Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For weeks of October 19 & 26, 2015

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(Presence Metric 2)

Now we turn to the question of the stability of our presence: how long does any given episode of presence last? In actual practice, we find that presence is short-lived — very short. We may momentarily surface into the vivid life of presence, only to have some thought, from the endless stream passing through our mind, come along and grab us, so that we lose ourselves on a mental tangent, our presence dissolved. Or something we see or hear takes us. The variety of ways we lose presence knows no bounds.

The first step toward extending the duration of any given episode of presence is to notice how long our presence does last. However, this is not as relatively simple as counting the frequency of presence. The obvious way to measure the duration of anything is to time it. Look at the seconds tick by on our watch and see how long we are there. Unfortunately, that simply will not work for several reasons.

First, trying to time our presence with a watch is too awkward and disruptive of the flow of our life. Our work of presence needs to fit into our life. The work of presence is inner work and can run in parallel with whatever we are doing outwardly, except for the usual caveat that when engaging in life-critical tasks, like driving, we keep our entire focus on the external task. Stopping to gaze at our watch whenever we come back to presence would disrupt the flow of life, and quickly become a burden.

Secondly, it is doubtful that we could actually time our presence even if we wanted to. The problem comes at the end. When we lose presence, we do not notice the loss. Indeed non-noticing is non-presence. We simply are no longer here, no one at home to notice that we are not present. When we do wake up and notice that we were not present for a time, that waking up is the start of a new episode of presence. We were not there to note the end of the last episode of presence, so we could not time it.

The solution to the riddle of becoming aware of the duration of presence is two-fold. First, we do not seek an objective, clock-measure of presence: we only look to having a subjective measure. How long does it seem to us? In particular, we do not need to think of it in terms of how many seconds, or if we are very steady, minutes. We look at relative duration of presence. Was it longer or shorter than prior episodes of presence? If we can gain a sense of that, it gives us a direction for our inner work, the direction of maintaining our presence for a little longer than before.

The second part of working with duration is try to increase it. When we awaken to a moment of presence, we aim to extend it to the next moment and the moment after that. We aim to stay here, in our body, as ourselves. We can work at that directly, simply by maintaining our intention to be present on a moment-to-moment basis. We can practice this intention to stay present in sitting and then also in daily life. The moment-to-moment factor is crucial. We seek to not allow gaps. It is not easy and we can only work on that briefly. But by doing so, our ability to stay present grows.

A less direct and more artificial but still effective approach is to count breaths. We practice awareness of our breathing, particularly the sensations of our breath at the tip of our nose and upper lip. We count each exhalation if we are in contact with it. The counting, though, is secondary to the awareness of each breath. We count up to ten and then begin again at one. If we lose the count or lose our awareness of the breath, we begin again at one. This practice, normally done at the beginning of a sitting meditation, quickly brings us into a relatively stable presence. After we are able to stay with the breath without losing the awareness and the count for several cycles of ten, we can drop it and proceed with the rest of our meditation practice. At that point we might want to combine the work of broadening our presence to include our whole body, mind, and heart, while keeping the unbroken, whole-body, breath awareness as an indicator of continuity of presence.

We can also try this breath counting as a way to temporarily increase the duration of our presence during our day, when we do not have other strong demands on our attention.

The result of practicing moment-to-moment presence is a much stronger and more continuous presence, a presence that is not as easily disrupted by passing thoughts or other events, a presence that can engage in activity and sustain itself, a presence whereby we can be fully here, living and experiencing our life vividly.

For this week, notice the duration of your presence and work to increase it, to make your presence more continuous.

See Also: Stabilized Presence


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