Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice

 

The Illusion of Presence 

As long as we believe ourselves to be fully present and awake during our everyday life, we have no reason to try to awaken, nor to practice the methods leading to presence. Without such practice the spiritual life will not actually take root in us. But the construction of our minds keeps us under this very illusion: that we are present all the time. If someone asks us if we are conscious, then we correctly and perhaps indignantly reply “Yes, I’m here.” For that moment we are indeed present, because the question suddenly prods us into a more complete awareness. But the moment quickly passes and we return to our automatic, autopilot, pre-programmed, personality-driven mode of living.

Take the example of our storehouse of memories, out of which our entire personality and self-image form. We only remember moments of presence. So if we look back on our day, on our week, on our life, we recall events only to the degree to which we were present for them. If someone asks us what we had for dinner on some random evening three weeks ago and how it tasted, we do not remember. This fact of incomplete memory indirectly shows our lack of presence, at least in the past. But these gaps of memory are not always obvious to us. Rather, our memory seems seamless, as if we have always been alert and awake.

Even true presence itself perpetuates the illusion of continuity. When we happen to enter a state of presence or consciousness, its timeless quality and its organic naturalness delude us into thinking that this is our usual state, this is how we are all the time. “Here I am, awake as always.” Again, though, that state of presence evaporates almost immediately.

To see our lack of presence in a given moment, we need only work seriously at any of the practices in these pages intended for use during our daily routines. One of the very first things we see in the effort, for example, to be continually aware of our physical sensations, of our energy body, is that we can only achieve it intermittently. Our conceit of the continuity of our consciousness proves empty. That cracking of our illusion of continuous presence ushers in a major step toward the reality of the spiritual path. Only when we truly understand our lack of awareness, can we begin to work in earnest toward developing presence.


     

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