In today’s world, we’ve become used to filling up all our precious moments and rarely experience a few minutes of simply being, without something to distract us. It’s as if we’ve become unconsciously anxious about the need to fill up any empty space, stillness, or silence with content, movement, and noise. We’ve developed many ways of making sure we remain busy, with 24-hour news, social media, TV, smartphones, radio, newspapers, and so on. We’re almost constantly engaged in activity and content, forgetting what it’s like to do nothing for a few moments.
For 99% of the time that humans have walked the planet, there was more time to relax and fewer distractions. So, it was probably much easier to watch the sunrise, listen to birdsong or look up and enjoy the clouds drifting across the sky. Today, many of us can’t even go for a walk without being distracted. Over the last few years, there’s even been a rise in pedestrian accidents, as people walk immersed in their smartphones. And of course, we’re also distracted by the uninvited thoughts running through our heads, which is another powerful challenge for simply being with the present moment as it is.
The opposite of all this outer and inner distraction is presence; the alert awareness, aliveness, and openness to present-moment experience that lies behind our thinking mind. . Presence is available in every moment and is something everyone can access. Even in our most stressed, anxious, or low moments, the inner resource of presence lies quietly in the background of our experience. Presence is being calm, relaxed, and open, where we experience a natural state of connected wholeness and wellbeing.
We’ve all noticed the profound experience of presence at some point in our lives. Maybe a peaceful moment on a mountain, looking at the sunrise over the ocean, or walking quietly in the woods. But if presence is intrinsic to human experience, we can’t rely on having to go to these special places to experience it. And if presence is so important, why do we fail to notice it?
Like a ticking clock, presence becomes submerged and unnoticed in the background of our experience, as the brain filters it out. We tend not to notice what’s going on in the background as our attention is drawn towards foreground activity and content. Our brain also assumes that mundane everyday tasks like cleaning our teeth or taking a shower are boring, so our attention automatically switches to more interesting things, like drifting off in thought about the day ahead. Although mind-wandering can be useful, creative, and expanding it can also be not useful, negative, and diminishing. What’s important is that we are often not aware that our attention has drifted off in unintentional thought.
In our modern lives, we don’t make it easy for ourselves to experience presence. Cultivating presence is something that takes intention and effort. It’s about bringing our attention away from thoughts, to the immediate flow of experience in our body and senses.
Presence is also about:
- Exploring our sense of aliveness, being aware of the moving energy and sensations around the whole of the body from the inside out.
- Coming to our senses and resting in the space and stillness behind sounds and movement. Allowing and remaining open to whatever arises in our awareness.
- Noticing and acknowledging sensations, feelings, and thoughts as they arise, play out, and pass away.
Rather than being completely immersed in the foreground content, movement, and noise of experience, which comes and goes, we can rest in the background of presence, our unwavering home, and refuge, where we can access and express our full potential. Presence is a source of creativity, clarity, and wisdom and has the power to transform our experience in all areas of our lives.
Suggested weekly practice
- Notice what takes you away from presence. Is it busyness, your smartphone, the habit of mind-wandering?
- If you feel a bit stressed, negative or limited try coming into presence by connecting with your body and senses and see what difference this makes.
- When you are out in nature, like walking in the woods, take a moment to stop and really breathe in and appreciate the peace and presence that’s already there.
Find somewhere undisturbed and sit in a comfortable, dignified, and upright posture, where you can remain alert and aware.
There are two guided practices for this session. You can close your eyes, or lower your gaze while the meditations play.
- Play the first settling practice, then read through the session content, which you can print off if that helps.
- Then play the second practice to simply experience and explore presence as the foreground of your experience.
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