The Paradoxes of Presence

Ylva Trollstierna_fool

“The Fool” tarot card in Ylva Trollstierna’s “erotica” deck depicts a hermaphrodite “fool” on a precipice somewhat different from that shown in most tarot decks;
I’ve colourized the image

One year after beginning a personal Presence practice, what is most apparent to me are the paradoxes of striving to realize it:

  1. It’s usually a solitary pursuit, yet its purpose is to realize that we are all connected, all One.
  2. It’s often called “mindfulness”, yet its objective is ultimately to empty the mind of thoughts and reactive emotions and realize the mind is an illusion, a distraction.
  3. For many, it can take 10,000 hours, or a lifetime, to realize what can be “seen” in a second.
  4. Thousands of self-described “teachers” offer courses, retreats, seminars, videos and lessons in realizing it, yet the most respected of these say they are not gurus, not leaders, not teachers, merely people offering “pointers” that might allow us to realize, all by ourselves, what cannot be taught.
  5. Many of us believe we must prepare, ready ourselves to be who we already are, or that we are not yet ready to be who we already are.
  6. It seems to take a long time to realize that time does not exist, that the only thing that exists is the Now. Some are convinced it is not yet time to realize this, that they must spend more time in contemplation and inquiry “first”.
  7. An enormous amount of self-reflection seems involved in the process of realizing the “self” is an illusion, an unreal construct.
  8. Much thinking (contemplation, self-inquiry and other intellectual activity) seems to be involved in learning to let go of and not associate with our thoughts, and to get thoughts out of the way of just being.
  9. Much of the energy spent discovering who we really are seems to involve appreciating who and what we are not.
  10. For many, it seems the mind must be utterly exhausted in order to see how easy it is to just be.
  11. What holds most of us back, it seems, is fear of loss of identity, or pride in or attachment to our current identity, yet that identity is just a fiction; still, we are unable to let go of the story of our identity, our “personal history”, even though we know, at least intellectually, it is not us at all.
  12. Several of the people who speak most convincingly of awakening only reached that state when they were least at peace, in crisis; rather than “relaxing into spacious awareness” they crashed into it when they had no other choice — everything they had been holding on to was suddenly gone.

Mooji discusses these paradoxes with a metaphoric story: We are at the door/gateway to realization, to awakening, but just outside there is a large, noisy market with hundreds of people trying to sell us things, enticing us with delicious smells and wonderful promises, so we hold back, keep looking at these offerings here, on the known side, the comfortable side, the unconscious side. We decide we are not quite ready to go through, to see what is on the other side.

So we stay, promising ourselves that soon, tomorrow, next week, next year, we will be ready, we will go then.

And there are so many of us here! And some of them claim to have awakened, to be enlightened, to be teachers; so why are they still here?

For most humans it’s a gradual transition from constantly being engaged in the stream of thinking, being dragged along by the stream of thinking, one thing after another — including the thought “When am I going to awaken? What’s the point in carrying on if it hasn’t happened yet?”.

The transition from that to, at first, the occasional arising of something else — that heightened alertness or aliveness that replaces thinking (in which thinking can still take place but is no longer compulsive). It’s a space where really thinking is unnecessary. You have risen above thinking. That is the awakening.

— Eckhart Tolle

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8 Responses to The Paradoxes of Presence

  1. My quite awakened wife (but again, not a “teacher”) says that the mark of awakening is the ability to hold a paradox without fussing over it or trying to collapse it. Over the years I’ve come to understand what she means.

    The first taste of my true Self came eight years ago. It’s taking a loooong time for it to settle in – my dualistic acculturation runs shockingly deep. Have you encountered Sri Ramana Maharshi in your perambulations yet? He was the real deal. The book on his teachings by David Godman (cool name…), “Be As You Are” is excellent, IMO.–The%20Teachings%20of%20Sri%20Ramana%20Maharshi–Godman.pdf

  2. I’m sure you are aware of the irony of thinking too much about not thinking.

    Your discussions of this got me to have a look at Eckhardt Tolle. I found his book (The Power of Now) a bit annoying but he sounds better speaking, so I like the way he expresses things. I’d find being in a huge room with loads of other “disciples” a bit distracting – there’s the danger of getting attached to the person who is trying to get you to let of of “personality”.

