Unit VII. Presence
2. Characteristics of presence
3. Direct Knowledge
5. Obstacles to presence
Materials needed: Journal, notepaper
The Power of Now
The Path to No-self
The power of now
Centering in the Hara
The Unitive State, Phase VI
Dealing with an unsatisfactory situation
All along, we have been asking, “Who are you?” And now we are really
getting close to the answer. But, for a moment, let us take a jaunt
down memory lane. Can you remember your life before five years old?
Say, maybe three and a half or four? What was your favorite pastime?
What did you like to do especially outside when the weather was nice?
Did you have toys or did you make your own fun? I invite you to reminisce
for a while. Take a minute and really go back and retrieve a specific
memory of something you liked to do. Perhaps you can remember being
completely absorbed in digging in the dirt or in your sandbox. Maybe
it was finger paints. How about the bathtub? Can you recall
the feel of the water, just the sensations of it without any mental commentary.
Or being squirted with the hose on a hot steamy day. Perhaps it was
a tire swing or helping Mom make cookies and the texture of cookie dough.
It was in moments like these that you were naturally in a state of presence.
Hold on to your memory a few more minutes. Can you remember your
feeling? What did you smell? taste? see? hear?
touch? If there was an emotional overtone, the memory may be especially
vivid. I remember the car door opening as we went around a curve
and holding on to my friend who sat next to it, so she wouldn’t fall out.
My most favorite moments were spent in or near the creek that flowed by our
house. The clay on its banks had the most delicious texture, smooth
and cool. I made dishes for my dolls with it and baked them in the
sun. We made dams in the creek relishing the cool water and the slippery
stones along with the water spiders that scooted away when we approached.
Later on in age, I roller-skated down a steep hill and sometimes fell and
skinned my knees. Pain is a memory too. Then there was the day
I nearly stepped on a copperhead and ran for two blocks before I stopped.
Another child gave me a stick of Juicy fruit gum. To this day, that
flavor brings back that memory.
Presence is a felt sense. It is that feeling back of your heart
or deep in your gut that indicates you exist. You are here, now, in
the present. It may say, “I am.” Nothing fancy or complicated,
nor is it loud or dominant. In fact, most of us have lost touch with
it completely. However, you can retrieve it if you wish to. It
is there when you find yourself in a particularly beautiful place or see
a gorgeous sunset or an awesome canyon. It is the one who gazes into
a baby’s eyes and feels the depth of its beingness. It is there in
any intense sensory experience that stuns you out of the mental chatter.
It is love itself. It is who you really are.
The whole point of all this is that, in circumstances like these, you
are not thinking. The one thing all the traditions agree on
is that thinking or any type of mental activity removes us from being wholly
present in the Now moment. The research I have been doing around
this subject has yielded several different perspectives on presence, and
I am going to review each one briefly to try to give you a multidimensional
feel for what it is. Since we will be comparing absolute and relative
realities, let me remind you of the distinction between these two ideas.
Absolute Reality is all that exists, the Source, in its primary form of
vibration or voidness. Relative Reality is contained within Absolute
Reality and refers to all the forms of creation that the primal vibration
takes when it manifests as something.
Exercise: The Power of Now
Begin reading The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle (1999) and continue
through chapter 4. Why does he say you are not your mind? What
is the pain-body and how can it be dissolved? What is the origin
of fear and how can we deal with it? Why is the Now so important?
What is the role of time in presence? What is the core delusion?
Why would we want to dissolve ordinary unconsciousness? What is the
inner purpose of your life’s journey?
A. H. Almaas (1999) says that personal essence is the pearl beyond price.
It is embodied being, the actual individuation of your soul, the personal
experience of beingness. He makes a distinction between personal
essence and the essential self which is beyond this life and never
changes. Essential self is the”I” without an “am,” the true self,
inner God, Holy Spirit beyond time, space and dualism. This “I” has
the potential for experience, the capacity for embodiment and the ability
to choose. So we can say that the personal essence is the form that
the essential self takes when it comes into a body. The essential
self can be found in the Hara, and this is what Almaas calls presence.
However, presence gets covered up by development of the false personality
or ego that creates a separate identity for itself. So we must dis-identify
with the ego and personality in order to resurrect presence. We will
take up that process later on.
Chogyal Namkhai Norbu (1996) is a Dzogchen (Buddhist) teacher.
Dzogchen is unique in its teaching that self-liberation is possible just
by developing a state of contemplation in which we remain silent and observe
everything that happens. This state of contemplation he calls
presence. The word “Dzogchen” means the true primordial state of
everyone, an absolute condition that is beyond time and dualism and that
is a true state of body, voice and mind. However, in the embodied
human being, “body” means the physical body, and “voice” means energy
or vibration in the same sense as that we met in Yoga. This energy
is linked to breathing and so to the vital energy called prana. “Mind”
has a number of levels in one of which there is an ongoing flow of thoughts,
judgments, images and reasons. This is the conditioned mind, called
intellect, whose main quality is “ignorance” which, in this context,
means separation or duality. However, there is also a true state of
mind which is void or empty of content and conditioning. Direct knowledge
in the true mind is a pure state of consciousness that arises in experience.
It is one of the basic qualities of our own primordial state.
Norbu also speaks of the three primordial wisdoms that are the three
aspects of essence. These are Nature, Energy and Essence. Nature
refers to manifestations of the primordial state. Energy is vibration
and it manifests without interruption. Recall that vibrations
are the basis of all creation. Essence is the real condition of the
individual. These three primordial wisdoms correspond to three characteristic
conditions of the nature of mind: calm with no thoughts, movement, and
presence which is the pure recognition without judgment of either the calm
state or movement. Can you begin to sense where this is going?
