look at the effects of our emotions on our body and mind. Bodily tensions, postures, rate and depth of breathing, facial expressions, and tones of voice are affected by and reflective of our emotions. Similarly, our thoughts, in their content, tone, and attitude, often reflect underlying emotions. To be in touch with our emotions, we practice opening our awareness to this whole structure of how we are.

To be complete and whole, we practice sensitive contact with all three: body, thought, and emotion. Generally we begin with body presence, as it is the most tangible and offers a more stable foundation for opening to thought and emotion awareness. But the practice of all three together brings even more stability of presence. This is the necessary and ongoing fundamental approach to making our spiritual endeavor real. For this week, practice sensitive presence, both in sitting meditation and whenever you have some spare attention during your day.


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