Students of this work often seem to think that presence is an end-state, a goal to be accomplished. This thinking is far short of the mark. The state of presence is a point of transition. Presence provides mobility. Its great value is that it allows you to move, to change states, to enter other categories of experience.
What does this mean, to enter other categories of experience?
Our ordinary state is one of involuntary identification. The identities I assume are deeply ingrained ways of behaving which are based on even deeper habits of perceiving and reacting, based on even deeper self-images and assumptions about myself. These layers of habituation do not allow me to behave, perceive or think differently. In my ordinary state, I have zero degrees of freedom. This is what it means to be asleep. I can only truly know this through observation of self. Hearing or reading this will not convince me of this most basic fact of my existence.
To be present is to be unidentified. My habitual patterns no longer contain and limit the range of experience available to me. My body and my ordinary mind may continue to ramble on during presence…we can call this the momentum of sleep…but the ‘I’ of presence, a not ordinary I, can see over the barricades and also experience its own presence in the present. This is an opening. Or perhaps we could call it a threshold. It is what we call being.
Sleep continues while you are present?
Remnants of it, yes. These reverberations of the biological machine die down in time. This is because the body and ordinary mind exist in successive time. Their processes unfold and change from moment to moment. Presence does not. It has the quality of immediacy, therefore timelessness, from the point of view of body and mind. Presence exists in the second dimension of time as a kind of alien outside the flow of successive occurrence.
Presence can continue to be present in the present only if it is continually renewed. Only presence can know itself to be present. Only presence can hold itself in the present. When I fall into identification once more, presence is no longer in the present…it has succumbed to the momentum of sleep and I have re-entered successive time, time passing.
But while I am unidentified, I can feel, I can contemplate, I can invoke. I can know things immediately from the inside as if they are myself. You could call this voluntary identification…not repeating the habits of the body and ordinary mind but engaging in the essence of other beings. This is the mobility possible in the state of presence.
This sounds easy but it is not. To remain present in the present for any period of time involves ongoing struggle. Somehow I must function in two different worlds, two different dimensions of time. I remain in a body. The pull of sleep does not cease. At any time my presence can be pulled into forgetting itself. Then I am swept into the river of successive time, the fashioner and sustainer of my identities.
Only presence can know it is present. It does so immediately, in the place of no time. Anything in successive time is in a different realm, of a different nature, too slow to participate.
Only presence can hold itself in presence. It remembers itself. Presence is sustained by its own experience until it is interrupted. While engaged in its experience, presence can also know the tiniest slip towards sleep, those interrupting sensations and thoughts that beckon me to re-join my limited but known universe. Has observation of self impartially exposed the ways of sleep so that they can be seen and resisted as they arise? If so, presence may be able to continue in the present.
My ordinary self cannot will itself to be present.
From the point of view of ordinary mind, moments of presence are very fleeting, if knowable at all. Can I remember being present? In my ordinary state, it is inaccessible.
From the point of view of presence, its moments are eternal, comprising all the time there is. When presence returns after an absence, it is completely itself, as if it never left. This is what it means to be.