Finally there are three purified dimensions in which these three wisdoms
1. Nirmanakaya - the dimension of form perceived as an object
in relation to oneself. Here presence is integrated with the external
2. Sambhogakaya - the dimension of energy linked to presence;
3. Dharmakaya - the essence of all phenomena where presence is
“The practice of Dzogchen is based on two fundamental aspects of the
nature of the individual: the calm state and movement of thought through
which it is necessary for one to find oneself integrated in the state of
presence” (p. 58). “In the state of presence, which remains the same
in relation to thousands of different experiences, whatever arises liberates
itself automatically. This is what is meant by self-liberation” (p. 59).
Now, if you are canny, you will have noticed that these three aspects
of the relative human, the three wisdoms, the three characteristics of the
mind and the three purified dimensions share the same qualities as the
three gunas in yoga: tamas, rajas and sattva. And you will recall
that part of the dissolution process is to bring tamas and rajas into balance
creating a pure sattvic state. So we could table these correspondences
|3 Aspects of the
tics of Mind
Table 6-7. Triads of Presence
Dzogchen practice attempts to integrate forms of energy directly with
the state of presence. It is essential to maintain the sense of presence
in every moment. So the spiritual practice becomes one of learning
how to remain present in the moment.
Bernadette Roberts (1982) was one of the first, if not the first, to
write a book on No-self from the Christian perspective. No-self goes
beyond the Unitive state that was the final goal of contemplatives and
mystics for centuries. This fact is, as she points out, probably because
no one had ever written about it before. And that is true in most
religious traditions because writers say that the realized state
is beyond verbal description. So it was assumed that the Unitive
state was the end and goal of the spiritual journey. For our purposes
now, we are more interested in The path to no-self that Roberts (1985)
wrote several years later because this book deals with the Unitive State
itself, and that is the one that is relevant to the sixth chakra.
The Unitive State begins with the end of the Dark Night of the Spirit
and involves two experiences of self that we have in this phase of development:
1. Self-consciousness (or contemplative knowing) and
2. Presence (the Unitive State).
Roberts says self-consciousness is due to the reflexive mechanism
of the mind.
In people who have grown as far as the stage of formal operations in
intellectual development, it is normal for the intellect to look at itself
as well as the ego, self-image and personality. On the spiritual path,
we make use of this ability to conduct intense self-investigations.
Here we are talking about ordinary consciousness that is self-reflective
However, there are higher levels of consciousness associated with the
mind and the mental faculties of enlightenment. Roberts speaks of the cloud
of unknowing that obscured the face of God in the Dark Night and of the Contemplative
Gaze developed in the Unitive Stage which is the fixed gaze upon the Unknown
sometimes called the Eye seeing itself. Here we are talking about
a non-conceptual form of knowing that goes beyond the intellect into the
We find presence in contemplation of the unitive center, or we
can call it the still point, around which we must coordinate all the parts
of ourselves rather like Shakti doing her housecleaning in the Anja Chakra.
Presence is a gut-level feeling of personal power and energy. It
is the true center of union with God, a living flame of love with a sense
of presence. This is experienced as a deep sense of interiority and
Self-consciousness and presence come together in a prayer of union
which gives rise to ecstasy and the ultimate silencing of the little self.
These two aspects of oneself get transformed progressively until the self
is completely gone which does not happen until the close of the Unitive
stage. The end comes gradually, almost imperceptibly, and it does
not occur until the person is completely surrendered and willing.
It is finally accomplished with a stroke of divine grace.
There are three paths of communication with God according to Roberts
(1985) and they correspond to the Trinity:
1. The Father, the unmanifest aspect of God as first cause,
who transcends creation and is not seen by the personal self
2. The Holy Spirit, or true center
3. Christ who is the very “life of the soul” (p. 21), our
most subjective experience of God
It is the Spirit that transforms us into Christ. Spirit is objective,
Christ is not. Rather, Christ is subjective, a feeling presence,
it feels like me. “The true nature, then, of our nondual experience
of Christ lies in our identity with Christ, for whom the Spirit remains
as object of consciousness” (Roberts, 1985, p 22). Therefore, in the
Unitive State, we are united with the Father and the Spirit but identical
with Christ. So this is not yet a non-dual condition. In fact,
that does not occur until the final transition to no-self. Throughout
the Unitive State, there is always an individual self-presence that is aware
of its unity with God. [It might be interesting to compare this trinity
with the others in Table 6-7.]
In the spiritual transformations, then, we go from a self-conscious mental
self-image to a Christ Self (or God Self) to No-self which is the final
transition from unity with God to the Godhead. Roberts equates the
the crucifixion with Christ’s surrender of his divine self, his oneness
with God as known through our self-consciousness in the Unitive State.
The final transition to no-self, or to the Godhead of Absolute Oneness,
is represented by the resurrection of Christ and his ascension into heaven.
The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle (1999) is all about presence.
Being is the eternal,
ever-present One Life beyond the myriad forms of life
that are subject
to birth and death. . . also deep within every form as its inner-
and indestructible essence. . . You can know it only when the
mind is still,
when you are present, fully and intensely in the Now. . . To
of Being and to abide in that state of “feeling-realization” is
enlightenment. (p. xiv)
Our True nature is the “I am” consciousness in its pure state before
identification with form. Being is the indestructible essence of
everything, its true nature, the ineffable and indescribable reality behind
the words. Being is our own essence and we experience it as feelings
and our own presence.
