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Essential Presence

Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom

Excerpts about Essential Presence

Approaching the Dimension of Essential Presence We Inevitably Confront the Narcissism Inherent in Our Disconnection from that Presence

When a person is working on self-realization, this narcissism is increasingly exposed; in fact, it is usually aggravated for some time. When we approach the dimension of essential presence we inevitably confront the narcissism inherent in our disconnection from that presence. The success of the work on self-realization depends, to a great degree, upon successfully resolving the arousal and intensification of narcissistic manifestations. The narcissism of everyday life is much more ubiquitous, much deeper, and much more significant than we usually allow ourselves to see. However, it dissolves steadily in the deeper stages of self-realization. Full self-realization completely eliminates this narcissism, for it is not natural to the realized self.

Disconnection from Essential Presence is the Fundamental Root of Narcissism

Realization of the whole, nondual but multidimensional self is important for the total resolution of narcissism, because disconnection from any dimension of the self—not only its deepest dimension—creates narcissism. Disconnection from the deepest dimension, that of essential presence, is the fundamental root of narcissism, which gives narcissism its characteristic flavor. Under normal circumstances, the self is more likely to be disconnected from a deeper dimension, and identified with a more superficial one. This is overwhelmingly the most common situation. The reverse can and does occasionally occur, especially for those engaged in a spiritual practice that includes renunciation or abnegation of the surface dimensions of the self (such as the body or the feelings). It is possible to reach deeper dimensions of the soul through some of these methods, but the realization will be incomplete and cannot ordinarily reach the dimension of primordial presence. The dimension of primordial presence alone brings the realization of wholeness. Actually, if the method is powerful enough to penetrate to this dimension and allow a glimpse of it, the practitioner will then have to abandon all suppression and abnegation in order to fully integrate the primordial presence.

Discovering the Natural Dynamism of Being

When we are further along in our practice and have experience of and contact with essential presence, we discover the natural dynamism of Being as that presence constantly changes as well. It might be a spaciousness one moment, and the next moment it could be pregnant light . . . then a flowing river . . . then a solid sense of presence . . . then a galactic condition. And all the while, there may be ego reactions around the presence that are also changing, such as fear, hope, resistance, or possessiveness. If we get to a point where we finally experience our essential worth and feel the solidity and steadfastness of it, we might get attached to that because we like it—it is new, and we are excited about it. We also can fall into expecting it to continue or wishing or hoping it will. However, if it continues in the same way, our learning will stop, our maturation will stop. True Nature does not remain in place like that; it is constantly disclosing, displaying its possibilities. It’s always revealing itself in other forms, deeper forms, subtler forms, more comprehensive forms. Even when we get to the nondual condition where everything is presence, nothing about that is static. Yes, it is always presence, but everything is flowing and unfolding, and that presence can be of so many colors and flavors. Presence sometimes becomes denser, sometimes lighter. And sometimes, the presence is not like presence at all but more of a nothingness or an absence. Our soul needs to have completely slippery hands so she is prevented from holding on to anything. Velcro is not a condition of
realization!

Essential Presence Cannot be Captured in any Kind of Memory

The representations which constitute the structure of the identity of the normal self are impressions integrated from the past, which by their very nature are unable to contain essential presence, and thus, alienate the self from its essential core. Essential presence cannot be captured in any kind of memory. Awareness of oneself as presence is the immediate experience of beingness, while retained impressions are many steps removed from this immediacy. Therefore, to recognize ourselves with and through this memory, or any impression from past experience, is bound to exclude essential presence from our sense of self. Hence, the nature of essential presence and the epistemological stance involved in identification with psychic structures combine to make the developed self—a psychic structure—fundamentally narcissistic. This development creates epistemological barriers to self-realization by rendering the content of experience opaque: The self cannot see through or beyond its concepts of itself or the world. A person who engages in spiritual inquiry does not at the beginning expect to have her perception of herself and the world entirely and radically changed. However, in the transformation from one’s normal identity, which might involve some experiences of essential realities, to recognizing oneself as the essential nature, many assumptions inherent in the conventional world view must be seen through.

Essential Presence is Self-Aware Consciousness

We find out here that one of the most important characteristics of essential presence is that it is self-aware consciousness. So if I am experiencing the presence of stillness, which is one flavor of essential Peace, nobody needs to be outside the stillness to be aware of the stillness. I and the stillness become one thing. My familiar sense of being a separate observer dissolves. There is no observer and no observed. The stillness itself, Essence itself, is awareness, but awareness with a quality of stillness and peace. And the awareness is pervasive throughout the presence of the stillness. The presence is completely aware—a medium of consciousness characterized by the quality of stillness. When we appreciate how knowing occurs in essential experience, we know clearly what basic knowledge is, because Essence knows itself only through basic knowledge—through being present to itself. That is why we call it presence. When we begin to think about our essential awareness, the presence and the consciousness are no longer one, and the knowing shifts to ordinary knowledge. Furthermore, Essence, which is consciousness and presence as one, is an awareness that not only is aware of its own presence and the fact that it is presence, but is also aware of the distinctive quality of that presence—in this case, stillness and peace. Our mind can associate all kinds of things with peace—what it is not, what agitation is, what it would mean to be peaceful. All of these things are ordinary knowledge, but the direct apprehension and recognition of the stillness is what happens right at this moment and is independent of what our mind says. In fact, we might not even call it stillness. If we don’t speak English, we won’t call it stillness, but it is still the same experience.

