Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of August 6, 2012

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Tool Presence

(Presence in Daily Life: Part 6)

We use an amazing variety of tools to act on this material world. From cars, computers, airplanes and particle accelerators to ovens, pots, blenders and spatulas, the instruments that humanity has created and refined over these many millennia empower us in countless ways and set the parameters of what we can do. But our interest here is not in the tools per se, rather we look to the user of our tools and our relationship with them. Our life, from morning to night, is filled with artifacts with which we accomplish what we wish. And because we are so frequently using one tool or another, we can find in these occasions another valuable opportunity to create reminders for presence. This applies to every tool or useful artifact, from pen and paper, keyboard and mouse, to cooking utensils, brooms, hammers and saws, cars and elevators, light bulbs, umbrellas, phones, gadgets, forks, and on and on.

A part of presence is to know what I am doing, to be in contact what I am doing. Am I aware of myself when I use each of the many tools in my life? Do I know that I am using something or does it happen without my awareness? In many case this is not so easy. For example in wearing glasses, we forget about the glasses and the fact that we are using them to improve our vision.

Do I appreciate the instrumentality of these artifacts, their remarkable qualities and the fact that I could not create them on my own? Gratitude is appropriate toward those who have developed and made these tools and delivered them to me. Do I see why they are built as they are? Do I see the intelligence and artistry embedded in them? Do sense the toolís touch, its texture, heft, and balance, how it feels in my hand? Do I see its shape and proportions?

Do I see how the tool serves as an intermediary, enabling me to act on the world through it? Do I pay attention to how I use the tool, to its effects, to take that feedback to increase my skill with it? Do I use it appropriately, safely and effectively, as it was intended to be used? Do I respect the tool, clean it, maintain it, and return it to its place? Do I notice the quality it embodies?

Our responses to all of these questions reflect who we are, our attitudes to the world, and whether we are here, present, doing these things. Our attitudes and actions flow from whether or not we are here. If we are absent, absent-minded, cruising on autopilot, then any of our habitual attitudes can take center stage at any moment. If we are present, our attitudes and actions flow from something deeper than habit patterns: they flow from us, from our purposes and intentions, from our conscience, from our direct and immediate contact with our surroundings, from our intelligence, creativity, and heart. Itís all here when I am here, using this tool to do what needs doing, to serve the situation, to create new possibilities, to bring order to my corner of the world.

In the use of any tool, we have three elements: I, the tool, and the raw material. If in a state of presence, then I am here, with my purposes, intentions, skills and perceptions. Then there is the tool that empowers me with its qualities, its form and function. And finally, the work piece, the raw material to which I apply the tool. Presence in tool use embraces all three.

With presence, practice, and expertise, we may at times approach the perfection that draws us, where we transcend our individualized sense of presence and our skills, and the results flow perfectly and effortlessly. We have many modern examples of athletes or musicians at the peak of their performance. We have the great works of art, in which the artistís transcendence allows him or her to become an instrument of the creative force. All the sweat and sacrifice serve as prelude to that timeless moment. The work just appears as it should, as it could. It comes through us. No longer I, the tool, and the material; the three become one in the perfection of action. Sounds rare and wonderful, but this is possible for any of us, even in the mundane actions of our life. Perfection calls to us, from our workshop, from our kitchen, from our desk.

For this week, practice presence in using tools, in your home, in your job, wherever the opportunity arises.


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