A vacation is a time of respite, recharging, and reflection – a time to shift from the laptop to the whitewater rapids. For my daughter and me, last week was a time to leave the gold-brown hills of New Mexico for the dripping green ponderosa pine and white-barked aspens of Colorado’s western slope. A road trip for dad and daughter.
Most of all, it was a vacation from the self.
The self owns the working week and the self runs the weekend. Needs, obligations, and commitments. Chores, connections, and meetings. This is how we live, this is how we serve, this is how we grow. This is our life as we take care of each other, serve the needs of those who need, and practice the reaching out again and again.
The self is the thread that runs through it all even when we’re unselfish. The energy is not mine, the energy flows through me. I’m the one who must put myself to the work, to call on the powers that I don’t possess, and direct them to the good at hand. Not my good, but the good at hand.
I’m the one who must caution all that is yearning to go haywire. As I put my shoulder to the work – with energy I’m able to muster from some place not me – I’m the one who wonders if it’s me that yearns for chaos and collapse even while I work to keep things steady.
And so, a vacation from the self. I’m with my daughter, but this week, I’m not dad. We’re equal beings in this astonishing world. We’re in the green, skin glistening with the morning mist of the high mountains, amazed we’re here at all, tossing stones into a glassy lake and listening to the crisp splash thunder across these granite hills.
“We don’t need no stinkin’ belief system.” I’m riffing on the classic line from John Huston’s 1948 film, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, where a band of outlaws posed as Federales. When those being robbed asked to see badges, one of the outlaws replied, “Badges? We don’t need no stinkin’ badges.”
It’s a funny line, and it went on to become part of our cultural lexicon. And it’s true when it comes to spirituality – we don’t need a belief system.
When I experienced a spiritual coming to, I thought, “Gees, what do I believe?” I knew there was a presence about me, and I had started to learn how to increase the experience of that presence. It was changing my life remarkably. But what did that make me? A Buddhist? A Hindu? A New Ager?
I started combing books on spirituality to figure out what I believed. Since I was having all of these spiritual experiences, I must believe in something, right? Looking back, that seems a bit silly, but I truly did associate spirituality with belief or faith.
What I found in my search of world religions and spiritual practices is that the roots of most belief systems touched upon experiences similar to what I was going through. Yet once religions became well-established they tended to avoid or diminish these direct, raw spiritual experiences in favor of narrow doctrine. But when most religions were young, they tended to be a bit wild with radical awakenings.
I came away from my investigation with the sense that spiritual experiences or awakenings are quite different from belief systems, spiritual organizations, or religions.
That’s fine. While it’s a pleasure to spend time with people who are also experiencing spiritual breakthroughs – and I learn from every person I meet in spirituality – I don’t need to have no stinkin’ badge.
Some remarkable things happen as you practice the presence within. Some of the painful needs that seemed so hard to fill in this world, those needs that haunted you for years, will lose their edge. Either they become less important, or, you’ll discover they are becoming satisfied.
Let’s look at the need for companionship. Loneliness results when this need goes unfilled. But two things begin to happen as you become more aware of the presence within. The need for companionship begins to ebb as the presence produces a sense of health, comfort, and belonging. What can be more companionable than the feeling of oneness and connectedness?
Also, the barriers to companionship begin to crumble. Often it is the ego – ever hungry, ever unsatisfied – that stands between our true self and the sense of connection. After all, the need for companionship is simply the need for connection. Without the edgy, needy ego in charge, we become more companionable. We become more accepting of others, more forgiving of ourselves. We become less of a problem.
Feeling the presence within does not eliminate the ego, but it does take it down a notch in its control over our self-perception and its control over our behavior. Without the ego so much in charge, we begin to see the dwindling of self pity, self loathing, and fear.
The ego holds and feeds our fear. The ego is terrified of death, and for good reason. The ego will die. But our true self won’t die. It cannot die. It is oneness. As we experience that oneness, the bitter needs of the ego become less pressing. In time, those needs will pretty much go away. And even if they don’t vanish altogether, they will become so unimportant as to not matter any longer.
So how do you find the presence within? The answer goes back a few thousand years: Be still and know that you are God. That’s the oneness. Much comes through the simple awareness that we are not separate, we are not apart, and we do not inherit pain, suffering, tension, or fear. They are part of the illusion. Our true life is in the reality of the presence. If we are in the Now, we’re in the presence. If we are still, we’re in the presence. If we truly realize we are not separate, then we are in the presence.
This shift in awareness can be prompted by a number of practices: meditation controlled deep breathing, yoga and other forms of stillness within.
Your meditation can be very simple. Sit in a place where you won’t be disturbed. Use silence or natural sounds. Natural sounds work better than music because any form of music comes with a point of view or intention from the composter or musician. Natural sounds are not encumbered by intention.
