Of course, that’s not saying a lot.
From day one, I’ve always had far more heart-thumping, grindingly antsy anxiety running through my veins, than actual blood.
Mind you, it’s about a thousand times better now than when I first began my spiritual journey. But (as anybody on a similar path knows), when this painful ego stuff gradually begins to clear and sanity is strengthened, the crap that remains becomes seen in ever-sharper focus. And it’s that clear-eyed perception that makes the remaining bullshit far more acutely unpleasant than the dull, unfocused ache of the old days.
• • •
In recent months, Holy Presence has become the basis of my spiritual practice. This form of present moment awareness is very unlike the earlier ‘now moment’ flirtations I’ve tried through meditation, or chanting, or stopping to smell the roses, or whatnot. This is a sort of up-close-and-personal, in-your-face form of presence. A vast and muscular and very Loving presence.
Back in May, I embarked on Michael Brown’s Presence Process, a ten-week breathwork course that emphasizes consistent morning and evening periods of sustained presence. In the book, he describes these steady, prolonged periods of present moment awareness as being very different from the usual spiritual practices that are meant to put us in touch with the now moment.
He says it’s the difference between visiting an old friend often for a cup of tea, (and assuming you know their house well because you’ve stopped by so many times) and actually agreeing to house sit for a few weeks. Suddenly you’re in this house by yourself for a prolonged stay, and you have all the time in the world to notice the hundreds of things about it that you’ve never seen before.
So I did the breathing, in presence, as prescribed. And I started to notice something right away that I’d never realized: Presence has a distinct vibration.
At first I thought it was just a ringing in my ears caused by the super-oxygenation of the breathwork.
Presence is a living thing; it has a mind of its own – and it comes calling for me whenever it wants my attention. My ears become filled with its unmistakable ‘sound,’ and I am gently reminded to withdraw my focus, my belief, from whatever silly ego story I’ve sucked myself into at the moment.
This has been a lasting effect of my presence and breathwork explorations, and I’m delighted to say that the phenomenon seems to be growing more pronounced all the time.
I wish I could find words to describe for you what I’ve found inside the ‘house’ of Presence, now that I spent those ten weeks house sitting. But truly, it enters that sacred realm where words can’t go.
It isn’t just that Presence has an intellect. Presence is Holy.
Presence is not only where Spirit dwells, the now moment seems to be made out of Spirit. And vice versa.
And I know…I can feel…that if I could just manage to spend quality time hanging out in Holy Presence, entirely nonresistant to it, then this experience itself would be Heaven on earth.
(See? I told you, words are fumbly nuisances here. But I’m doing my best.)
And so it has become my practice to melt gratefully into Holy Presence, and sit there non-resisting. And to try to string together as many moments of that experience as I possibly can, before my chattery ego mind slips away and drags me someplace else.
It’s sort of a combo of intensely focused present moment awareness, and a joining pool exercise. (If you’re unfamiliar with the joining pool, see The Enlightenment Project, page 141.) Except this is the funny thing – and here comes the failure of words, again: I’ve discovered that true present moment awareness IS a joining pool exercise.
So there you go — it’s the best description I can come up with. If you’ve managed to make any sense out of what I’ve written here, and feel inspired to try this Presence practice for yourself, I highly recommend it.
• • •
Anyway, the benefits of it are wonderful and many, including a gentle, ever-unfolding clarity.
The other day I was snugged up in my cozy English digs. It was cold and blustery outside, but I was sitting warm by the fire with my hot tea and Afghan throw, the Christmas lights a-twinkling. And I noticed I was truly happier, more peaceful and more free than I’ve ever felt before.
And then Presence came gently calling. And I was very softly pulled into it, taking me several layers deeper than usual. I adjusted my focus accordingly, and as I did it, I could see that at this more buried level I was actually seething with anxiety.
This was a profound antsiness, a thorough dissatisfaction with myself, for sitting by the fire with a mug of tea instead of using the moment more productively. I should be writing a book or something, shouldn’t I?
This dissatisfaction, this self-criticism runs so deep in me that at its lower levels I’m completely blind to it because it seems so much like what my world is constructed out of. It’s the lens through which I view and experience my 3-D reality, so I would ordinarily never back up enough to notice it as a stand-alone thing – just a lens, not reality itself.
But here’s the great thing: Unlike the old days when I believed in the anxiety message through and through, I knew this present moment was perfect and Holy, exactly as it was. And nothing at all was required of me right then, except to relax and allow it to just be.
It was kind of a startling moment of worlds colliding. But thanks to the reassurance and Love emanating from the ongoing song of Presence that was playing so sweetly in my ears, I took the time to examine that old buried ghost story of anxiety very carefully. And I saw it had no relevance here. So I made the conscious choice to relax and melt my habitually anxious worldview into present moment peace instead.
• • •
I’ve been experimenting with this very delicately ever since. And I find its effect has been equally profound, no matter what the present moment happens to hold.
A couple of days ago, we went on an outing to the lovely city of Bath to do some Christmas shopping. I had a client phonecall scheduled for 7:00pm (to accommodate the 8 hours difference between England and California), so there should have been plenty of time to shop and get back before then.
But as we all piled in the van to head for home, we discovered the roads were seized up in absolutely stupendous gridlock — which they specialize in, in these ancient cities where cars and traffic are always a patchwork afterthought.
A half hour went by and we hadn’t moved more than a car length or two. And suddenly the hours of extra padding between me and my client call didn’t seem quite so cushiony. And I had no way of contacting them to let them know I might miss the call.
This should have been a prime recipe for anxiety, but it wasn’t. Presence was in my ears, and I was steeped in the profound peace of this-here-now. And I knew the client call would either happen, or I would apologize when I got home, and reschedule.
The folks in the front seat started up a game to pass the time: What’s your version of paradise? Where would you be right now if you could have anything in the world?
I had to really think and think. But when my turn came, my mind was blank.
Because honestly, this moment was already it.
Stuck in traffic in the back of a van. Nothing could have been more glorious than that.
So on this day of Christmas Eve, dearest friend, I wish you peace, and happiness, and freedom.
And most of all, I wish you Holy Presence.