Presence in Relationship 1: Presence
Our series, Presence in Relationship, which we are starting tonight, perhaps best represents the teaching that Alicia and I intend to bring forth. Students come to us for either spiritual development and/or romantic and sexual development. This series will include all of that.
Our experience is that real improvement in relationship requires spiritual development or greater presence. Our experience is also that for spiritual development to be complete it must include developing the ability to function well in the world, in particular the ability to have what we call an Eternal Date.
Why? Simply because our human potential is not only inward but also outward. Spiritual development includes how we live and interact in the world. It is not an accident that everyone wants an Eternal Date, a relationship that grows to greater heights of intimacy and attraction. There is nothing unspiritual about romance and sex. In fact, it is how Being creates more Being. Romance and sex are only unspiritual when they are lived and experienced apart from the heart and the spirit. The starting point for this exquisite and dynamic type of relationship is that we are reliable in being present. But first we must know what presence is to be reliable in it.
Presence is awareness in material form. We are presence. It is our essence, our true nature. Presence means existence, but a particular kind of existence, an alive existence. Presence is always alive. When life leaves the body there is no longer presence.
Presence is also open and empty the same way awareness itself is open and empty. We experience our presence or someone else’s when all the clutter of mind is removed. To experience our presence directly our obsessions, attachments, identifications, and so on, must be, at least temporarily, on pause. For example, those moments we are walking on the beach, feeling the sand between our toes and not thinking.
Although presence is embodied, it is immaterial. It is invisible. This is why it is often ignored. It is easy to ignore what is immaterial and invisible, even if it is the obviousness of our alive existence.
The hallmark of spiritual traditions is that they focus on these invisible depths. For example, Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism, said, “In practice, I always look into the immaterial aspect of the Tao to contemplate its profundity and wonderfulness, and into phenomena to contemplate their boundaries or manifestations. In other words, I also look into both the substance and function of eternal Tao. Since the immaterial substance of the Tao creates all phenomena which are material and can be called by names, they are contained in its substance.”
Presence is also full! Full of life. Just as presence is emptiness, presence is also fullness and life itself. It is substantial and palpable. We have all had the experience of someone with great presence walking into the room we are in and we feel it, we sense it, we are touched in a mysterious way. Perhaps we turn our head or the hairs on our body stand up straight.
By noticing that presence has both qualities of emptiness and fullness we see that presence transcends contradictions and paradoxes. We can see that presence transcends any logic or rationality or specific way of looking at things. It is what is doing the looking, creating the logic or context or viewpoint.
Good art increases presence. Artistic and poetic approaches to life focus on manifestation, what Lao Tzu calls the function of the Tao. Artists look so deeply into the material, the seen, that they see the beauty that underlies it, really the beauty that life is. They see into the depths, into the immaterial, open and empty substance of life. Basically, they see into the spiritual core of life, and find it beautiful. The painting or sculpture becomes an expression of the presence that is life. Modern art, which includes things like blank canvas’s and toilet seats, is the ultimate statement that you can experience anything and find life or presence at it’s center.
Good art increases presence. Bad art decreases it. For example, If you see a bad movie, perhaps something formulaic that you have seen a thousand variations on, something that doesn’t represent the depths of life, you leave the theater less present, more dulled out. On the other hand, if you see a great film, one done with great care and artistry, you leave the theater, or nowadays the home theater, more alive, more present.
I’ve been reading the biography of one of France’s most famous poets, Rimbaud. He had a terribly difficult life. Most of his poetry is disgusting and vile, or at least represents these aspects of life which he experienced to a tragic degree. The strange thing is his poetry oozes with life and beauty. He looked so deeply into the nature of manifestation, the worst of manifestation in his case, that he got to the beauty, the substance of life. He did not turn away from life, even though his was very difficult. Here is a small sample of his poetry:
especially, stupid, he persisted
In locking himself up in the latrines
Where he reflected in peace, inhaling deeply.
By confronting what is normally blocked out of consciousness he accesses presence from the phenomenal or material side of life, similar to when we inquire into and move past the psychological blockages that make up a person’s relationship blueprint. Replacing experience with thought has dire consequences to one’s presence. Rimbaud violently transcends these conditioned barriers. He uses words to escape words. All of his poetry was written as a teenager. Everyone who met him describes him as a person of enormous presence.
Picasso is similar, and a more obvious example. You can imagine one of Picasso’s paintings, where people and things are taken apart into strange shapes. He is taking life apart in his art and getting to the underlying substance of life within everything.
There are practices that tend to increase presence and activities that tend to decrease presence. Stillness and focus on the breath are perhaps the most common ways to increase contact with one’s presence. The breath is so useful as a means of focus and practice of presence because it straddles the line between true nature, which is invisible, and nature or our bodies, which we can experience with our senses. Engaging in quality interactions with people, interactions full of love and honesty as we do here in the Oracle of Life and Love, also tend to increase presence. A field of presence is created. And as mentioned, creating or experiencing quality art increases presence. One of the great things about practicing presence is that it takes on a life of it’s own and becomes more and more of a spontaneous occurrence and lasting state.
Let’s briefly explore the practice of presence. It’s actually quite simple. It is not complicated. In fact, we move away from the complexity of our thoughts. It is not necessarily easy. Our thoughts often have a strong grip to them or a strong reason that they need to be thought. The practice of presence is letting go of all that. It is counter intuitive to the ego. For example, meditation is not a time to resolve issues. It is a time of letting go of issues or at least letting go of resolving them. We find that we often hold onto our issues very strongly. In fact, we find our very sense of self in them. Meditation shifts our identity from the superficial or our mental constructs to the depths or our presence.
In the practice of presence, whether we are sitting formally in meditation or out and about in our life, we let go of resolving all those issues, we may even let go of having those issues. Perhaps we are so thorough in our practice of presence that we let go of not only those issues, but the identity that has those issues! In this case only our presence remains. Presence is our self, our real self, uncluttered and free. In which case, life is a beach!
Next week we will focus on Presence in Relationship directly, but I think it is safe to say that for you to experience the joy and depths that are possible in relationship you must be present first.