Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice

 

Inner Work


For the week of November 21, 2011

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Duration of Presence

(Developing Will: Aspect 7 of 10)

Now we turn to the question of the stability of our presence: how long does any given episode of presence last? In actual practice, we find that presence is short-lived — very short. Some thought, in the endless stream passing through our mind, comes along and grabs us and we lose ourselves on a mental tangent, our presence dissolved. Or something we see or hear takes us. The variety of ways we lose presence knows no bounds. What to do? Stability requires three legs and more.

We begin with body awareness. Sensing our body helps enormously in stabilizing our presence in the here and now. Our body is always here and now. If we are aware of our body, intentionally, so that there is an in-this-moment relationship between our I and our body, then we have a place to stand, a place to take a stand against the dissipation of time. Sensing creates the fundamental foundation for presence, particularly when we sense and inhabit our whole body. When we lose presence, sensing calls us back. Built-up sensitive energy in our body tends to persist, even during our absence, and awakens us much sooner than would otherwise be the case.

To body awareness, we add emotion awareness. We simply notice our emotions as emotions. We put attention into our front upper torso, our area of emotion. Even if we are not experiencing any particular emotion, having some presence in our area of emotion brings a feeling tone to our life, adding warmth and stability to our presence.

We also add mental awareness, seeing the thoughts and images passing through our mind, seeing them as thoughts, without being caught by any of them. By inhabiting our mind it becomes our own. Rather than being subject to the vagaries of our mind and its thought-stream, we intentionally step into it and own it. This does not mean stopping our thoughts or directing them all, but it does mean contact with a mental cognizance that both includes and transcends our thoughts.

Being aware of our body, emotion, and mind, and inhabiting all three creates a complete and stable presence. The awareness, the sensitive energy in body, emotion, and mind, makes the stable stool of presence. The inhabiting aspect is our I sitting on that stool. Presence is more than awareness: it requires our I, the one who is aware, the one who perceives, the one who directs our awareness.

Beyond those enabling factors of stable presence, we need to train ourselves to sustain presence, to sustain the will-to-be. We can just relax into the present, into bare attention, but we will find that it dissipates all too soon. So we raise and act on our intention to stay present. Short-term goals can be help. Say you are out for a walk or a jog or a bike ride and you decide to be and stay present. You might choose a landmark that you will soon pass, like a tree or a pole, an intersection or a building. And then you work to maintain your presence until you reach that landmark. Once you reach it, you immediately select the next suitable landmark and stay present until you get there. This type of practice has the great advantage of being concrete and immediate. Other examples of short-term goals of presence include: until the next commercial break in the TV show, until you reach the end of the line you are waiting in, until you finish brushing your teeth, until you finish doing the dishes, until the end of the conversation or the meeting. We use our creativity and intelligence to find such ever-present opportunities and adapt them to support our inner work.

Presence leads to more presence, stability to stability. One result of a period of more intensive, steadier work at presence is that presence becomes more natural, more normal for us. Our body and our being remind us to stay in contact with the here and now. Of course, formal, sitting meditation periods do help create the foundation for presence. Nevertheless, the practice of presence amid the endless demands and distractions of our normal daily activities requires continuing acts of will, the will-to-be, that strengthen us in the fire of life.

For this week, whenever you awaken to the possibility of being present, practice staying present for a longer time.

See Also: Stabilized Presence


     

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