However, when we are growing up, we learn how to use the mind conditionally
and, thus, all of the problems of humanity can be referred to a mis-identification
with the mind and to the belief in time and space. The beginning
of freedom is the realization that we are not the thinker, not the possessing
entity. It is mind that creates the idea of separateness and
identity. A voice in the mind makes judgments, assumptions, and
assessments and it runs on constantly with thoughts. However, there
is a gap between thoughts that can be widened with practice to open out
a condition of no-mind which is a higher consciousness without thought and
beyond the self. Tolle goes into detail about how the mind creates
resistance which leads to pain and suffering.
Finally, Taj Inayat (2005), a Sufi teacher, recently recorded a
talk called “Emerging Divinity.” She speaks about the need to open
our hearts in order to give birth to the Divine One who wishes to manifest
in the world. The soul is the womb for the Divine, she says, and we
must give birth to the One we want and long for. For many of us the
heart has been closed for protection against the betrayals and woundings that
life gives us, so opening it requires a great deal of sensitivity and compassion.
The heart will come out when there is enough safety. Meanwhile, there
is a loving presence waiting there, and it will wait forever because it loves
us so much. This is the Beloved One of Sufism. It is a dim countenance,
an inner presence behind all. When we make room for It and reach out in longing,
the Beloved will come to meet us, to know ItSelf through us.
Practice: Centering in the Hara
Prepare to sit for meditation in the usual way. When you are settled,
fold your hands together over the Hara. This is located three fingers
down from the navel and about two fingers inside, more if you are well-padded,
but in front of the spine. Then bring your attention to the Hara
and breathe into it. This is the place in the body where you are
grounded, the center of Chi in Oriental traditions. It is the still
point of your Being. Simply sit and meditate on this center remembering
that thoughts follow the breath. So keep the breath moving in
and out of the Hara. When you are finished, make notes in your journal
about what you experienced.
Characteristics of Presence
What seems to me most characteristic of presence is silence.
Presence does not extend itself to compete for attention in the marketplace.
Nor is its voice loud and demanding, but rather still and quiet, patient
in its waiting for recognition. There is a boundlessness and formlessness
about it that makes it difficult to comprehend except through the felt
sense. It may make itself known through intuition if the mind is
silent. We are most likely to come upon it during meditation when
the mind has been quieted and the senses lulled to sleep. Or we may
contact it during those moments between sleeping and waking before the mind
gets in gear. You may notice when you awaken in the night to go to
the bathroom that, if you can accomplish that without thinking about it,
you will go right back to sleep; whereas, if you allow the mind to begin
a rehearsal of your worries or plans for the next day, you may find yourself
with a bout of insomnia. It is not easy to quiet the mind, but well
worth learning how.
Light is a quality of presence as has already been mentioned in
the previous unit. However, it is associated with truth as well as
with the Godhead. If you allow yourself to become aware of the auras
of other people, you may be lucky enough to encounter a person who is radiant
with presence. Such a person has a face that literally shines.
And the body emanates good health and vitality as well as a quality of youthfulness.
When Jesus said to his disciples, “Blessed are the eyes which see what
you see” (Luke 10:23), he was referring to the ability to see the light
of truth through the clarity of presence. We are drawn to the center
by the magnetism of Divine Light.
The ability to see is connected to insight and to understanding.
We say, “Oh, I see,” when we understand something. The psychic gift
of clairvoyance is the ability to see what is not there or to see beyond
the present time or place in space. It is called the gift of “seeing.”
In presence, we see without eyes but with an inner faculty of the soul.
Jesus taught that God is Love. He meant that literally.
Love is the energy of the Divine One, and it pervades the universe and
all space. We are immersed in Love and receive our nourishment from
it in the same way that a fish lives in water. What a pity that we
are usually unaware of it and many of us feel that we are not loved at all!
This is due, largely, to a misunderstanding of what love really is and how
it manifests. We are not talking about the romantic love that feeds
on sexuality but about Divine Love. We may not recognize real love
because it may not come to us in the form with which we expect or desire
it. It may not take the form of ecstasy or rapture but kindness or
compassion or respect. You are experiencing love whenever someone does
something nice for you, shares something from the garden or when someone
listens to you without any personal ego agenda. Love flows from presence
as water flows to the sea.
The energy of presence is relaxation, the ability to allow something
to be what it is. This implies acceptance and surrender.
Relaxation is connected with the ability to live in the present moment,
the Now. Peace that comes with being present is another characteristic.
We speak of the peace that passes understanding. It comes
with grace as a gift from God.
Presence manifests as a lack of self-consciousness. The
movement of attention and energy is from the inside outward toward others.
We focus on the needs of others rather than on ourselves. Karma Yoga
is the discipline that helps to develop this capacity. Self-consciousness
since it is a product of the ego goes down with the ego at ego death.
There is no longer any need to maintain an identity in order to keep up
the illusion of separateness. We are all one at the center.
We all have the same center – the Presence of the Divine One. When
there is a gap in thinking or judging or mental effort, this One can come
forward and be recognized.
Presence is also integrated. That means all parts of oneself
are harmoniously related and working together without repression
or ego defenses. There is no longer any need for defenses because
one is identified with all that is. Rather, ego is doing its legitimate
job of keeping the personality together and interfacing with the outside
world. It does not interfere beyond its realm of expertise.
There is a felt sense of well-being, contentment and equanimity.
