Seven Pillars House of Wisdom > Articles > The Practice of Presence, Part Two

The Practice of Presence, Part Two

Lee Irwin

The mystery of the human experience is inseparable from our capacity to recognize the multiple fields of awareness that infuse our day-to-day consciousness. This flow of consciousness is the experiential ground of Being and Spirit, and as such this flow is the participatory medium through which our capacity to be “a light unto the world” is actualized. Presence, in the deep sense, becomes most obvious at the margins, on the boundaries of our developing sensitivities, and it flows most fully into the conscious center when we can hold the openness and receptivity necessary, a deep reverence and gratitude for the enhancement of our life and awareness. As a gift, presence seeks to amplify the most receptive conduit, the most sensitive capacity for expansion within each individual. This requires a sustained embodiment of the subtle, very fine, silken layers of psychic media through which wisdom and knowledge can be assimilated at the integrative center. And beyond this, the supraconscious domain allows for the sudden crystallization of revelatory ideas, insights, and manifestations through which the evolutionary horizon can take embodied forms, condensing the field into explicit types, images, metaphors and seeds meant to be grown into actuality through committed world actions.

In the practice of presence, conscious intention is not always sufficient. Our conscious wanting, asking, hoping, and praying (or demanding) reflects intentions which often reveal the deeper, sometimes imbalanced needs and desires of the unintegrated self. There is a Mystery within Being and Spirit that does not simply follow the conscious intentions of the individual but often animates the subconscious and collective impulses that underlie conscious desires. In the process of manifestation, presence can become an antidote to false longing and artificial desires shaped by unhealthy needs or aspirations. On the other hand, the manifestation can lead to an exaggeration, an even more radical inflation, that results in an enhancement of ego-based needs that serve only a limited good, or a more immediate but narrow collective desire. An individual may feel a sense of empowerment that is oriented to resolving or carrying the burden of the collective need, but this empowerment often lacks the transparency and creative effects that allows presence to work through and beyond individual needs or desires. Such an inflation is ultimately a severe contraction of an evolutionary potential that is rendered incapable of deep transparency. The individual too often becomes self-identified with the collective need, thus reducing the transformative effects of presence to a satisfaction of collective desires.

By contrast, the influx of presence may cause confusion and disorientation, a dismantling of poorly integrated self aspects that results in radical discontinuity, excess, and garbled half-truths built on subjective fantasy and ungrounded imagination. Deep manifestations of presence require healthy-mindedness, a coherent and well-developed sense of self, and a capacity for self-surpassing transparency. This requires a disciplined balance between deeply compassionate concern, loving detachment, and willingness to allow for creative adaptation in and through others. The flowing up of presence requires continual practice and on-going effort; each person is an expression of the sacred human and as such is called to the evolutionary task of healthy, well-integrated, moral and visionary embodiment of inner capacities. While presence can flow in and through our deeper being, its purpose directs us toward community and healthy, positive human relations.

What is transparency? It is the capacity for witness: to see, hear, know, and recall what manifests within the many domains of consciousness without subjecting those manifestations to self-gratifying needs and the limitations of personal desire. Unlike possession mediumship in which the medium abrogates his or her personal awareness for the “speaking through” of another entity, transparency requires lucid self-awareness, both as a unique individual and as an embodiment of transpersonal aspects of Being and Spirit. The goal is not to be “unconscious mediums” of presence, but fully conscious partners in a co-creative relationship that allows and fosters revelation, prophetic insight, artistic and scientific discoveries, and moral and ethical truths. Like the crystals in an old fashioned radio that were attuned to create a more simplified auditory signal, the practice of presence seeks the development of clarity and lucid awareness that can direct presence into the seen and heard domains of human experience. This is something far more than being a “channel” for other entities; it requires that we adapt our entire being, the full spectrum of our awareness within the subconscious, conscious and supraconscious domains, to receive the in-flow and felt reality of Being and Spirit. We can embody this in our most ordinary actions, in heart-felt conversation, in showing empathy and concern for those who suffer, in bringing attention to all the problems of worldly life in search of inspiration to heal the wounds and imbalances of the world.

This presence is transpersonal in the sense that it is not a reference to an entity, an angel, or any specific type of being (of the many kinds that exist throughout the layered cosmos). It references the entirety of all embedded fields that make up our collective and cosmic existence, throughout whatever planes or domains that existence may extend. As discreet individuals, we reflect the cosmos, not as microcosmic images reflected in a mirror, but as evolutionary beings in the midst of the dynamic process of discovery, change and experimentation. This reflected image, like the reflected heavens, is transformative, and is not a static or predetermined form. Imagine your face as a child seen in a mirror, then see your face today, in the mirror, changing, in process; now see it on your deathbed, still changing. The transpersonal aspect is the lived and felt sense through which this change occurs; it is the dynamic life-presence, the vitality that instills awareness and leads to wisdom. In this living presence, space cannot be measured, time spirals to infinity, and collective interactions overflow their old boundaries. The transpersonal lifts us to a vaster horizon of seeing and knowing, challenging us to overcome our own limited views.

The task of each individual, as I understand it, is to find the way to express and to embody presence most suited to that individual’s capacities and existential situation. The practice of presence requires no special context; every context is the place where presence dwells. Presence calls us to manifest the subtle qualities of Being and Spirit in every place we inhabit, in every circumstance and interaction, in home, work, play, casual encounter, and in dedicated times of spiritual practice. Presence is a spiritual practice; it is embodied beingness, a light of soul that shines forth through the flow of conscious experience, illumining every circumstance with depth, joy, laughter, and sober insights. It is not one state but a fluid, adaptive flow, life-giving, deeply alive and yet quiet, subtle, almost invisibly adding its qualities to every receptive circumstance. And it is a moral condition, by which I mean, a condition that seeks the health and well-being of others through positive affirmations of dedicated service and devotion to cooperative world transformations.

