Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of July 2, 2012

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Waiting Presence

(Presence in Daily Life: Part 1)

Waiting used to be a problem. Standing in line at the grocery, we would fight off the boredom by scanning the tabloids waiting there with us or we would ruminate on our bad luck of getting in the wrong line, coming to the store at the wrong time, or the injustice of it all. But now waiting is an opportunity. We can just grab our smartphone and have an array of things to do while we wait our turn. Despite the improvement in “productivity,” this development is in one way unfortunate, because it decreases the possibility of inner productivity while we wait. It does not, however, eliminate that possibility, because we can be present while using a smartphone. It just takes a higher level of effort. Another possibility, though, is not to pick up our smartphone and instead focus exclusively on presence while we wait.

Look more carefully at these interludes, these gaps in time that we call waiting. This is the low-hanging fruit of off-the-cushion inner work. The feeling of incipient boredom can be a potent reminder that we have both the time and the inner resources available to focus on presence, at least at that moment. Waiting can remind us to be here while we wait. That work of presence while waiting, removes the feeling that waiting is wasted time and fills the period with meaning, with vivid life, with something productive and nourishing for our soul.

Sometimes we wait inwardly even when fully occupied outwardly. This may occur when our outer activity does not require our full attention. Take the example of exercising. Maybe at a particular exercise session we are looking forward to it being over, waiting for it to end. This type of inner waiting is also a good opportunity for presence, because it signals that we have inner resources, attention and cognizant energy, to spare. We can turn that to constructive use by practicing waiting presence right then.

We wait: in line, for our ride, for the bus, the train or the airplane, in the waiting room. We wait for the waiter. We wait for the class or the commute to be over, for the work day or week to end. We wait for a break, for our boat to come in, for the computer to boot up. So much opportunity. So much time ready to be put to constructive use.

We tend to equate waiting with impatience and boredom, twin emotions of rejection, rejecting our life as it is in this moment, and most tellingly, rejecting just being. We want to do something or be entertained, somehow to fill our time, to fill the silence or rush on to the next thing. We rightly abhor wasting our time. But busyness alone does not help; it just masks the more fundamental problem: that we live without presence, that we live without being here to experience our life in the full richness of any moment.

When we wait, we not only have time, ordinary, outer time, to kill as it were; we also and more importantly have inner time. Just as outer time is the framework of action in the physical world, inner time is the framework of action in our inner world. The inner action we seek in this particular mode of spiritual practice is to become and stay present while we wait. Waiting provides the opportunity for that inner action.

When we notice that we are waiting for something, then instead of sinking into boredom or resentment, instead of breaking out the smartphone, instead of scanning the tabloids, we can move into presence, as completely as possible. With practice we become able to enter full presence all at once. Until then, we take a stepwise approach and build up our presence. We start with our body, with awareness of our body, sensing parts and, if we can, the whole of our body. We take time to strengthen that direct, visceral contact with our body, to raise that sensitive energy. To this we add awareness of our emotional state, of what’s happening in our chest and solar plexus. To that we add awareness of our thoughts as they come and go. Then we enter the cognizant stillness behind our thoughts, our open, spacious consciousness, whereupon we see that we are not our thoughts or emotions. To all of that we add ourselves: we enter the moment as I. I am here, now. And then we maintain this fullness of presence, as we continue to wait. This is waiting presence.

For this week, don’t just wait, be there.


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