Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For week of February 29, 2016

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TV Presence

(Presence Trigger 11)

We spend much of our precious time being entertained: by TV, movies and video, music and concerts, sports, novels, and so on. We consume all these with little thought to the effects on our life and particularly our inner life. Can we bring more value to our time as a spectator?

A primary way we measure the quality of any entertainment is the degree to which it engages us, mentally and emotionally. If it's good, it invites us to surrender to it for the duration. And if it's good, we accept. That is the bargain. We give our mind and heart to the show, the movie, concert, game, or novel and let it play us. For that period we live as that event. Its images form themselves in our minds. Its emotions form themselves in our hearts. The show moves us; it lives us. We allow ourselves to be passive receivers, passive participants. Our life for that time is the show.

This we usually consider good entertainment. The drama, the thrill, the suspense, the horror, the righteousness, the anxiety and fear, the romance and humor, the beauty, the reversals, and the breakthroughs: entertainment stimulates us with a wide repertoire of emotion and spectacle. No wonder it can be so addicting. We experience it all in ourselves as our own. Indeed it is our own experience, for those moments. We surrender, putting ourselves into abeyance, and let the show take us, letting it drive our perceptions, feelings, thoughts, and mental images. The entertainment industry has gotten very good at this, keeps getting better, and will continue to become more effective, more immersive, as new techniques and technologies come into use.

So where does this leave us, if we aspire to a spiritual inner life? One answer, that doesn't offer much help, is that there are the rare few works of entertainment, certain great music, a few movies, and others that rather than take us out of ourselves, actually serve to bring us to ourselves, calling us to presence. But those are rare. The great bulk of entertainment takes us away and scripts our time and experience for us.

Another answer is the monkish one of eliminating our TV watching, our movie going, our music listening. Rather than make our life dull, that would enrich it; the ordinary would become more vivid. But the fact is that most of us, including those who yearn for a spiritual inner life, do not aspire to become monks, nuns, or hermits. We seek a path into the spirit, while living an ordinary life in our times. And the ordinary life of these times in the developed world certainly includes consuming entertainment, or rather being intermittently consumed by entertainment.

So the question becomes: can we bring inner work into our periods of entertainment without diminishing our enjoyment of the show? Can we, for example, give our mind and heart over to the show, while keeping some presence in our body? A partial presence to be sure, but presence nevertheless. Instead of living completely vicariously in the show, instead of the show totally living us, we also live a parallel time, a real time, in the present, in our body. We let our mind be shaped by the images of the show and our heart informed by the emotional tenor of the show, while our body we keep as our own.

Of course, this is much easier said than done. It takes a clear and decisive intention, formed prior to the show and sustained during it. Without that, we very likely will disappear within the first minute and only reemerge sometime after the show ends, with a vague, uneasy feeling that we have somehow lost our time.

It's been a long day. We're tired and just want to zone out in front of the TV. Is there any chance of presence? Well, yes: we can relax into our body and set a simple intention to stay in contact with our body. Presence does not need tension and can even be effortless. But it does need the will to be. Presence may arise accidentally, unbidden, but quickly evaporates without our intention to be here. So in front of the TV, we can relax into a larger awareness that includes both the show and our body. Almost inevitably we soon forget our body and get lost in the show. Our inner work then is to return again and again to that body contact, whenever we notice we have lost it. And at the commercial breaks or at changes of scene or when we turn the page in our novel, we can take the opportunity to reaffirm, to renew our body presence and carry that into the next segment.

While we base our entertainment presence in body sensation, the core of presence as always, is the ongoing experience of "I am here," the direct perception that I am here, watching this show, in touch with my body. The body contact ensures this presence has some reality to it and does not just evaporate nor descend into a fantasy, a pseudo-presence, where we accept a pretense, an assumption of presence, even when there is none. "I am here, in contact with my body and watching the show."

Entertainment is not inherently destructive to our inner life. But there is an opportunity cost to those hours a day we spend in front of the TV or otherwise being entertained, unless we use that very same time to build our soul, through presence. We may even find that the more present we are, the more we enjoy the show. So when we do relax into some entertainment, we can also practice relaxing into our body, into ourselves, into our I.

For this week, please be there to enjoy the show. Let entertainment trigger you into presence.

Note: this article previously posted as Entertainment Presence


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