The Practice of Being Present
Seeking, Striving and
Your essential Self, your core, your true nature or being, is impeccable, pure and perfect. Maybe you believe that statement, or maybe you don't. Maybe you want to believe it but find it hard to. Maybe the idea resonates as true, but as most people, you have difficulty experiencing that truth, the reality of knowing it, feeling it, living it.
Perhaps you have had moments of feeling it, connecting with it, touching on it, but the nature of this world and of being a human within this world, makes it oh so difficult to sustain that feeling, that awareness.
Or may be that awareness is covered over by beliefs that say that you are exactly the opposite: that you are in some way not okay, not perfect, faulty or failed. Whatever you believe, is what you have learned to believe. Whatever you think is what you tell yourself. You may want to believe in your "Basic Goodness", but don't actually think it's true or, if it is, that you can get back to that.
I believe this is the nature of the human experience. We try in so many ways to reconnect with that feeling of being fundamentally okay. That state in which all forms of suffering, of insecurity, fear or turmoil, melt away and we feel fundamentally, essentially, okay.
There are so many ways we can search or strive for this feeling, much of the time, not even being aware that this is what we are striving for. We do this through meditation, through a spiritual practice; through drugs, sex or spending money; through work, achievements, approval; through the "adrenaline rush" of various behaviours and activities; through the distraction of music, movies and books. We expend much time, energy and resources trying to find and get back to that feeling, but most of those ways we strive, are simply substitutes. And all of these ways that we strive, especially for substitutes, reinforce the idea what the belief that we are not, essentially, okay within ourselves and that we need to do things, go places, search and work towards this goal.
That doesn't mean that any of those activities are intrinsically wrong, misguided or bad. The problem is only when we are unconsciously engaging in them to try to avoid or escape an underlying feeling of not being okay, and we become dependent on them as a substitute for the real thing: the feeling of being fundamentally whole, healthy and happy within ourselves.
It is certainly a puzzling paradox. Because we also know that if we just stop striving and relax into self-satisfied complacency, we are not really connecting with that core, essential Self that is fundamentally pure and perfect; we're simply settling into an ego state of self-contentment.
Quite the dilemma.
"The unexamined life is not worth living," is a statement attributed to Socrates. Perhaps, but neither is the life that is not enjoyed and celebrated. Unconsciously going about our lives without reflection, prevents us from creating meaningful and purposeful lives, and getting closer to the core of our true Selves. On the other hand, constantly "working" at ourselves keeps us in a state of mind and in a state of being of seeking and striving, preventing us from ever settling into the experience of that true, whole, perfect, inner Self.
This fundamental dilemma, this fundamental paradox of human existence, needs to be embraced, preferably with a playful and accepting attitude. When you feel like the journey, the spiritual path, the practice of presence, is too much work, it's time to relax and play; when you're feeling like you are slipping into an unconscious and unexamined life, into old patterns that are stagnant and that foster the status quo, it's time to delve deeper into practice.
Try this exercise:
1. Take three pieces of paper, any size between a Post-it Note and a full sheet. Find a space in the room with a bit of clear floor space. It doesn't have to be much; even a spot 4' x 5' can be sufficient.
2. Place one piece of paper anywhere you feel like it, on the floor. This piece of paper represents you, here and now, with whatever sense you have of search or strive, to be better or to achieve your potential, or otherwise feel happy with yourself.
3. Now take a second piece of paper. This piece of paper represents the goal of that searching and striving or, at least, a point on the "journey" of searching and striving where you imagine reaching a point you feel pretty good about yourself.
4. Now just step onto the first piece of paper representing here and now, and take a few moments to tune in to everything you become aware of. Tune in to whatever you notice in terms of overall feeling, physical sensation, emotions, and any thoughts that come up. Also notice the thoughts, the feelings and the perspectives that come up when you look at the second piece of paper, the "goal."
5. Once you have done that, and just noted those responses, step off that piece of paper and on to the second one. What does that feel like? How does it feel different? What thoughts come up for you? Specifically, what you notice when you look back at the first piece of paper, the "here and now" ?
6. Now step off that piece of paper, and pick up the third piece. While holding this third piece of paper, imagine a version of you that is beautiful, pure, good, a version of you that is fully self-accepting, at peace in your heart and with the world, and fulfilling your life purpose with grace and ease. This version of you feels fully complete and has no sense of needing to strive or search.
You can use whatever framework you want to imagine this version of you: you can think of it as: "you in an alternate universe"; you can think of it as your "Higher Self"; you can think of it as the "ideal you" – or any other way that works for you. Just take a few moments to fully imagine everything you can about this version of you. (Don't worry about the aspects that aren't clear to you, just focus on what you are able to imagine.)
7. Now choose a spot on the floor to place this third piece of paper. Don't overthink it, just place it wherever it feels right. Now, step onto that paper and as before, you are stepping into the position, the place and the experience of that version of you. Don't get into thinking about it, just tune into whatever you notice, whatever you feel standing there. The thoughts and the state of mind you connect with. How you feel in your body.
Is your posture any different?
What is your state of mind?
How do you gaze onto the world when you are in this position?
Now, look over at the other two papers/positions. What do you notice? What feelings, thoughts or perceptions come up for you? From the vantage point of this version of you, how do you see that current, "here and now" state of searching and striving? What do you understand about it from this position, that you don't when you're caught up in the searching and striving?
Now look over at the second paper. Notice how you feel about the "goal" of the searching and striving, and also about the path or journey from the first to the second.
Again, don't overthink this, don't get caught up in analysing or engage in striving to "do it right". Just notice whatever you notice. Notice how you feel towards this "here and now" version of you that you're more used to. Notice what you understand or perceive from this point of view. Notice if there are aspects of your patterns of thinking or behaviour that keep you locked into a mindset, a state of "not good enough" that results in searching and striving.
Maybe you even notice something about the path that leads from that current version of you, to this position of your fundamentally perfect Self. Or maybe you notice there is something you want to say to the "here and now" you.
Again, without getting into rational thinking, notice if anything comes to you of how you might apply this different way of feeling, this different way of being, in your everyday life. Is there something to do, a regular practice, that would help you stay connected to this dimension of your being? And is there something you need to stop doing, or to do differently in your day-to-day life, that will help you relax the "searching and striving" and settle more into a fundamental feeling of core "okayness" ?