Confine yourself to presence!
— Marcus Aurelius
In the yearlong retreat, we’ve been looking at the underlying structure of the process of awakening as a series of encounters. Going through the encounter is the training to stay conscious and present no matter what we encounter. This is why many of our practice structures develop our capacity to engage in encounters. The attitude of mind of saying yes to the encounter or yes to Life was recently described by the Guide as “fearless presence.”
Saying yes to Life is really an acceptance of what is in my sphere of living. An invitation to a social evening, a bill that has to be paid, a timer calling me to the recorder, the loss of my beloved dog, my shattered tea cup... all are occasions to practice yes. We notice the ego resistance to attend to what is arising in the moment as the voice of procrastination, as the desire to over-ride an impulse to take care of something, as forgetting, or as ignoring the summons of an alarm meant to alert me to my responsibility. The process of “Not Now, Not This” may be dismissed as trivial by ego—Really, what’s the big deal if I don’t take out the garbage now? I’ll do it later!—but “Not Now, Not This” is the ultimate negation of Life itself because what else is Reality other than thisherenow?
The practice of “Living in Yes” is not pointing to saying yes to the content of life but saying yes to Life itself. Let’s say I’m invited to participate in a fundraiser. I may or may not say yes to the invitation, but as a practitioner of awareness I say yes to Life’s invitation to bring conscious awareness to what arises in response/reaction to the invitation. This is my opportunity to look at how I am with invitations, to explore what goes on for me around accepting them, to see through the conditioning that motivates me to say yes or no, and, most important, to drop the conversation that wants to noodle whether my response to the invitation is from Life or conditioned mind.
Built into the need to noodle the rightness of my choice (life or ego) is the ego fear of outcomes. Somehow the practice of calibrating to Life’s yes mutates into attempting to ensure that the result is what “I” want or what “I” can handle. I find myself wanting to say yes to Life not because saying yes is the practice. I want to say yes to Life because if I get that right, the outcome will not disturb ego or force me to confront an ego orientation. Often the “yes to Life” doesn’t produce the outcome I wants, but that might be precisely what needed to happen. The “unfavorable” outcome is what I get to say yes to now rather than accepting the ego conclusion that saying yes to life is a bad idea since it didn’t result in something “good.” Life, it seems, keeps giving us the opportunity to say yes to Life unconditionally.
Saying yes to Life is often referred to as intuition. Intuition is sometimes described as a way of “knowing” that arises from Life’s Intelligence. We learn to recognize and go with the “feeling of intuition.” However even “intuition” is not immune to an ego take-over. A groove that feels familiar and comfortable and therefore the “thing to do” is not the same as intuition. This is another reason we practice fearless presence. We’re never going to “know” before we act whether or not we’re following Life’s guidance; we also never “know” what will result from our actions. Nevertheless, we forge ahead trusting that since there are no mistakes what we need to learn will be revealed. With experience, we also learn that revelation never happens in a post mortem conversation about whether the direction taken was a Life choice or not!
Saying no may sometimes be saying yes to Life. In our previous example, I say yes to an invitation only to find out that it conflicts with a previous commitment. Now I have to say yes to seeing what arises for me around that apparent conflict. Since most of us are heavily conditioned not to rock the boat, not to be selfish, not to make someone feel bad, saying no can be downright uncomfortable. Ego would avoid that encounter at all costs. But when the still small voices urges a no, we want to pay attention, not to saying yes or no at the level of content, but saying yes to listening to the Intelligence That Animates All.
Over-riding the still small voice is a denial of the operating wisdom of the moment. It’s a denial of True Nature and its infinite Intelligence. The queasiness, the unease, the sense of something off is Life’s guidance, guidance to pause, to look, to acknowledge that perhaps something is being veiled by conditioning that we have not seen. More often than not, the still small voice becomes insistent and urgent precisely when our transformation is at stake. On those occasions, we go forth in the practice of fearless presence with the Mentor for support in being with the unfolding now.
Being present to Life as it is is equivalent to being present to me as I am. After all, if it were not for the illusion of a self that is separate from Life, wouldn’t I and Life be the same thing? The identification with that illusion of separation produces the egocentric orientation that life happens to “me.” As we practice “encounter and transcend,” we’re bringing conscious awareness to the places where that orientation of separation is being maintained. Through repeated encounters, the ego is dissolved along with the egocentric orientation! The result is a transformation of consciousness, which, like the Copernican revolution, reframes how we see ourselves and the world we inhabit and embody. The practice of fearless presence develops the awareness that ultimately what I am, or what is me, is the Intrinsic Purity that flourishes eternally, undiminished, unafraid, and untarnished.
“The labyrinth is thoroughly known ...we have only to follow the thread of the hero path.
And where we had thought to find an abomination we shall find a God.
And where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves.
Where we had thought to travel outwards, we shall come to the center of our own existence.
And where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.”
— Joseph Campbell
Confine yourself to presence!