When I invoke presence, I pivot, I turn towards the real world.
What is the real world? It is easier to describe what it is not. It is not the world of my personality, the world of the things I want, my anxieties or ambitions, my worries and fears, my roles in life. Being present, other things can enter, the possibility of feeling, of open perception, an objective view. My state is a prayer. I stand at the doorway.
Being present does not last long. The reverberations of the machine…the body and mind…continue and pull me back into habitual living. The life of the world beckons. How to remain in the real world? We are advised to waken the machine. What does this mean? In the waking state, body and mind have no negative emotion…no emotion that drains my energy down and out. (Negative in the electrical sense, as much true of euphoria as anger.) I am translucent. I have energy. I am an energy transformation device converting sensation to consciousness and consciousness to love. I enter the real world.
You may think you can ‘do’ this…become present, waken the machine, join the work. Perhaps you can release your personality for a moment and call your presence to be. To waken, much more is required. Your attention must be able to hold, note every flutter of habitual sensation, thought and emotion and release them as they arise. With no discharge, you fill with energy and higher functioning is possible. This is exaltation.
Some teachers of the work state the rules of procedure for waking the machine. You cannot rely on them. The rules come after the experience. They become clear when you have travelled the path. You cannot begin with a view of the end point. You struggle to observe self. You see that all higher states are gifts. You slowly fall in love with the simple, with nature, with smiles and small gestures.
Trying to awaken is like trying to put hay through the wrong end of the elephant. One day, your experiences will begin to waken you, when you have stopped your pathetic need to react to everything habitually and your ambitions fall away. Then you can work.
August 6, 2022
When I invoke presence, I pivot, I turn towards the real world.
August 6, 2019
There are very few sacred spaces left on this earth, it seems to me. What is a sacred space? It’s a place where the veils of ordinary existence are thinner and it is more possible to engage and penetrate the subtle worlds of feeling and meaning which are so easily hidden by worldly engagement. The ancients built temples for this purpose, to create or shelter such valuable places where real prayer and invocation could occur.
Perhaps you are aware of such a place. The question then is can you enter it? Can I pass through the doorway? Special efforts are required.
This is why our zikr often begins with questions. Can I be here? Can I sense my body? Can I sense my breath? Can I relinquish my connection to the past, to the future, to any other place or time, or any relationship, other than to the zikr chamber and the circle of friends within it? If my attention remains intentionally or unintentionally on other times, places and people, I will not be able to pass through the narrow entrance.
The way itself is very broad but the entranceway cannot accommodate any baggage. He who is within demands our full attention and presence.
My entry is by way of humility, submission and apology for having forgotten. These are the secret keys that open the heart and show me where to step, even though I have broken my vows a thousand times.
June 13, 2019
I am sure you know this, but I will say it anyway. There is a great difference between entering the present and being present. But perhaps this is a distinction that is easy to lose?
From my perspective, entering the present is perhaps the most important transition that I can make of my own will. I voluntarily bring attention into my sensations and surroundings. I enter present time…not the illusory future or the invented past where I tend to spend most of my energy. I sacrifice thinking about the things that are not part of my immediate experience.
Now, you may disagree that this transition is an action of my will. Perhaps I am surprised by something beautiful, a sound, a word, a gesture that draws me into the present. True, but even then, I agree to be drawn or the drawing quickly passes.
But who enters the present? Why me, of course. I have identities, history, future engagements, places to go and people to meet, but I have temporarily brought attention out of them and into the present. Nonetheless, these realities inevitably shape and limit the present that I engage with. And if I react to incoming stimulus, my reactions will likely be my standard, habitual reactions.
If my presence should happen to become present in the present, something very different occurs. I am no longer me. The presence of my presence has entered the present and I am temporarily unidentified. This immediately opens up space for seeing and responding differently. Past and future still exist but they are not me, they can be present in an expanded Present Moment without determining my state. What is it that makes the invocation of presence into the present possible? In my experience, it is an act of submission, of giving myself up.
September 2, 2018
I am receptive to the view that Vajrayana Buddhists have of what happens after death…that our consciousness enters a bardo between death and rebirth where we re-experience mental simulations of the unresolved emotional states of our life. I am also careful to say that I do not know any of this for certain and I have yet to meet anyone who does. I therefore do not intend to roll out all the concepts and imagery of the Tibetan traditions.
But I can engage in a thought experiment. What would be my experience if I continued to be aware without a physical body? Would it be something like the dream state?
Let’s say that I am conscious but I have no means to engage in current sensations…only the memory of them…and I am no longer ‘located’ in physical space. Having no body, I am not actually anywhere in a real sense.
In ordinary life, I experience the reverberation of the physical and the mental. A sense experience gives rise to related or associated mental content which in turn engages further sensations. This is what my ordinary ‘emotional’ life consists of…identification with one thing or another, reactive ping pong between mind and body, punctuated by horizontal sleep.
Now, let’s remove the physical side of the equation. Remove the ping. Now I am ‘living’ within the mental simulations of my own undigested experiences, memories, the same repetitive loops of thought, fear, anxiety, jealousy, anger, greed that characterized my reactive, identified life in the body…but without the grounding of tangible sensory input or the possible shock-interruption of something new from outside.
Feeling claustrophobic yet?
