Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of August 5, 2013

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Presence at Work

(Spirituality at Work: Part 1)

ďÖmy challenge is to try to live as well when Iím not working as when Iím workingÖ Iím much more of a whole person when Iím working. Iím more collected, Iím more connected, Iím more thereÖThatís why I feel better when Iím working, because I have to be.Ē [1]

The spiritual practice of presence, rightly carried out, does not interfere with our job or anything else we might do. On the contrary it enhances what we do. It brings us into greater contact with our senses, greater awareness of our thoughts and emotions, stronger perception of the people around us, more attention, and more intention in whatever we do. In short, in presence we become more ourselves.

Now it is true, especially in the earlier stages of our practice of presence, that we should refrain from trying it during critical activities, such as driving a car, performing surgery, walking i-beams on a tall building under construction, and so on. This is because at first, we see the work of presence as calling for a dividing of our attention between what we are doing outwardly and our inner state. Later, our inner and outer merge into one robust presence fully engaged in whatever we do.

How can we actually practice presence? Though there is much more to it, presence begins with body awareness. We can always have this as a clear and objective benchmark of presence: no body awareness, no presence, more body awareness, more presence. In our approach to presence, body awareness means sensing our body.

To practice sensing, begin by directing all your attention into your right hand. Be aware of your hand directly, from within it. Keep your attention there for a few minutes. Then notice the difference between your experience of your right hand and your left hand. Your right hand may feel more alive, warmer, more vivid. If so, this is due to the presence of the sensitive energy in your right hand, brought and awakened there by your sustained attention. This is sensing the right hand. With this taste, you can then practice sensing each hand, foot, arm and leg, and then all four limbs at once. Then without focusing on particular inner organs so as not to interfere with their instinctive functioning, sense your torso and head, and finally your whole body. This practice of sensing can be carried into your day, so that you sense while you go about your daily activities.

After extensive practice and once you have gained some facility with sensing your whole body, you might move toward a more complete practice of presence, always based in sensing your body, but also incorporating everything else within your consciousness, including emotions, thoughts, and sensory experience. This type of practice is mindfulness practice, wherein we open to the fullness of immediate experience.

The core of presence, though, is our I, the direct experience that I am here, that I am aware of this moment, that I am doing what I am doing. Presence brings the innate pleasure of the bare fact that we exist. Here I am. This is not just awareness, mindfulness, but the ongoing recognition that there is someone who is aware, that I am here and aware of all this, that I am the one who is aware, the one who does what I do. Our I connects our body, our world, with the deeper spirit within and beyond us. With and through our I, we can finally be.

So how does this fit into our workday? First, we want to set up our day by practicing sensing and full presence in a quiet sitting meditation before we go to work. But what then? Is presence compatible with our life, with our job? Because we are more alive when we are present, it is certainly compatible with our life. Because we are more there and responsible and on task when we are present, it is compatible with most jobs.

The practice of presence does not have a set external form. It does not require a particular body posture or facial expression or tone of voice. It does not require inactivity, nor activity. It does not require tension or intensity. Thus, when you practice presence, it should not be noticeable to other people, except perhaps in the fact that you pay better attention, in a relaxed way. We do not make a show of it.

At work, we can start small, in the less demanding moments. We come into our body, sensing. We come into our self. We pay attention to the full experience of this moment. Then we can start branching out from the less demanding moments to the more demanding ones. Can we be present, fully there in our body, in our mind, in our heart, in our self? Can we be present, in a meeting, in a conversation, in a task we undertake?

Then unintentionally we fall back into non-presence: lost in a train of thoughts or images, doing things automatically by habit, with little awareness or contact with what we are doing, and with emotional reactions coloring our inner world. And then a moment comes when we wake up and notice our preceding state of non-presence. We come back into contact with our body, with our self. Thoughts go on, but we donít go with them. We are here. We remember ourselves. We sense our body to strengthen the foundation and staying power of our presence. And then it all goes and we fall back into non-presence. And then something wakes us up and we start again. Such cycles may repeat many times a day, up and down and up. All the while, outwardly we are doing our job and interacting with people. Inwardly, we are coming back to and standing in presence.

For this week, practice presence at work.

[1] Bill Murray, quoted by Ann Hornaday in her Washington Post article, 12/6/2012


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