Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of April 12, 2021

Timeless Presence

(Long-Form Living: 2)

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When we are present, we live in this ever-changing moment at the center of the flow of time. Sensory impressions, thoughts, and emotions stream through us ceaselessly, as one moment passes to the next. Without presence, that stream is all we experience. But our experience in presence is more of the changeless, the timeless, than it is of the time-bound flow of events. Here in presence, we are rooted in the timeless; we live in the Now. This Now and the next Now are the same: they are one Now. The content of each Now differs due to time, but the Now itself is the unchanging context of all that goes on in time. And presence is the portal into Now, into an expanded and deepened Now.

Our access to this eternal domain of Now is through consciousness, the pure awareness behind all the content of experience. Consciousness is not secretive or mystical; it is just ignored by us. It is so fundamental, like water for fish, that we miss it altogether. Yet it is the very medium of our experience and a hallmark of presence, though we are usually distracted from it by our senses, thoughts, and the rest. We mistake our sensory experience for consciousness. The sensory stream is the content of consciousness, not consciousness itself.

When our mind and surroundings are quiet, and our eyes are closed, consciousness comes to the foreground as a vast and cognizant spaciousness. But it is always here in us and with us. The more we come to know it in the quiet of meditation, the more we come to recognize it in the midst of activity, and the more we begin to live in it, in the Now.

Consider your basic experience of yesterday, or five years ago, or when you were a child. Many things have happened since then, but your fundamental consciousness has not changed. It is the same today as it was then. Consciousness is not in time; rather time flows through consciousness. That is why you can reenter the more vivid moments from your childhood as if you are there now; it is the same consciousness unaffected by time.

When we live in presence, each moment, each Now is as usual followed by the next. But in presence, these moments are not separate. This moment blends with the next to create a greater present, an unbroken, unending present, a long Now. Long-form living, in presence, expands and transcends time, putting us in contact with eternity, the timeless. Our base is timeless. In presence we are not limited to time.

An illustrative exchange occurred in 1898, when the great Hindu master, the Shivapuri Baba, who lived to be 137, was visiting England. He met the playwright George Bernard Shaw, who professed contempt for Yogis and their like. Shaw reportedly said to the Shivapuri Baba, “You Indian saints are the most useless of men; you have no respect for time.” Unruffled, the Baba replied, “It is you who are slaves of time. I live in Eternity.” [1]

Even if we are not at the stage of being able to live that continuously, we can come into it for brief periods. We begin with body awareness, building up to sensing our whole body. With this we include being in our mind and emotions. We practice this to the point of being able to go about our ordinary activities while fully inhabiting our body, mind, and emotions. This broad personal awareness, this grounding in current experience, serves as our foundation for opening into boundless consciousness, the pure, contextual awareness. Within that state we live in the timeless Now. Brief though it may be, it can give us a taste of that reality. Through such repeated tastes, we learn our way back into consciousness, and come to it more readily, more frequently, more assuredly, and ultimately with more stability.

It is our inescapable and sacred responsibility to deal with the time-bound, honorably, lovingly, and well. Yet it is also our spiritual responsibility to live in the timeless, not only time. We can do both, in presence, in this one Now that contains all.

For this week, please reinvigorate your practice of presence, and notice how it brings you into contact with both time and the timeless. To reinvigorate your practice of presence, practice more. In advance, choose two or three moments during your day, when you will practice presence. Come into awareness of your senses, your whole body, your emotions, and your mind. To this add yourself. Be there as the one who is aware, the one who is doing what you are doing, the one who is conscious and present. If you spontaneously remember about presence at other times, practice it then as well. Our aim is to be present always. This is possible because presence is timeless and, when stabilized, overflows from this moment to the next, embracing both.

[1] John G. Bennett; Long Pilgrimage: The Life and Teaching of the Shivapuri Baba; page 26.


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