Indications from the Experience of the Body in the Dimension of Essential Presence

The experience of the body in the dimension of essential presence indicates that the core of the self is experientially deeper than the living body. This core is the very consciousness that allows us to experience the body as living. Our definition of the self includes the living body, but as we have made clear, also includes more fundamental dimensions. More accurately, it is not that the body is a more superficial reality than presence; it is more that the self is a wholeness that contains all dimensions, including the body, and this wholeness is disturbed when there is dissociation from presence, because it is presence which is responsible for this complete wholeness. Presence is the ultimate ontological ground and reality of all the dimensions. Awareness of essential presence does not negate or devalue the body; rather, it gives it, along with the other aspects and dimensions of the self, a greater sense of integration, wholeness, and lightness.

Our Freedom Depends on this Capacity of Essential Presence to Make Ever-Finer Discriminations About the Ways We Conceptualize Reality

Our freedom depends on this capacity of essential presence to make ever-finer discriminations about the ways in which we conceptualize reality and the impact that has on our experience. As we see through the conceptual assumptions that pattern our experiences—whether dual or nondual—reality becomes free to express itself without the need for determination. The way we
usually work in our inquiry is that we deal with direct experience. We don’t inquire only into thoughts, into the planning or thinking mind. We inquire into the totality of our experience. We don’t think about our experience; rather, we delve into it and immerse ourselves in it with an inquiring capacity. Many people, when they consider their immediate experience or their feelings and sensations, think that those experiences are nonconceptual because they are not merely concepts in the mind. Although some traditions refer to feelings, sensations, and direct immediate experience as nonconceptual, in our work, we don’t call that nonconceptual experience. For us, those experiences are still conceptual because they are recognizable and knowable. As long as there is recognition and knowing, there is conceptualizing. We can’t know without concepts. The knowing of any affect or sensation or spiritual state requires concepts. So, as long as there is any discernible experience, there are bound to be concepts. For example, in the immediate experience of “this is spaciousness,” there is a knowing of spaciousness that relies on a concept of what spaciousness is. Even though it is direct knowledge and is actual spaciousness—not an idea about spaciousness, not a memory about spaciousness, not an association about spaciousness—it is still conceptual.

The Essential Presence of the Self is Cognized by Being It

It is central to our view that the self can be known in its essence. Further, this insight into the essence of the soul can reveal the deepest roots of narcissism, making it possible to actually resolve narcissistic issues. In fact, in the experience of spiritual realization, we discover that the pure presence of the essence of the soul can be known more directly, more intimately, and more precisely, than can the more external manifestations of the self. This is because the latter are usually experienced through self-reflection and thus indirectly. Self-perception is further obscured by the various contents of the psyche, whereas the essential presence of the self is cognized by being it, without the intermediary of extraneous mental content.

The Flow of Essential Presence Becomes the True Experience of Time

The unfolding of essence becomes the process of living. Life is no longer a string of disconnected experiences of pleasure and pain but a flow, a stream of aliveness. One aspect manifests after another, one dimension after another, one capacity after another. There is a constant flow of understanding, insight, knowledge, and states of being. As this unfolding proceeds, it affects the mind, the personality, and the external life. When conflicts arise, inner or outer, it is the expression of the lack of understanding of incoming essential aspects and dimensions. It is part of the creative process of living. Every new insight or knowledge is preceded by its absence. This absence is seen from the perspective of the ego as a conflict or a problem. However, if the individual is interested in the truth, the conflict is seen for what it is, an absence of a certain understanding. The presence of this understanding is the same as the presence of a certain aspect or dimension of essence, with its qualities, capacities, insights, and mode of living. However, the center of all this understanding, insight, knowledge, discovery, creativity, conflict, and tension is the unfolding of essential presence. This flow of essential presence becomes the true experience of time instead of the linear memory time of the personality. At the beginning, the work of understanding continues as a necessity. However, the necessity is more apparent than real. The ego believes in the necessity of its own work, but this is due to the lack of understanding of deeper essential dimensions. As these dimensions unfold and bring about their understanding, one starts seeing how the activity of the ego (the sense of self) is the main barrier, the cause of any conflict or inner suffering.

The Presence which is the Essence of the Self can be Experienced on Many Levels of Subtlety or Dimensions of Spiritual Experience

We have so far used the terms “essential presence” and “primordial presence” interchangeably, but there is actually a slight difference in meaning. The presence which is the essence of the self can be experienced on many levels of subtlety, or dimensions of spiritual experience. It is always presence, but we refer to it as essential presence, on any of the spiritual dimensions, to point to its truth as the inner ontological core of the self. By primordial presence, on the other hand, we mean the deepest level of the essential presence, what is referred to in some traditions as nondual presence. This primordial presence can be experienced as the true nature of the self only in the experience of full self-realization. We will use the terms “essential presence” and “primordial presence” interchangeably when the distinction between the two meanings is immaterial.

The State of Not Identifying with the Content of Mind

When a person is not identified with the content of mind, he will not necessarily experience his identity immediately as essential presence. A more typical development, discussed at length in Chapter 11, and in our book, The Void (Almaas, 1986), is that the first thing one is faced with is the experience of emptiness. When one is not identified with the usual content, the experience might be: “There is nothing there!” or even “I am not here!” This emptiness will evoke all kinds of issues and reactions, but eventually it resolves into something more peaceful: spaciousness. The mind feels expanded and open to experience, without identification or attachment to any particular content. This spaciousness in the mind allows for a deep awareness of the fundamental ground of experience, or presence, which may be felt as emptiness. Without the usual identity defining one’s experience, one might simply experience, “I am.” One can become aware of the central point of one’s attention or awareness. Meister Eckhart wrote, “God has left a little point where the soul turns back on itself and finds itself.” With the manifestation of spaciousness and the knowledge of the center of one’s awareness, one has begun the realization of the Essential Identity, the central identity of the self-aware soul.

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