Because of access to direct knowledge, we are able to hold a vision
of the Beloved, as well as of how things really are, and to maintain a
Light on the altar at the center of our Being.
We have met the idea of direct knowledge in prior units, so will just
acknowledge it here. We discovered it in Yoga and Buddhism as Prajna.
Almaas defines it as felt knowledge, knowing through feelings. It is
very subtle and comes from your own experience. For example, you may
be talking to someone and somehow you know they are lying to you. You
also know that there is no point in confronting them because they would deny
it and you have no objective proof. This is a felt sense and it may
come, in part, from detecting the quality of someone’s aura. There
are at least 26 known senses, to which we give overt attention to only five.
However, we may be aware of the others on a subliminal level. With
practice, they can be brought into consciousness.
It is important to investigate all of our felt knowledge to ascertain
whether what we “know” is real or a projection of some sort. This is
where clarity comes in. If I do not understand all of my internal experience,
I am subject to errors of perception and discrimination. That is why
the early stages of the spiritual journey require us to go through such extensive
self-examination and inquiry.
There are forms of knowledge beyond intellect, intuition and feeling.
At even higher levels of consciousness, we become one with experience and
the experiencer, so we essentially can know what God knows because we are
identified with the Godhead. This may take a while.
Knowledge requires awareness because without awareness you cannot
know yourself. Part of this means really inhabiting your body because
it is the vehicle of your experience in the world, and the senses are your
tentacles to explore the world. Furthermore, the felt sense depends
upon the body awareness. To know our essence requires that we be able
to explore the inner regions of consciousness. “This deeper knowledge
becomes available when we start seeing that all experience and all that exists
is knowledge, a knowledge that is itself presence, is Being” (Almaas, 1999,
p. 148). Almaas goes on to say that Being is a knowingness, a consciousness.
. . both the knower, the known and the knowing. Another three in one.
Roberts (1985) goes along with this only she calls it open mind.
She says that religious truths eventually become experiential if
they are practiced long enough. The nature of this experience is
the knowing. An open mind is one that is not stuck in its own point
of view and tendencies to judge but one that can see beyond itself to other
alternatives and thus gain insight, understanding and wisdom. For
Roberts, direct knowledge is a way of seeing that is not filtered through
a reflexive mechanism, so it can see reality in itself as it really is.
To achieve this, we have to get out of the self. Then, as self-consciousness
gradually fades away, we begin to enter a more or less permanent state of
Almaas (1999) says there is a still higher level of knowing that he calls
not-knowing. This is beyond the mind, but we know it is there
because when we approach it, the mind disappears. You may have experienced
this in meditation when you find yourself in a dark silence and cannot
remember anything when you return to normal consciousness. We cannot
know it because we cannot conceptualize it in the usual way. It is
beyond all the so-called normal faculties of the mind.
Like Tolle, Almaas (1999) says that elements of the mind such as memory,
thinking, imagery, projections into the future and the like are the basic
reasons for our suffering. In order to see through this process we
need understanding. When we begin to examine ourselves to gain
more understanding we start a process of unfoldment that leads to the realization
that Being is our true nature. At this point, understanding becomes
the interface between Being and the mind. You are Being, and this
awareness of beingness is understanding. When you understand something
completely, you can go to the next level of your spiritual development.
You will recognize this as transformation.
Almaas calls the essential aspect of understanding the “diamond consciousness.”
“At a deeper level of realization there is a union, a co-emergence, for
the absolute reality and the diamond consciousness” (Almaas, 1999, p. 162).
Roberts would agree.
We need to make a discrimination between awareness and consciousness.
It seems to me that to be conscious, one must have something out there
to be conscious of though I suspect Buddhists would disagree. And
it feels to me as if there must be someone, some entity, who is experiencing
the object of consciousness. This is a dualistic concept, I realize,
but I have yet to experience consciousness apart from some object
of that faculty. We can be self-conscious in thinking about ourselves
and what we are doing. Or the focus can be external upon an object.
Similarly, we can think about our own thinking in an introspective manner.
But, in every case, we are conscious of something. There is an element
of attention that is focused on the object, so it is a two-way interaction.
Roberts (1985) says that ordinary consciousness is responsible for the experience
of duality whereas the Ultimate reality knows no distinction between self
and other. Probably this is because at that level, there is only
Who is the one who is conscious? Well, it can be my ego-self,
my body-self, my Higher Self, my witness-self or my God-self all in varying
degrees and levels of beingness. Eventually, it is only God.
And it may always be God using our bodyminds as tools for Its perusals.
Almaas (1999) says that Diamond consciousness is an aspect of Essence.
It is Being with form, a manifestation of the absolute reality.
Awareness, on the other hand, can mean just being awake without any self-reference
or object of contemplation. There is no projecting or focusing of
attention. It is more of an intake process, one-way. This is
the sense in which I suspect the Divine One is awake. . . aware. Almaas
says awareness is a kind of space, and there is an absence of duality which
would distinguish it from consciousness. And, indeed, it feels that
way to me. There is a sense of being, of reality, of truth.
“. . when you are Being, you are awake. You are acutely aware of everything;
but the awareness is not self-reflective” (Almaas, 1999, p, 190). It
is just the experience of Being itself. . . letting the world come in.
A variation of this is witnessing. We can witness without feeling
any need to respond or react. Whatever is happening simply comes into
us, we notice it and let it go. If nothing is happening as in the condition
of contemplation or samadhi, we can still be awake. A distinction
can be made between sleep and samadhi. I am tempted to suggest that
awareness may be on the borderline between consciousness and unconsciousness.
