Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of June 25, 2012

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Presence in Daily Life

Introduction to the Series

If our inner work is to transform our life and our world, it needs to reach as much of our life as we can manage. The impact of the spiritual practice we do on the meditation cushion can be greatly multiplied by our efforts of presence throughout our day. Those efforts always come down to specific moments in specific situations. Every moment presents an opportunity for inner work. Every part of our life counts. Can we open our barren places to the light of our spirit? For example, because so much of life is spent at our job, we cannot afford to leave such a large chunk of our time devoid of presence. Our time is limited and precious. We need to make each day, each hour count. Any moment in which we are not building and perfecting our soul is a moment slipping away from us, irrevocably. One effective response to that gnawing feeling of dissatisfaction that sometimes invades our heart is to redouble our efforts of inner work. Moments of presence are not wasted.

Can we reconcile our inner work with our outer life, with our job and with all our myriad tasks and activities? Obviously, we do not want to allow our inner practice to have a negative impact on our performance at work or anywhere else. But it need not. On the contrary, the two can mutually reinforce each other. Presence does not require us to sit on a cushion in silent meditation. We can practice presence in the midst of our dayís activity and even enhance our performance thereby. In any given moment, the more we are present, the more we engage in what we are doing — and vice versa. The more we are present, the more focus, quality, insight, wisdom and persistence we can bring to what we do.

The limits to this are more apparent than real. We donít want our surgeon to be practicing presence by splitting her attention to be aware of her breath while she is operating on us. But if that surgeon is practicing presence by being fully there, fully engaged in what she is doing, then that is certainly compatible with the successful practice of surgery. Indeed, we can surmise that any good surgeon is wholly engaged and present during surgery, whether or not they have ever heard of the concept of presence. This raises the question of what we mean by presence.

Fundamentally, presence means being in contact with whatever is going on in this moment. But there are dimensions of breadth and depth, of more contact or less, of more presence or less. Our body is always in this moment. So presence necessarily includes and is typically rooted in awareness of our body, being in our body, sensing our body, viscerally, organically. It means being aware of our thoughts and our emotions in this moment, including how our emotions affect our body, how our emotions affect our thoughts and vice versa. It means being aware of what our other senses are bringing us, of our environment, the life, the people, the objects around us. Through practice our awareness grows broad enough to include all this at once. But presence is more than awareness.

Our attention can grow to encompass this total moment. That raises the question: who is present? If no one is present, then it is not presence. If your I is present, then the core of presence is there. You have the experience: I am here now. I am aware of all this, I am doing what I am doing. This I is simple and direct, but tends to slip away, to evaporate suddenly and without warning. The practice of presence is at heart the practice of I being here, of exercising the will to be, of being the one who sees what we see and does what we do, the one who directs our attention and makes our choices. Indeed the easiest way to get a handle on who we are, on what our I is, consists of noticing our attention, of being our attention. Our will, our I, directs our attention and is intimately involved in it. By being our attention, by being the root, the source of our attention, we become ourselves, we become I.

To be engaged in what we are doing does not mean getting lost in it or being identified with it. It is a question of whether we are present and doing the activity or whether we are identified and the activity is doing us. When we are present, we are in the flow of the moment, living it. When we are identified, the moment passes without us, because we have lost our I, letting it dissolve into the activity or the thought or the emotion or the experience. The thing we are identified with becomes our self. Identification should not be confused with the much higher state of selflessness, of pure doing, wherein our I takes its place in a greater will.

When we aspire to a spiritual path, it is tempting to compartmentalize our inner life, dividing it between times for inner work and times that are not for inner work, as dictated by outer circumstances. By practicing presence in our daily life, we can break down that wall, reintegrate our inner life with our outer life, so that we do all the things we do while simultaneously building our soul. The path and our life need not be separate. We can live one life, a complete life. We can be whole and here, living our life ongoing. Presence enables that new life, enriching and vivifying our time by adding the timeless.

While life in a monastery has great spiritual advantages, we can practice presence without becoming a monk or a nun, right in this life we now lead. It is available to us all. Our life becomes our path, our practice. Whatever our employment is, we can practice presence. If we donít have a job, or are looking for a job, or our job is to be a student, or to be homemaker, we can practice presence. When weíre off the job, we can practice presence.

In this inner work series, we will engage various practical exercises aimed at bringing presence into more of our life, including our life at work. For this week, please look into your day to see what areas of your life particularly lack presence and thus offer an opportunity.

    1. Waiting Presence
    2. Entertainment Presence
    3. Task Presence
    4. Listening Presence
    5. Speaking Presence
    6. Tool Presence
    7. Walking Presence
    8. Eating Presence
    9. Presence of Mind
    10. Presence is Mindfulness Plus


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