    I refreshed my mind on Zen after that, as I think that tradition is more to my taste, and the approach is stripped of theological baggage.

    I think I’m only at the point of recognising when the thought machine is starting up and I’ve disappeared from “now”. It turns out to be work. I am not specifically meditating, I’m taking pauses where I’d normally stand thinking and attempt to be present instead.

  3. Dave Pollard says:

    Thanks Paul & Nathan. Maharshi (and his follower Papaji) are cited as key influencers by Eckhart, by Gary Weber, and by Mooji, three of the people who make the most sense to me. I appreciate the message that while this is not obvious or ‘easy’, neither does it require enormous practice, self-discipline or devotion. It may be a one-trick pony act, but it’s a hell of a trick.

    And I agree that attending an ‘event’ with any of these (to my mind) articulate ‘awakened’ people would mostly just frustrate me; I find many of the questions asked at such events to be lame, unconsidered, incoherent and sometimes narcissistic. I’d much rather spend time either alone in beautiful places (I’m currently on the beach in Kaua’i) or with one or a small group of people who are in a similar place to where I am, for mutual encouragement and shared contemplation. Looking forward to pursuing this with a couple of very bright and lovely people who have expressed a similar interest.

  4. andrewjamescampbell says:

    Why don’t you just be Dave Pollard, retired exec. divorced, with some hobbies, like publicly finding the inner mojo – or whatever it is the whole sub-category(class) of people you belong to does on these blogs?
    When i first knew you, met you (2005) you seemed a perfectly ok person – these days, going by your ‘self portraits,’ you are now well lost in some miasmic haze of self delusion, nicely crafted in words as befits an educated Canadian, but not a poet, not a creative writer, no an artist, not a sufi, …and you are still suckin’ up these ‘nice’ people’s responses… it’s a sickness Dave.

  5. Qassem Suleimani says:

    daoudjan- marshl!

    thanks for this summary; i’ll also point out that it is important to pay attention to what beliefs we tack on to thinking as an activity especially in the context of mindfulness or meditation…there is a fair amount of subtle- or not-so-subtle- judgement in the dharma world of thinking…that it is bad in and of itself…i’ve found the Skillful Meditation Project (Recollective Awareness Practice — as taught by Jason Siff, author of Unlearning Meditation) a very useful adjunct to my primary practice…

    SMP has helped me see that there are many unconscious decisions I make while I’m meditating…

  6. Nick Smith says:

    “She let go of the fear. She let go of the judgments. She let go of the confluence of opinions swarming around her head. She let go of the committee of indecision within her. She let go of all the ‘right’ reasons. Wholly and completely, without hesitation or worry, she just let go. She didn’t ask anyone for advice. She didn’t read a book on how to let go… She didn’t search the scriptures. She just let go.

    She let go of all of the memories that held her back. She let go of all of the anxiety that kept her from moving forward. She let go of the planning and all of the calculations about how to do it just right. She didn’t promise to let go. She didn’t journal about it. She didn’t write the projected date in her Day-Timer. She made no public announcement and put no ad in the paper. She didn’t check the weather report or read her daily horoscope. She just let go. She didn’t analyse whether she should let go. She didn’t call her friends to discuss the matter.

    She didn’t do a five-step Spiritual Mind Treatment. She didn’t call the prayer line. She didn’t utter one word. She just let go. No one was around when it happened. There was no applause or congratulations. No one thanked her or praised her. No one noticed a thing. Like a leaf falling from a tree, she just let go. There was no effort. There was no struggle. It wasn’t good and it wasn’t bad. It was what it was, and it is just that. In the space of letting go, she let it all be. A small smile came over her face. A light breeze blew through her. And the sun and the moon shone forevermore.”

    – Ernest Holmes

  7. Dave Pollard says:

    Thanks Nick — lovely.

  8. Just another note – thanks for the pointer to Mooji. Eckhart Tolle’s talks look a bit too much like a business seminar, but Mooji creates a different feel. The satsang videos I’ve watched don’t seem to have “lame” questioners. Browsing through the Tolle videos there are more questions like “what do you think about Facebook?”. Really?

    People who go to see Mooji appear to be further along the way. I get a distinct feeling just watching the satsang that I wasn’t expecting, and it must be that some of the videos are 3 hours or more so you can get into another “mode” rather than consuming some highlight clips.

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