However, I suspect that it is possible to be aware even when unconscious.
Certainly awareness goes beyond the mind as it is a characteristic attributed
Norbu (1996) says that “In order to give results, awareness must always
be accompanied by presence. Being aware means knowing the consequences
of one’s actions. . . If one is not present, it makes no difference whether
one is aware or not.” (p. 125). This sounds like a feedback system.
I do something and notice the results. There is an interaction between
an entity and its impact on the outside world. In this sense, we
should become aware of the effects of what we manifest in the world and
our own condition in all circumstances. This means to live life with
the real presence of awareness. Norbu says that “The principal thing
is not meditation but knowledge. . . It arises from awareness of our existence
at the relative level. . . If we don’t actually live in the nature of the
mind we only have a mental concept of it” (p. 128). He goes on to say,
just to tie things up neatly, that “The nature of the mind is a term that
refers to a condition that is beyond the existence of the body, the voice,
and the mind, the knowledge of which can only arise through experience [cf
direct knowledge]. Knowing the limits and characteristics of the relative
condition one can really become aware of their true nature” (p. 129).
There is yet another way of looking at this. Tolle (1999) says
presence is when Being becomes conscious of itself. Being, consciousness
and life are synonymous. Consciousness is the light emanating from
the eternal Source. Everything is alive and conscious. Human
consciousness is God-essence expressing itself in form, and we can realize
our own God-essence as pure consciousness. On the other hand, the
egoic mind is consciousness lost in forms which leads to fear and suffering.
Presence is pure, enlightened consciousness free from identification.
He suggests that the degree of consciousness can be defined as the width
of the time gap between perception and thought.
Tolle (1999) says the witness-self is pure consciousness beyond form,
and it can be developed by watching the mind. When you watch the mind,
you are drawing the energies of consciousness away from mental forms in
a kind of detachment. You have to reclaim consciousness from the mind
in order to realize Being because so much of it has been trapped in thinking.
“When consciousness frees itself from its identification with physical
and mental forms, it becomes what we may call pure or enlightened consciousness,
or presence” (p. 84). Stillness is consciousness freed from thought
forms. Back to Patanjali.
Exercise: Freeing Consciousness
Read chapters 5 and 6 in The power of now.
Practice: Freeing Consciousness
Sit as for meditation. Then, focus your attention on the
inner body. See if you can feel the invisible energy field that surrounds
you. You may be able to sense a subtle pulsation in it. Attend
to your breath and allow it to settle down and become regular. Did
that change the energy field? Play with your breath and see if you
can determine the relationship between breath and energy as a felt sense.
This is your life energy. Feel its movements and patterns in your
body as well. Continue with Tolle’s instructions for “Connecting with
the Inner Body on page 93.
3. Then do the exercise to flood your body with consciousness on
Obstacles to Presence
We can think of basically three main obstacles to the experience of presence:
personality and ego, emotions and mind. Let us look at each of these
The ego and personality are formed in infancy and early childhood as
a result of feedback from the caretakers, family and teachers, if any.
The ego is a self-protective instrument that is invested in control
of self, others and the environment. In its formation, it created
a self-image which is how it sees itself based on responses it has gotten
from others and its efforts to master its surroundings. We then identify
ourselves with this inner master and forget who we really are. Ego
is an essential faculty in our complex society, so it is not bad, in itself.
However, to maintain its existence, it has to support an illusion of separateness.
It also closes off awareness of the Dynamic Ground which is terrifying
to its need for control. So, from ego’s inception, we experience
ourselves as separate individuals, and we have lost our connection to the
The personality is composed of many different aspects or roles
we have learned to play in order to please and placate those upon whom we
depended for our existence when we were small. We may even identify
with some of these roles and, in doing so, we lose touch with our souls.
Almaas speaks of the “hole” as a feeling of emptiness, lostness or lack that
we all experience as a result of the repression of aspects and qualities of
ourselves that were unacceptable to those we needed to please. You
may have had the experience of feeling like no one wants your gifts; the
gifts, that is, that we came into this life bringing with us. Most
of our addictions are efforts to fill this hole because we no longer know
what caused it, and that ignorance is protected by repression.
The emotions associated with lack of presence have to do mainly
with resistance and the accompanying contraction and pain. The basic
emotion behind this is fear. We may feel out of control, dislike
our work, feel like we have no support for who we are. Or we feel
terribly vulnerable in this complex, fast-moving society in which we live.
We are aware of the destruction of the planet and the implications of that
for our survival as human animals. There is the threat of war, of lack of
gas to get to work or oil to heat our homes. Or maybe our relationships
are not working well for us. Everywhere we turn around, there is
something else that threatens our well-being to say nothing of our very
existence. So we are afraid. The body’s response to this is
to freeze or contract and prepare for attack. Adrenaline soars.
The body tenses and prepares for the worst. This is resistance, and
it puts presence safely in the background while ego gets ready to defend
itself. Ironically, if presence had been left in charge, it would
automatically do what is right and called for in case of actual presenting
One particularly devastating ego reaction to fear is negativity.
This is another form of resistance. Instead of doing something about
my problems, I prefer to complain or to blame someone else. Getting
into the victim mode is a typical form of negativity. If I identify
myself as a victim, I do not have to take responsibility for solving the
problem or for taking action. It is a role favored by many women and
aged persons who may feel helpless to deal with their issues. I was
guilty of it myself until my son called me on it. Having to confront
what I was doing was a huge shock because I was completely unaware of the
dynamics of the defense until it was called to my attention. All the
forms of pessimism are also negativity. “The world is going to hell
in a peach basket” is a phrase that comes to mind.