My ‘experience’ would be just projections of my mental states with nothing to contradict them. Where is there a refuge from this tedious, repetitive self-expression? Voluntary presence and attention? Have I learned to sustain them while in the body, when it is so much easier? Or do I find that voluntary presence and attention are impossibly fleeting, quickly overwhelmed by the internal roar of associative thought projections powered by habitual identifications? Can I interrupt the flow of otherwise unimpeded thought loops?
This is why we have the black room…a room with absolutely no visual references, no sense of location. This may be somewhat like life after death if it exists. Can I sit in that room and maintain presence and attention? Do I remember the tricks we have discussed for doing so? Or do I immediately fall into associative thinking or even sleep? Voluntary attention and presence open the possibility of choice, of movement, of contact outside yourself. Perhaps, when you are dead, you will wish you had learned to sustain them amidst the flow of personal experience.
Why sit in the black room? Perhaps to prepare for your death.
May 24, 2018
One of the mysteries of zikr is that it seems to take place in another country which is not known to me in my ordinary state.
In my everyday life, I know where I am. I have a physical and psychological orientation, a map of my personal territory, which is as fixed as a street address. My movements take place around a few locations. I am placed within my tasks, my obligations. My life is a construction of things learned, past events, failures and successes, relationships won and lost. A thousand associations and habits keep me in my place.
There are things that I do and things I do not or cannot do. The culture says I can be or do whatever I want if I follow my dream. This is foolish. Clearly I have limits in my life and whether they are self-imposed or imposed by others, many of these limits are real and true. A street address says not only where you are but also where you are not. I learn that there are places that are not for me.
Work on self begins to peel away the layers of this onion, separating true from false. Impartial observation begins to whittle away at the reactions, judgments and justifications which maintain my location. Inwardly, I gain degrees of freedom from self. The world becomes larger. I find that there is an ‘I’ that is not constructed, not limited by a local fixed address and this ‘I’ explains the best of my doings.
Work on self is not self-improvement but rather deconstruction, from the outside in. That is one direction for change. It is slow but certain.
Zikr is in another direction. Its location is not in my ordinary world and I can’t get there when I am myself.
Can I simply step outside of myself? This may seem illogical. For it to be true, I must magically be that ‘I’ which is not part of the construction, temporarily leaving it behind. How is this possible?
The present is a crack in the cosmic egg. Without past and future, now being all the time there is, my presence is called to be, replacing my identities. ‘I’ enter. Can I can enter the present so fully that I no longer have a fixed address? This is what zikr is. This transition is made possible by several factors. First, it is most helpful to have a special space that is removed from my ordinary life, a chamber oriented by repeated use to have access to another country. These spaces are in part made by our efforts but it is also true that they are first found to exist because they are aligned to factors outside of the ordinary world.
Second, it is most useful to have the collected attention of a number of participants. This creates an attractive consort for the forces that can assist the zikr and attract them.
Third, I must be willing to surrender myself and cease to be the center, the active agent.
Finally, I must ask for the transition. This is invocation which is, along with attention, a great and inexplicable mystery.
These factors attract help of another kind. I am drawn into contact with another reality.
Last night, entering the zikr chamber, sitting together, watching the breath, a subtle presence entered.
It is sometimes possible to re-cognize the nature of a guest, to know it as one knows something of oneself. I cannot re-cognize a stranger, only someone known to me.
The one who has entered is the Friend. Who is the Friend? The Friend is that one who is more me than I am. A friend is remembered. This Friend is remembered. His signature is always there in me even though I constantly forget.
Can I open myself to my Friend without reservation, allowing Him to search every corner of myself, to see every bit of deceit and arrogance? This exposure is a whole sensing of who I am without Him. It is a great relief to admit this search, to allow my secrets to be seen. It brings us closer.
Zikr is in the heart tonight. It aches with pleasure.
May 12, 2018
When I say ‘I’, where does this word resonate in me? What is the sensation? This is an important question. ‘I’ is a very powerful word and it tells me a great deal about myself.
Do I avoid the word ‘I’ in my speech? Do I say tend to say ‘we’ or ‘you’? Why would I do this?
For example, I may say: ‘We don’t seem to take such and such issue seriously’ instead of ‘I don’t seem to take this issue seriously’. Am I really able to speak for a collective? Perhaps I should just own up to my own opinions rather than generalizing them?
Every time I say ‘I’, there is an opportunity to observe myself. When I use other pronouns, am I deflecting attention away from me because I do not wish to observe myself?
Then there are those masters of circumlocution who twist their sentences around to avoid the use of ‘I’. They try to make their statements impersonal or general in nature to avoid the appearance of ego or subjectivity. Perhaps this has a limited application in academic discourse but it also leads to abstractions that limit communication and may make false claims to universality. Can I stand for what I say? Can I bring who I am to what I say?
Consider the different ways I may start a sentence:
Each of these formulations brings something different to what I say because each verb is active and activates something in me; each has the possibility of beginning in a different place in me and ‘sounding’ differently. What makes each verb unique is the possibility that at the moment of saying ‘I’, I observe myself and that places ‘I’ inside of what I say.
Can I sense where my ‘I’ is when I speak? Can I observe the impact of that location on my state and my connection to the one I speak to? When my presence is present in the present, where is I?