Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of January 16, 2017

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Presence versus Thinking About Presence

(The Challenge of Presence 8)

We might sometimes think "I am a person who practices presence," or "I practice mindfulness," or "I am usually mindful," or "I work on myself," or "I am on the path of liberation and love." Such thoughts may even be true to some extent. But they have a pernicious side. They give us a dubious sense of satisfaction with the current state of our inner work, with its quality and quantity. This undercuts any drive to deepen or strengthen our inner life further. At best, we are treading the spiritual waters. How can we start swimming again?

We need to see our situation clearly and without blinders, to dispel the illusion of always-on presence. We can ask ourselves and observe ourselves to assess how much of our day we are truly present. Are we always in contact with our whole body, for example, sensing our whole inner body? Do we live in body sensation as our base of awareness?

When we are present, how stable is it? How stable are we? How long do we last? How long do we stay here and now? How long before we come back into presence after losing it? How broad is our awareness? Are we in contact with the wholeness of our current experience, and with the telling details?

To see truly into these questions requires us, among other things, to beware of the fact that moments of presence imprint themselves on our memory more strongly than moments of non-presence. So when we look back on our day, we mostly recall the moments of presence and are led to believe that it was all presence. A more sober consideration may reveal that presence only covered a small part of our day. The clarity that comes from looking carefully at our life is a powerful way to strengthen our wish to be.

Another way to reinvigorate our inner work is to take in the wonder of presence. When we are here, fully here, what does that feel like? Is our life richer, more vivid in those moments compared to others? Are we more at ease, more free of inner conflicts and tensions, more comfortable in our own skin, more content? What is the quality of the way we relate to other people in moments of presence compared to those of non-presence? Do we live and act more in accord with our true values?

In these and other ways we can distinguish experientially between presence and non-presence. This show us, for example, that thinking about presence is not enough. Thoughts of the Sacred are not the Sacred. Thoughts and ideas, no matter how sublime, belong to the surface of our being and cannot substitute for the reality they sometimes point toward.

However, thoughts can remind us to work at presence. Whenever we notice that we are thinking about presence, or reading or hearing or speaking about it, that can cue us to actually come back into our body, into awareness of our mind and heart, into ourselves. We can make it our practice to turn toward presence whenever the subject of presence comes up, in whatever way it comes up. Then we move from pretense to reality, from thought to inward action.

For this week, instead of letting thoughts of presence distract you from the real thing, let those thoughts trigger your return to actual presence, your return to yourself. Here I am.


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