The mind’s role in all this is to maintain the sense of dualism.
This means I am the subject, the one who is doing it; and there is an object
out there to which it is being done. This can be a person, a thing,
a society or even one’s own thoughts within. The mind is invested
in maintaining separation because the brain is wired for concept formation
which requires groupings and boundaries, and consequently separation, for
its operations. Neurons fire in on-off patterns; this is dualism.
So the part of the mind that plays through the brain is going to be dualistic
because that is how it knows to function. Details on this process
can be found in earlier guidebooks.
Thinking usually follows the patterns learned in school which are also
dualistic and separating. Furthermore, thinking depends heavily on
concept formation and formal operations. Setting limits makes us
feel secure and so we try to keep our personal boundaries intact.
We have a need for permanence, so we can plan our lives and keep control
over what happens to us. All of these things influence how we live
our lives and deny presence.
Time and space are two essential constructs for mental functioning.
However, they also create problems. Our culture encourages us to
spend a great deal of time either in the past or the future.
Memory is vitally involved in thinking, but it is always about the past
by definition. Daydreaming about the future or spending inordinate
amounts of time planning it also deny the present which is the only real
time we have. The same problems arise around the idea of “here.”
Just consider where you are placing yourself in your reveries. The
Caribbean maybe, Europe, Santa Barbara, a friend’s house, school, your
place of work, etc. Not where you are right this minute. You
cannot be present in those places until you get there, and then it will
be Here and Now.
None of these obstacles are insurmountable. But we do have to address
each of them individually and rearrange our thinking about them.
There is a real, important fact behind the phrase, “Thoughts create reality.”
What we think about impacts our ego, personality and emotions which
then arrange things to determine certain outcomes. Often the outcomes
are negative because that is the way our thinking structures our reality.
So what can we do about all this? Self-inquiry is essential and on-going
for a lifetime. In time, it brings a certain amount of clarity, but
we cannot afford to rest on our laurels at least as long as we have a functioning
Exercise: Scouting Obstacles
Immediately after one of your meditation sessions when your mind is relatively
clear and relaxed, get your journal and begin to list the obstacles to
your being present in the Now moment that plague you the most. Under
what circumstances, do you wander from the present? What are the
most viral triggers? What do you fear? Remember that anxiety
is a form of fear. When are you most likely to stray from the present?
Alternatively, what circumstances are conducive to being present?
When do they occur? Can you create more such oases?
When you have a fairly comprehensive list, work with it for a while,
grouping similar issues in order to detect some themes. You might
want to prioritize them in order of importance or impact on your life.
Then design a plan to bring one of the issues under control so as to extend
the times when you are present. What actions do you need to take to
make presence a reality in your life?
“Hiranya, don’t try to surrender,” my teacher said and smiled at me.
Those five words gave birth to intense insights for the next six months.
My almost immediate reaction was to create an attack of sciatica which
lasted for two and a half months. To appreciate this, you have to
understand that the agony and anguish of sciatica comes largely from muscle
cramping in the hips, buttocks and legs though there is also an underlying
cause in which a nerve gets pinched and becomes inflamed. Siegal et
al (2002) say that most of the pain of sciatica and the lower back comes
from muscle cramping and that that is due to fear. Think for a minute
about what this means in terms of the resistance and contraction we have
been discussing. As soon as I heard Siegal’s tape, I relaxed and
the worst of the pain disappeared. We can treat the inflammation;
and, in fact, I later learned how to do this with herbs and homeopathic
remedies instead of painkiller drugs which are usually narcotics.
During my next attack, I kept the duration to three weeks and experienced
only one night of insomnia due to pain.
The spiritual path is one of dissolution. That means we must be
prepared to give up ego control, identification with personality aspects,
ego agendas and dramas, self-consciousness, dualistic thinking, negativity,
fears, and ultimately our souls. Remember the sequences of dissolution
outlined in previous units of this guidebook. Your choice is whether
to return to the Divine One or not. Doing so means giving up all that
you think you are or have been in the past. It means willingness to
live in the present bringing forth your own deep essence in the form of presence.
Surrender also means acceptance of “what is” right now and allowing it
to be what it is. There is a commitment here to acknowledge that
the present moment is the only time we have. The past is gone and
the future never comes because when it does arrive, it becomes the present.
It is probably no accident that we call living in the Now, presence.
Someone once said that the Now moment is a gift, so we call it a present.
So is presence a gift, and we need to actualize it as a way of being grateful.
So “what is” refers to a time element of “Now” and a space element of
“Here.” I am here in this moment and I am awake and present, willing
to deal with whatever the moment requires. I acknowlege my vulnerability.
I am willing and able to pay attention and to focus my mental concentration
faculties on whatever needs them, but without identification with the outcome.
I am content with silence and it feels good to me. If my heart is
broken, I can peer into it with compassion and see what it needs to mend
itself. I am ready to step into the river of contemplation that leads
to the Godhead. I am also ready to release attempts to control others
and the environment, but also prepared to take whatever steps seem appropriate
to me to remedy bad situations.
How to Surrender
“Leap and the net will appear” – a coaster in
the Isabella catalog
This quote really resonates with me as I stand on the brink of the chasm
knowing I have to leap but not having quite enough trust to take the plunge.
Even though I know with my mind all the things I am writing about, the
fear of extinction is still present and active. Roberts (1985) says
that the Final Battle is between self-preservation and self-extinction.
