Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of November 7, 2011

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Frequency of Presence

(Developing Will: Aspect 5 of 10)

Before we can approach the question of how often we are present, we need to look at what it means to be present. It does not, for example, mean saying to oneself I am present, because those words may or may not be true. It does not mean remembering our intention to be present, because we can remember that intention without actually rising to presence and because we can be present without remembering a previously-formed intention to be present.

The core of presence is our I. Are we here to experience what we are experiencing? Are we here doing what we are doing? Ancillary to and supportive of that core presence, we may have various qualities, quantities, patterns and structures of inner energies within our being at any given moment. For example, the sensitive energy in our body can support presence: the stronger and more complete the sensation, the firmer the foundation for presence. But the energy issues have greater bearing on the duration and breadth of presence than on its frequency, which we discuss here. So we will defer the energy questions until we address duration and breadth.

Presence essentially means I am here, now. It is an experience of coming to and being here, of suddenly finding oneself here, alive, of being complete, whole, and grounded. It need not be dramatic. Indeed, our aim in part is to make presence un-dramatic, make it more normal, more usual for us.

To be present is an act of will. The actuality of I am here, now manifests our will-to-be. And one major issue for our spiritual path is how often we act on that will-to-be, how often we return to presence during each day.

One approach to training in presence involves setting a daily goal of a certain number of instances of presence and then counting how many times we come to presence that day. This can be partly observational: incrementing the count whenever we notice that we have somehow, without premeditation, risen to presence. The other part is intentional: when we remember our task of presence and our goal, we immediately take that opportunity to return to presence and then increment the count. Note that the count is just a measure, important for the goal-oriented specificity and commitment it enables, but not as important as the act of coming to presence which it records. We begin modestly, setting as our goal an easily achievable number of times in the day that we will be present. Gradually, over a period of weeks or months, we increase the daily number and fill our waking hours with more instances of presence. The counting gives us a way to quantify our inner work, engage our will in fulfilling our daily goal, and make our spiritual path a little more concrete.

One hindrance arises when we happen to remember our intention at moments that we deem so inconvenient that we ignore the impulse to presence and squander that particular opportunity. This might happen when we are relaxing or being entertained and do not want to disturb our enjoyment. But presence does not decrease our joy; it enhances joy by bringing to the scene the only one who could actually enjoy the experience. It might also happen when we are so fully engaged in what we are doing, for example in a conversation, that it seems we do not have enough spare attention to devote to presence. But while certain types of inner work, particularly those to do with energies, do require spare attention, the core of presence does not, because the I at the center of presence is the local source of our attention. So being present in demanding situations strengthens our attention rather than taking part of it away from our current involvement. In presence we get fully behind what we are doing. The one exception is the caveat that certain life-critical activities, like driving, are not the best place to experiment with or practice inner work.

In the grip of some destructive emotion like anger, if we remember our intention to be present, that intention may be summarily rejected. We are lost in the emotion, our I supplanted by it and powerless before it. Such emotions do not want to be seen, because they weaken in the light of awareness. The I at the core of presence not only acts, but sees. It is the one in us who does see. So naturally anger, jealousy, self-pity and the like do not welcome presence. In such situations of full-bloom identification with an emotion, we just wait for the storm to pass and then get back to the work of presence.

The act of coming to presence is deceptively simple. Hidden behind its simplicity is not complexity but rather profundity. We arrive here in this moment and it seems like no big deal. Its just natural, just us, awake and alive. When we are present and complete in that way, we cannot easily recall or imagine our usual state of non-presence. Similarly, when we are not present, we cannot easily recall or imagine actually being present. The two ways of living do not intermingle. Whichever one we are in seems to be our normal state and seems fine.

This masks the profound difference between presence and non-presence. If I am here, I am truly alive. If I am not here, I am only half-alive. If I am here, I have an opportunity to open yet more deeply and complete the circuit of the Sacred, which can only flow through our I. Our will gets involved, because our will is our I. So a moment of presence is a moment of will, a moment where you can truly say and feel I am here. Non-presence means an absence of will or a fragmented will.

For this week, practice coming into presence more often. Set and monitor a daily goal of a certain number of instances of presence.


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