Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of January 14, 2019

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Presence and Non-presence

(Spiritual Dynamics: 4)

The dynamic interplay between presence and non-presence is crucial to our spiritual aspirations. However, it is not just black and white, not just that we are either present or not. There are many degrees in between: we are sometimes more present and at other times less so. Only in our non-dreaming sleep are we effectively in total absence. Our challenge consists of finding and engaging in ways to be more present, more of the time. Every waking moment offers the opportunity of presence.

The enabling question is why? Why practice presence? Why prefer presence over non-presence? Why prefer presence to the extent of making sustained efforts to be present? And it does take effort, at least outside those precious moments when presence is effortless. If we do not have strong reasons, we will not make the necessary efforts or half-hearted ones at best. The more those reasons become part of us, fundamental to our world view and a driving force in our life, the more we will work at and be present.

The motivations for presence reside in three categories: personal, social, and societal. On the personal level, presence makes for a full life. In presence, life is much more vivid than without presence. We are actually here to experience our life, to see what we see and do what we do. Without presence, we are only half-alive; time passes us by, unlived. A by-product of presence is the greater likelihood of happiness, not only because we live vividly, but also because we waste less time mired in personally problematic psychological processes.

Our social interactions change with presence. We are here with others. We can be more aware of them as they are, rather than through our psychological and self-referential filters. When someone speaks, we listen with interest. When we speak, we are there, appropriate, meaningful, and heartfelt. In presence, we are less in our self-centered attitudes and thus less prone to damaging our relationships. We engage with people as equals, setting the stage for love.

With regard to the wider society, in presence our actions are more likely to be positive contributions. From a spiritual viewpoint, the inner energies we produce in presence help sow peace and awareness in the circles we frequent and even beyond. So our inner work of presence serves us personally as well the people around us and the society we live in.

Yet even with great motivation, presence can prove fleeting. Distractions, reactions, alluring thoughts, and the general to and fro of life present an ongoing stream of captivating and dynamic enticements to fall away from ourselves and into a narrow world of non-presence. So we need methods to extend both the depth and duration of presence and also to quickly climb back up to presence when we recognize that we have fallen out of it.

First we note that the core of presence is the will to be. This means that I myself am here, intentionally. It is different than awareness of our body, mind, and immediate environment. The core of presence is also different than self-awareness. It is about who is aware. It is about being the one who is aware, the one at the center of all this. This is an inner act, an act of will. "I am." Although it does not take place in time, it can be an extended act, ongoing through time. It is the act of being here, at home, in the center of myself.

Lest we be misled into believing that presence is tantamount to self-centeredness, we note that this work of being the core of our presence, rather than narrowing us down into our supposed self or ego, instead opens us to the reality that our core, our I, is not separate from the world around us, from the people around us. Your I and my I are equal, and come from and link to the same source, namely the Sacred. This is the great mystery, that we can simultaneously be fully ourselves and fully within the unity of the Sacred Whole.

Beyond this central and necessary act of being the one who is present, there are many supporting methods of presence. Sensing and being in our body, our whole body, brings us into the now. Befriending ourselves, going beyond our inner divisions, unifies us and stops wasting our time and energy fighting and criticizing ourselves. Yes, we need to see and know the truth about ourselves, but we use that truth to move forward and be the seer, rather than as a cudgel for inner battles against ourselves. Sensing our body can set a deeper stage of getting behind our thoughts, into the silence of consciousness, which offers a broad and potentially stable venue for our presence.

The dynamism continues as inner and outer events pull us out of presence and we respond by coming back to presence, again and again and again, until we can live more in presence. That naturally opens the door to more wisdom and love.

Our role in this dynamic of presence and non-presence is threefold. First, to understand presence and its methods. This takes practice and grows along with that practice. Second is to value presence enough to be on the lookout for when we are not present. Third is to value presence enough to take immediate action when we see that we are not present. If we put off the work of presence to some fictional "later," we lose a precious opportunity now. If we succumb to self-criticism for not being present, we lose a precious opportunity to be present now. We can truly and fully live only in the now and presence is how we make our home in it. Our valuation of presence deepens the more we work with it and see the difference it makes.

For this week, see the dynamic movement between presence and non-presence in your own experience and respond accordingly.

See also: Presence


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