Her experience of it was as an observer. It seemed to be going on
apart from her as she watched the struggle between her Christ Self and
the energies of transformation. This is the way of the Cross, and
it requires a selfless faith and an openness to formlessness.
Roberts does say that we cannot make this final leap by ourselves but
must wait for God to come and take us. All we can do is get ready.
Among the things we might be doing while we wait is checking to see if
we have dis-identified with all worldly attachments, see if we still need
to forgive someone, develop patience and practice yielding to what is.
We can learn how to yield, to let go of our resistances if we examine them
and track them to their sources. We can practice selfless service
along with mindfulness that keeps us in the present. That mindfulness
is a matter of focusing attention on what we are doing right now and only
Exercise: The Unitive State, Phase VI
Read Phase VI in The path to no-self and make notes for yourself.
Last, it seems to me that we ought to add pride to the list of things
to be examined and released. Pride is an ego strategy that sets us
apart from others and makes us feel superior. We are all special and
distinct; but, if we allow ego to glom onto that idea, we are reinforcing
separation which is counterproductive.
So we cannot try to surrender, we can only arrange our lives so
we can relax. That means dealing with the fears directly and taking
action where appropriate to cut off the source. Tolle (1999) advises
us to change, improve or remove ourselves from bad situations. We have
to yield to the flow of life rather than oppose it. Tolle (1999, p.
171) suggests a few steps to surrender:
1. Accept the Now unconditionally
2. Relinquish inner resistance to what is
3. Relinquish mental judgment and emotional negativity
4. Explore the gap between expectations and what is. This
is the pain gap.
5. Remember that resignation is not surrender.
We do not have to accept an undesirable life situation if we are willing
to change it. There are a few steps to this process according to
Tolle (p. 172):
1. Recognize fully what we want
2. Narrow attention to the moment
3. No labels or judgments
4. No resistance or emotional negativity
5. Accept the isness of the moment
6. Take action to change the situation
7. Practice surrender by not labeling the Now.
Surrender re-connects us to the Source, the energy of Being. Action
is secondary. Surrender creates a higher vibration in your bodymind
and thence into your life. “It is a silent but intense presence that
dissolves the unconscious patterns of the mind. They may still remain
active for a while, but they won’t run your life anymore” (Tolle, 1999,
Exercise: Dealing with an Unsatisfactory Situation
Think of a situation in your life that you find untenable and wish to
change. Then read Chapter 10 in The power of now. Using
the guidelines on pages 173-178, work out a plan to make the change you need
to make and implement it.
We have touched on action, but it is a larger concept than just doing
something. It involves the whole movement of vibration and how that
interacts with presence. Review Table 6-7. Triads of Presence
with Norbu’s triads and the gunas. We see that there is a factor that
is calm and relatively inactive until something moves it. This something
is a quality of energy or vibration. These two taken together create
something new that, for our purposes here, we are calling presence.
So there’s a stability factor and an action factor. This means there
is a potential for growth, change and transformation.
You can think of your aura as a high vibrational field that surrounds
the physical body. Actually, most of you is not visible to the naked,
untrained eye. But it is sparkling, moving and giving off light and
energy all the time. The chakras, nadiis and the hara are all organs
of this energy body. You can learn how to move and use this energy
to fuel consciousness and the spiritual journey. Usually, most of
it is sidetracked into mental or intellectual pursuits and/or self-consciousness.
However, it is possible to re-route it into presence which will accelerate
your spiritual growth and development.
There are always choices. Roberts (1985) talks about the Will-to-God.
When we awaken and begin to undertake the spiritual journey, this is a
turning point from which we long for and begin to look for the Divine One.
Such is the power of this choice that nothing else can take the place of
the Beloved we seek. In the Dark Night of the Soul, we find ourselves
in a black hole or void in which we feel deserted by the Beloved. From
there the will-to-God leads us to the Unitive Center around which the fragmented
parts of ourselves are gathered in and integrated. This leads to a
plateau of silence and peace in which there is a nothingness that again makes
us feel abandoned by God. This blank wall in the mind marks the end
of thinking and an awareness of the darkness of God Himself. We also
feel trapped there because we know we cannot go back to what we were before.
The only way is forward into the unknown. This is the gateway into
the revelation of God that is at the peak of the Unitive Stage. Here,
there is a shift from ordinary consciousness to God-consciousness.
In the next phase, there is a union of God and the self in which the
soul is drawn inward, absorbed, consumed and inflamed. Here the movement
turns outward into the world in a burst of selfless service supported by
a love for God so great that it burns to extinguish itself in suffering.
Roberts likens it to a flame of burning love that leads to a burning issue:
to either die and to have eternal vision or to move in order to return
so great a love, i.e., to return God’s love. This flame is God’s
energy creating the transformation. Roberts says it is a movement
of both subtle power and unknowable intelligence” (p. 85). “What I
saw was how God was the eternal movement, which meant more than that God
moves; it also meant: this is what God is – namely, movement” (p. 84).
Now everything is the will of God. Roberts goes on to say that God
has a three-fold movement:
1. Within Himself, he moves to act, create, sustain
2. Within His creation, He moves as its life force
3. His creation all moves in Him.
So, like the triad of knowing, we have the mover, the moved and the moving.
Furthermore, the whole movement of the unitive Self is toward self-extinction
and dissolution (p. 117). “The first movement is transformation of
self into Christ, and the second movement, Christ’s return to the Godhead”
(p. 118). This occurs in Phase IV. When the flame finally goes
out, the entire unitive center goes leaving stillness and silence.
