Practical Presence

By James Westly

More Practical Wisdom

We may think or feel that the pursuit of Enlightenment is a complex matter, requiring intense study and the practice of many disciplines. While it is true many paths require this, and certainly, such practices are useful, the only thing that is truly required is the development of presence, the capacity to be totally present.

Simple, perhaps, but difficult to accomplish if you've tried it. Yet, we've all had some experience of total presence. Anyone who's done sky diving has experienced the exhilaration of total presence. When we're in some kind of danger we may experience it. But most of us can say that when it happened, it was evoked by some external agent. We did not will ourselves there.

Generally we don't have the requisite energy. We just don't have the internal ability to consciously elevate our energy sufficiently. Our mind wanders, taking our energy with it. We're concerned about pleasing other people, we've attached our attention to what we consider to be important things, like career, family and friends. When they arrive, these things all seem more important than mere presence, and since they're here most of the time, most of the time we forget how essential presence is to the penetration of another dimension of reality, we forget our aim of spiritual development.

So, how do we get there, how do we approach total presence? Presence is not attained through mental effort alone, but through sensory awareness. Under ordinary circumstances we tend to forget we are housed in a physical body. When we are distracted by some external event, which is nearly all the time, our self-awareness leaves the body to attach itself to whatever distracted it. So, we can say that out-of-body travel is common. It requires discipline to remain grounded in our bodies amidst the myriad distractions of life.

The discipline is simple, the challenge is great. Can you, for instance, hold a conversation with someone and maintain an awareness of your feet? Can you make eye contact with another person and simultaneously be aware of all that your peripheral vision contains? Can you watch television and feel the chair beneath you at the same time? Sounds silly perhaps. Maybe you expected something more "mystical". What is interesting though, is that if you begin practicing exercises like this, you may begin to have mystical experiences. There is so much that we miss perceptually by not using our senses to their fullest degree.

Try it now, while you're reading this. Do all these things simultaneously, adding them to each other. Become aware of your feet. Feel your buttocks pressing into the chair you're sitting on. Notice your body posture. Bring your awareness into your hands. Feel your facial muscles. Listen intently to the room around you. Expand your vision to include its entire field without moving your eyeballs. Do all this while you're reading. If you stopped after each instruction, did the exercise, then returned to reading, go back and do the whole thing again while continuing to read. If you've done this successfully, you'll notice that your mind stopped thinking, it was too busy with the exercise to think.

This is the beginning of total presence. You may be feeling different right now, that's because we're not accustomed to this level of presence. Yet, it's not too far fetched to say that if you were capable of doing this exercise all the time, your entire life would change. So, take this with you if you dare. Do it whenever you remember to. Turn your ordinary existence into an extraordinary experience.

Practical Wisdom 1994-2001 James Westly

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