The effects of presence are cumulative: they contribute to the flow, even when requiring critical reflection. Presence can be challenging, questioning, unwilling to accept easy and superficial reactions, demanding in its impulse toward authenticity and meritorious actions. The evolutionary context requires critical thinking, reflection on human limits, awareness of our own weaknesses and fallibility, and a capacity for negotiations with others with whom we may disagree. Presence is not limited by disagreement or differences; indeed, the very existence of difference is an expression of presence. But in the evolutionary or developmental context, what arises often requires negotiation because these differences matter in the sense of the commitment people give to them. There is also a certain quality of passive attention in presence because from Being and Spirit, every spring floods forth from a shared, deeply unitary ground. Therefore, patience, listening, receptivity, acceptance, and detached concern are inherent to the necessary transparency that seeks reconciliation and balance. Additionally, critical inquiry, respectful disagreement, resistance, and autonomy are also necessary qualities of a mature presence. These qualities arise contextually in relationship to what others bring, but are also receptive to as-yet-undiscovered possibilities hovering at the margins.

While the cultivation of presence may be difficult and challenging in many if not most circumstances, its actual realization is often spontaneous and subtle. Presence is not a particular state—it is not a meditative condition (which can function as an escape from interaction), not a passive resistance to wrong, not an emotional sense of loving another. Rather, it is an actualized, participatory awareness, a living transpersonal quality of Being and Spirit that energizes and induces transformation and insight. It cannot be limited to fixed states, explicit definitions, or particular mental or emotive conditions. Its sign is a creative, sustaining outflow into the lived context of the everyday. Some conditions can be noted as preparatory, such as holding a condition of openness to what appears, being lucid in all interactions, being attentive to the entire field, including our subconscious, paranormal, and visionary impulses. Perhaps most central of all is the capacity to sustain a deep respect for others, a loving regard for their well-being, and a creative attitude toward all interactions with others. Compassion is not sufficient for creative transformation; it is a foundational quality but, like all qualities, it must combine with the full range of other capacities and not be held in isolation or captivity to a fixed ideology or belief system. Above all, the practice of presence requires self-honesty and constant self-assessment of one’s own transparency.

In concluding this brief reflection, let me return to the variability of our inner states, our conditional relationship with the surrounding world, and our host of relationships with others. The transpersonal field is really not a bound space or a definable, necessarily measureable energy. I use the term “field” in this overview as a metaphor for multi-spatial and multi-spectral domains of existence that are irreducible to any fixed quantity. I say this because the very nature of the field (or fields) is a mix of interpenetrated qualities of energy, mater, and consciousness, all inseparable from a profound continuity and wholeness that eludes my comprehension. I can intuit the fullness and have, on several occasions, had the good fortune to experience its mystical depths and vast energies. We, as multi-spectral beings, that is, as beings capable of perception on many subtle planes of experience, are immersed in a great ocean of Being and Spirit, and it is one of the highest of all arts to become a transparent beacon within the ocean in which we dwell. And yet, a mother’s love for a child, a genuine handshake, a heartfelt conversation, or a simple smile or kind disagreement can manifest its depth in ways that utterly transcend words and descriptions. May our paths leads us to presence and may our interactions be the key by which the infinite capacities of the heart make a music that is heard around the world. Selah!

Also see: Practice of Presence, Part One

Photo by Jurvetson (flickr.com)

Lee Irwin is a Professor in the Religious Studies Department at the College of Charleston where he teaches world religions with an emphasis on Native American traditions, western esotericism, hermeticism, contemporary spirituality, mystical cosmology, and transpersonal religious experience as related to dreams and visions. He is the Vice President of the Association for the Study of Esotericism (ASE) and a board member of the Sophia Institute and the Institute for Dream Studies. He has been a workshop leader and group facilitator for over twenty years, particularly in the areas of visionary cosmology and the development of the sacred human. He is the author of many books and articles, including: The Dream Seekers, Visionary Worlds, Awakening to Spirit: On Life, Illumination, and Being, The Alchemy of Soul, and Coming Down From Above: Prophecy, Resistance, and Renewal in Native American Religions.

Read more about Lee Irwin

Comments (4)
  • WOW, thankyou Lee, I love you, When I am near you I feel presence. I am forever grateful for you, Namaste’

    — debora dunham on April 25, 2012

  • Thank you Lee. Reading your writing is an experience in the Practicing Presence itself, as in: “multi-spectral domains of existence that are irreducible to any fixed quality.” And particularly, as l have experienced with you many, many times:“a genuine handshake, a heartfelt conversation, or a simple or kind disagreement can manifest its depths in ways that utterly transcend words and descriptions.”
    Thank you from my heart
    Lee, for being my friend.  Always your friend, Dan Shelton

    — Dan Shelton on April 28, 2012

  • I remained present in reading your beautiful article and find it a present with much presence in itself…. Thank you.

    — amanda ford on April 29, 2012

  • Many many thanks for your help and penetrating insights.

    — W. Jim Murray on June 3, 2012

18 April 2012

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mysticism, sacred, spiritual practice, consciousness, spirit, transformation, embodiment, practice, creativity, Living Universe, presence, attunement,
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