As I’ve walked my spiritual path I’ve engaged in many practices, some more effective than others. I’ve found that the simplest techniques are usually the most effective because in my view the aim of the spiritual path is very simple and immediate. That aim is to realize our true nature, to return to wakefulness, to awaken from the dream of separate/dualistic life. On the path, we can get distracted by looking for the truth somewhere “out there” but I think the truth is right under our noses. Its right here, right now in this moment and it is life itself. It cannot really be spoken of but it can be lived. No special knowledge, talent or preparation is needed because it involves being what you already are at the deepest level. All that’s needed is to remember and to clear away anything that obscures what we truly are, that is, anything that distracts one from this moment. We just have to be interested in this process of awakening so that we are wiling to give it our full attention. The five steps I describe below are a tool I have used lately to help me return to my true nature when I forget.
Step 1 – Become Present
For me this is the core spiritual practice and it is analogous to living an awakened life. We cannot avoid pain or hold on to pleasure as each is but a transitory state, change is a universal law. Although as human beings we will experience pain and lose that which brings us pleasure, the suffering we most often experience along with it is optional. Suffering arises when we perceive reality through the thought forms of the mind and mistake those thought forms for reality. We create thoughts and weave them into stories about how things should be and when life doesn’t conform to these stories we suffer. The mind stories most of us create are usually centered either in the past or the future, both of which exist only as thoughts in our minds. We live in our memories of the past and feel guilt, regret, sadness and anger about how things may have unfolded. We live in our imagination of the future hoping for things to be better or fearing what might happen to us. We even begin to identify with our stories to the point where we fear letting them go because we can’t imagine life without them, they become familiar and there is a kind of comfort in the known. In all of this we miss the reality of the present moment.
Step 1 is letting go of the past and the future and entering the Now, which is all that really exists, it is stepping outside of time, the realm of suffering. Step 1 is bringing our attention from the mind and its stories to the body and the feeling sense and feeling our connection to what is happening right now right here. The Now is where life is and when we bring our attention fully to the Now something magical happens. We connect to the power of life and the “source” of our being. To make this connection with the moment however we must surrender and accept what is. If we don’t like what is happening we will resist the moment and imagine into the future for a time when we will like what’s happening more. This cuts us off from life and from our true power and causes us to again live in a mind created fantasy. If we look at the present moment as a reflection of the Divine then whatever is happening is an expression of it even if its painful or unpleasant. Surrendering to what is, is something that happens in the moment and does not mean we condone negative events or experiences and it does not mean we are passive about changing things but it does mean before we work for change we pause and surrender and accept what is so we can work for change with the power of life behind us.
Step 2 – Go Back to Step 1
Step 1 is the key and there can be a great deal of resistance at first to really entering the Now because it can involve feeling unpleasant emotions or confronting painful stories. When you are really present and aware in the Now you begin to see how you create your suffering with your mind. Many of us are not used to practicing “being” and the tendency can be to jump right into action without first grounding. However without our connection to the present we will get lost in the mind and our action will not have much power or meaning behind it because it doesn’t originate from a very deep level. This grounding connection to “source” is the key to an awakened life and the practice is to make our home in the Now.
Step 3 – Take Action from Presence
When we are ok with what is and grounded in the present we can take the most appropriate action for any given situation usually without needing to figure anything out. Our natural wisdom is available in the Now which is a level of consciousness where we can experience absolute clarity. The direction of our life as well as what we should do are already clear at this level, we need only be quiet enough to listen to this inner wisdom. The more experience we have “being” in a state of presence the easier it will be to “trust” the power of our true nature and begin to rely on it for our peace of mind, our guidance and our safety and security. If we can find these things within we will be less dependent on our outer world being a certain way. Ironically when we are already in touch with peace and joy within the outer world will more readily reflect them back because the outer is a reflection of the inner.
Step 4 – Receive
To live a life in the power of presence means to first ground in the moment and only then take action. Living in the moment requires us to live in a very open way because we cannot tap into abundance if we are closed to the limitless possibilities that the present moment offers. It involves embracing the unknown which is what many of us fear most because living in the unknown means living with limitless possibility. Trusting the unknown comes from seeing things clearly in the moment and flowing with life without resistance.
Step 5 – Go Back to Step 1
The point here is that there is a need to keep returning to presence over and over again. We recognize that we are lost in the mind either because we feel upset or we feel confused. In that moment of recognition a choice becomes possible and we can, with intention and gentleness, return to the present moment. Over time we live in presence more and more until there is no more suffering and imprisonment in the mind, we are free.