Try to quiet your thoughts. If your thinking goes on like a buzz saw, try repeating a set of words – some call this a mantra. The mantra works to block out thoughts prompted by worry, concern for the future, or simple to-do lists that rattle our brain when we’re trying to be quiet. You can simply say, “I am one with the presence; the presence is one with everything.”
Relax. Breath slowly and let your breath all the way out. Don’t over-burden your breathing. Let it become forgettable. In time, you may begin to feel a presence. It make take 10 minutes, it may take 30. You could meditate every day and not feel anything for a month. But in time, if you keep it up, you will feel something.
In the next blog we’ll look at how an awareness of the presence changes our experience of this life.
In the past two blogs, we looked at the nature of the presence within and explored the different ways people have experienced it. Let’s now look at ways to reach an awareness of the presence within.
I spent years wondering how to reach the presence inside. I believed it was real, even though I felt only a hint of it occasionally. The spirituality texts I read seemed intuitively true – the Upanishads, The Way of Life by Lao Tzu, The Bhagavad Gita, and many books by Alan Watts. Even mystical Christianity and the New Thought of Unity and Religious Science talked extensively about the presence of god or spirit within.
I believed it was real; I just couldn’t figure out how to experience it.
Interestingly, my first experiences in feeling the presence were through psychedelic drugs, including as LSD, psilocybin, mescaline, and DMT. That’s a rough way to feel the presence. For one, these drugs don’t always bring a sense of comfort or wellbeing. Some of these drug experiences can be frightening. Looking back, it seems odd to experience a mixture of the presence and outright terror. But indeed, that can happen.
Yet I am convinced the presence I felt on these drugs was real, even if the feeling of the presence came with a disquieting pinch of self destruction.
Drugs are drugs. They can blast the doors of perception open – as Aldus Huxley observed – but they leave behind a ragged legacy that’s often accompanied by painful anxiety. A couple friends of mine turned to heroin to relieve the uncomfortable after-edge of psychedelics. As you can imagine, that didn’t turn out well.
There are certainly healthier ways to bring about the awareness of the presence within consistently. In the next blog we’ll look at how you can reach the presence through meditation and breathing exercises.
There is a place within where there is no fear and no worry. There is a place that sooths the ragged edge of sorrow and takes away loneliness. A place where pain cannot enter.
Our lives are so easily filled with hand-wringing concerns as we dash from one problem to another, never fully solving the underlying anxiety. The worry and fear just moves from one difficulty to the next.
Some of us try to calm these fears and worries with prescription pills or alcohol. Or we try to extinguish the dark discomfort through escape into TV, into food. Some use sex and emotional attachment to find relief. The respite from the pain feels real, but the rough emotions return as the chemicals wear off or the escape comes to an end. The then darkness comes back stronger.
Some try to face these difficulties straight on, believing that problems are for solving, and to some extent they are. But how can you solve regrets, resentments, or the gnawing feeling that something is not right, that some trouble is about to encompass you?
We were not created to live in endless pain and fear. We are created to live in the realm of happiness, joy and freedom. Deep on our bones we know this. And yet the pain persists, leaving us with the bitter conclusion that happiness us not possible in this broken world. We may come to believe that we are what’s wrong and broken in the world.
From this sad place, it can be hard to let go and find the presence within, that place of wellbeing that is not an escape from life’s tangles but rather a returning to the acceptance and peace that is available to all of us. It is the essence of who we really are.
In the next blog, we’ll look at ways to reach the presence.
What do we mean when we talk about the presence within? The oneness. What does it feel like? How do we reach it?
The poet, Rumi, believes we live with a deep secret that sometimes we know, and then not. That secret is our connection to the divine – the presence.
In “The Mirror of Intimacy,” Alexandra Katehakis said, “Everything you perceive is your presence. Look deeply into every moment and perceive divine presence. Recognize each circumstance as having a particular bearing on your soul. Over time, this practice will bring you presence of mind and make manifest your own catalytic presence.”
There are many names for the presence within, many descriptions of it.
- Om – The Buddhist and Hindu name that evokes the concepts of the oneness of God and the universal omnipresence of the creator deity.
- Brahman – Hinduism, the super-present properties of the creator deity, Brahma, understood to manifest itself as light within the human being.
- Divine countenance or the face of God – a metaphor for a close encounter with God.
- The Holy Spirit in Christianity.
- Immanence – a term for the presence used in mysticism.
- Inner light – a term used in various religions to refer to the presence of God within.
- Numen – a Latin term for the divine presence within.
- Psychedelics can produce the feeling of the presence of God.
- Shekhinah – Judaism’s term for a presence in a holy place called a tabernacle. The tabernacle represents the human body or being, and also refers to the presence of God within.
- Theophany – the overt appearance of God to a person.
- The Kingdom of God within – In Luke 17:21, Christ says the Kingdom of God is within us.
- Higher consciousness – the higher the level of one’s consciousness, the closer to God.
The next blog will explain how we can reach the presence within and what it feels like when we experience it.