Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice

 

Inner Work


For the week of October 8, 2012

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Presence

(Growing a Spiritual Life: Part 4)

In growing a spiritual life, we may work at meditation or prayer or doing the right thing, but what about the rest of the day, that vast expanse of time where we enter the stream of life, eating, sleeping, working, cooking, cleaning, shopping, commuting, relaxing, and all the rest? If we leave large gaps between our times of formal spiritual practice, if that practice only occupies a small fraction of our day, our soul growth is limited thereby. Short of entering a monastery, how can we turn more of our day to account, to serve our spirit?

The primary, time-tested answer is presence, fully engaging in whatever we do, but with more, with our body, heart, and mind, with our assembled energies, with our attention, our will, our self. We do this in a relaxed way, not from tension. Yet it usually means being inwardly active, not letting our life live itself, but living it as our self, connecting, immersing in the flow of life, without losing ourselves in it.

If we meditate in the morning, we may have an abundance of inner energy when we get up from the cushion. Without presence, that energy will wane to the vanishing point during our day. By the time we go to bed at night, we have little or nothing left. Yet the practice of presence reverses this process. Instead of losing that precious energy as our day progresses, we gain even more. Presence accelerates our natural production of inner energy and connects us with its sources.

Presence not only helps grow our spiritual life, it is evidence that we have one. The deeper, stronger, and more loving our inner life, the more we are present and vice versa. To seek the answer to the question who am I, we must be practical, and that practicality consists first and foremost of presence. Without presence, I am not who I really am, I am not fully myself. The core of presence is I am here, not as the words of that phrase but as the true experience of being myself in this body, in this mind, in these sensory flows, in this moment in time and this place in space.

But presence itself quickly wanes and vanishes. This is where methods matter, methods for extending and strengthening presence. Though it is necessary to choose to be present, that choice on its own typically has little power. It might be good for 10 seconds and then its gone. We need something that persists in time. That something is sensing our body. By practicing body awareness in a focused way, so that the sensitive energy accumulates in our body, we build a strong foundation for presence; we create a place to stand in presence.

So if we choose to work in this way, then whenever we remember during our day, we immediately bring our attention to our body, to a hand or a foot, an arm or a leg. We put our attention there and keep it there. Gradually something accumulates: the sensitive energy which gives us a stronger perception of that part of our body. With practice we even become able to sense our whole body.

From that point we work toward a more global awareness that includes not just our body, but also our mind, our thoughts, opinions, attitudes, daydreams, and mental images. This leads us also to become aware of our emotions as emotions. So we have this broad, inclusive awareness intentionally, an awareness that incorporates all our perceptions of body, mind, and heart. Yet we remain anchored in body sensation, because that can persist through time; it is not blown away so easily by a passing thought or distracting perception.

Nevertheless, without the decision to be present, the ongoing choice to be present, and the determination to stay present, methods can only help marginally. It takes both method and choice. Yet the choice to be present naturally leads us back to the question of who is present. To which we answer: I am present. Rather that bouncing among the waves of life and mind, we become ourselves, our I. I am here, now. I am the one who is aware of my body. I am the one who is sensing my body. I am the one who is aware of my mind, my thoughts, my emotions. Yet I am none of those things, neither my body, my mind, or my emotions. I am not my awareness. I am I. I am the one who does what I do.

Our I is a gift from the Creator and is our connection with that Sacred One. So to be ourselves is to grow our spiritual life. Our I is at the center, our center. Yet our I itself has a deeper and sacred source. To assume otherwise is called egoism. This is the difference between being centered and being self-centered. It is not all about me. It is not that my small self is present. Rather, the higher is present through and as me. This is the realm where presence meets prayer. From here, to go deeper into presence is the same as going deeper into prayer, deeper into freedom, deeper into our buoyant soul.

For this week, be more present.


     

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