There is no movement, no sense of emptiness, no within. The whole self
dissolves into God. (p. 134). “. . God is all that remains” (p.
144). This is the Great Flow – all things are in God, so God flows
in and through everything (p.183).
Roberts also discusses her battles to put down the energies of the siddhis
though she does not call them that. And she talks about how a disruption
always occurs just before we move on to a higher level of development.
We need to become aware of every interior movement and change because this
is where Spirit is working.
It seems that the further along we go the less action we can take because
we must surrender the initiative to God. However, selfless giving
or service is something we can do because it furthers the transformation,
and it also give us an arena in which we can function while all these internal
changes are taking place. Roberts warns that there may be a period
in which it becomes difficult to function in an ordinary manner. So
it might be wise, when you sense you are approaching this junction, to arrange
for someone to be around to help ground you.
Unlike the mystic journey, what Roberts is describing is better referred
to as the contemplative journey. As such, you probably will not experience
dramatic lights, voices and visions as described by the mystics.
However, keep in mind that either way God is going to take over your life.
So be prepared for some surprising changes.
All of what we have been discussing are experiences you can expect to
encounter during the process of transformation. It seems to me that
at this level of development, the whole process accelerates probably because
the One takes a more prominant role and virtually all we can do is learn
how to surrender. Transformation involves a total surrender of self:
personality, ego, mind, self-consciousness, individuality and soul.
This means our identities as separate individuals. The death of self
means the surrender of both a personal self and a personal God. What
is lost is both God and self as objects of consciousness. We are God
and, in the final stages, we must accept that and prepare to give up all
the images we have created of ourselves during our entire lifetimes.
We have to develop enough trust to leap into the unknown void of silence
and darkness while not knowing whether we will become unconscious or whether
we will find the light.
We must also be prepared to surrender our minds and mental activities
especially all tendencies to judgment because they are based on an
unwillingness to see things as they really are, lack of acceptance of where
others are and ignorance of the reality of change. What happens in this
stage of development is a gradual emptying of the contents of consciousness
and mind. This emptying follows the interior transformation (Roberts,
1985, p. 162). Roberts reminds us that the interior transformation is
two-fold based on the dualistic setup of the self, i.e., self-consciousness
and the unitive center. “It is only when both transformations are complete
that we discover that the unitive self or center was entirely dependent
for its existence upon the reflexive mechanism of the mind. In the
final transformation, both will do down together” (pp. 162-3).
We are told that then we will be knowing through the mind of God, but
there is no way to find out for sure without going there. And we do
not know if we will be able to function as normal human beings except by
taking the word of those who have gone before us. With respect to this,
it comforts me somewhat to know that Bernadette Roberts has raised four
children since she left the convent.
Ordinary consciousness may have to go as well because it is partly responsible
for the experience of duality. Ultimate reality makes no distinction
between itself and other because It is the only One. There is only
One of us.
For Norbu (1996), the process of transformation is built-in to the individual.
If we can stay centered in the state of presence, whatever arises will
liberate itself automatically. Spiritual practice means integrating
oneself with vision. Vision includes all sense perception and is a
manifestation of the energy of the primordial state with no judgment, acceptance
or rejection. So we need a state of relaxed presence integrated with
whatever perceptions arise. Unlike other traditions, Norbu says the
senses need to be present and alert because they are the gates to clarity.
Presence means we can remain observant no matter what happens, we can
maintain our stance, our center, our groundedness. The state of “what
is” means continuous presence without distraction. So we are talking
here about being able to maintain focus and concentration on the here and
now. All we have to do is stay present and relaxed. “Thoughts
appearing and disappearing are the ‘movement’ which is the function of clarity,
so we need to learn to work with it. “The ‘calm state’ is just an experience.
. in contemplation, in the state of pure presence, there is then no difference
between the calm state and the movement” (Norbu, 1996, p. 116). Therefore,
we need to maintain presence whether there is calm or movement. Every
aspect of body, voice and mind is integrated with contemplation. When
we achieve stability in this state, we are always present no matter what
is occuring in our lives. “. . an authentic state of presence is, by
its very nature, relaxed” (p. 123).
We have looked at presence from several different perspectives and identified
the aspects upon which several traditions agree. It is located in
the present moment, and it is stable as well as free of personality and
ego agendas and self-consciousness. It is aware, relaxed and integrated
with access to direct knowledge or prajna. Obstacles of dualism,
thinking, separativeness, resistance, negativity and boundaries have been
overcome and all aspects of individuality have been surrendered to the Divine
One. Selfless action can be taken appropriately and is initiated from
Almaas, A. (1999). Diamond heart, Book Three: Being and the
meaning of life. Berkeley, CA: Diamond Books.
Inayat, T. (2005). “Emerging Divinity” [CD]. New Lebanon,
NY: Wisdom’s Child.
Norbu, C. (1996). Dzogchen: The self-perfected state.
Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion Publications.
Roberts, B. (1982). The experience of no-self: A contemplative
journey. Boston: Shambhala.
Roberts, B. (1985). The path to no-self: Life at the center.
Siegal, R, Urdang, M. & Johnson, D. (2002). Back sense:
A revolutionary approach to halting the cycle of chronic back pain.
NewYork: Broadway Books.
Tolle, E. (1999). The power of now: A guide to spiritual
enlightenment. Novato, CA: New World Library.
This completes Unit VII. Presence. Unit VIII. Healing Soul follows and deals
with the gateway into higher consciousness.
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