Reflections on Stillness to Empower Your Year

Hello – It has been so long since my last post!

While many articles on this site touch on health, longevity, performance and quality of life much of the content comes back to quality of consciousness and state of being. This requires meditative reflection and opening up to inspiration for the words to flow. However, the truth of the subject matter is not in the written words is where those words come from. My hope is they inspire being present in yourself. Time away from the words can also be important to keep some perspective.

To better establish living in multiple countries with a mobile income has been taking some focus from preparing books in progress and general writing. Now I’m back, may the writing here keep the channel of writing flowing and add some value to you – this one with a possible theme for the year.

Recognition of conscious presence is where I find personal empowerment and meaningful living arises, which includes communicating that aspect of living to others who resonate with the message and enjoy developing its potential in their own life. It is an aspect that raises us beyond the purely sensory and material world and life to address the most profound aspect of who we are.

Being consciously in the moment when still or in action empowers our doing in whatever activity is going on, making it meaningful and unavoidably an expression of our values. Complete absorption in doing and thinking requires a balance of conscious being, otherwise it becomes too easy to get drawn into identification and lost in that thinking and doing.

When we are completely surrendered, still and silent – mind and body – there is more space in our personal experience to open up to and notice the subtle essence of living reality or existence. The formless consciousness that is experiencing this moment discloses nothing beyond thoughts, feelings and sensory content that we can put our finger on, yet we can feel a shift when experiencing these things as a living consciousness that transcends them.

Spacious presence here and now is where we can feel closest to a sense of absoluteness and oneness of being. Through co-operative receptivity and conscious stillness the essence of who we are finds clarity in our awareness and expression of it. At the same time we can allow a deepening experience of who we are at any time and place by our choice to be fully present. From depth of presence we can open up with intent to the formless essence of living reality in and around us.

There is an accessible and tangible essence of living consciousness to be personally known and expressed through us. It is an evolving manifestation in all others and all things. Thus we can not only feel more connected within ourselves, but also to life around us, by consciously engaging in it. With practice, we can more consistently and deeply sensitive to feeling aligned with the creative and living essence of life.

Expansive and profound consciousness is subtle yet simple and accessible. It can draw us beyond the little self which is limited to sensory pre-occupations and worldly concerns.

Reaching beyond form and opening up to a greater subtle reality is the essence of any spiritual path. Applying oneself through a feeling of authentic attunement is primary to forming concepts or beliefs that can only be useful in partial and limited ways. Applying authentic attunement to meaningful values like our own sense of love and trust, goodwill and other qualities that invoke a sense of higher purpose in all we do, are examples of this kind of conviction.

Personal experience and application of such values is beyond our sensory and thinking minds, yet can be consciously cultivated and developed. We can find inspiration in our own stillness and spacious receptivity to a personal sense of our life and consciousness, because conscious volition is inherent in our living essence. So are the values that help us feel the richness and beauty of life. This is something we all share, albeit described differently.

Through success and disappointment, joy or sense of loss, our indestructible base can be gained from faith and alignment to what is there when all of the mind, body and heart are surrendered in wakeful, knowing love and trust. This space is unaffected by the content – what is going on around us and in our minds – it is deeper than where we are affected by such things, even things that matter a lot in our life. The power of love is in love itself. The power of consciousness is in consciousness itself.

Our need to being truly fulfilled, is a need beyond the animalistic need for food, shelter, company and security. It is the natural need to resolve the tension created by consciousness itself irrepressibly expressing itself more and more fully through us as our true nature, and our own conditioned developing sense of self based on separating and defining itself to survive or thrive. Progressively resolving this tension through surrender and conscious presence can be our path to be less limited and self defined, while consciously experiencing something greater living in and through us in whatever we do and wherever we are. The are no ordinary moments and countless opportunities for spontaneity and creativity within.

Suffering and feeling limited is a calling to break beyond our own attachments and aversions, mentally and emotionally. But what do we connect with as a means of letting go from within? Faith and trust in the essence of love, compassion and connective-ness, as we can most deeply feel it, is where the answer lies. It is given many names, yet beneath the responsibilities and needs of our human life is the hidden agenda that our true essence be embodied and expressed. When this is recognised, the form it takes or doesn’t take is less important. However partially we may feel and embody this essence in our daily life provides the assuredness of progression towards meaning and purpose, versus conditioned and unconscious grasping for things or others to help us feel fulfilled.

Meditative mindfulness in simple moments in stillness or conscious actions helps develop applying these ideals during life’s ups and downs. We can enjoy ourselves, life activities and others more fully when we bring in generous openness, a transcendent wholeness to them all in shared reciprocity as unique reflections of the same living essence in oneness. This is living in and from love.

May this year unfold to be one of dissolving obstacles and barriers to abundance and peace through living and holding the space of conscious presence.

Photo on VisualHunt.com (modified with quote)

How to Deal with Obstacles to Loving Awareness and Presence

In addition to comments like “I can’t meditate, my mind is too active”, I also get many questions about how to deal with mental and lifestyle obstacles to practicing presence or mindfulness during daily life, as well as during meditation sessions. What I offer here is a very simple approach that I believe is the basis of good advice on mindful presence and meditation from many practitioners and teachers that I also apply on an ongoing basis.

The short and simple answer may sound basic but there a lifetime of refinement involved and once you practice this approach for a relatively short but consistent time, it takes out the frustration factor many experience in trying to force or use their will in controlling the mind. Frustration only compounds the mental obstacles to being present and enjoying relaxed deep meditation.

The key is to make any distraction or disturbance, thought pattern or other obstructions, your focus of observation rather than fight it or let it drive you. This is best done in combination with relaxed conscious breathing and inner body awareness to help centre and anchor you. In other words, include mental chatter or outside disturbances in your conscious field of observing with loving or non-judgemental awareness.

Especially in the initial seconds or minutes of resetting yourself, combining conscious breathing and fullness of inner body awareness not only helps relax mind and body but also provides an anchor for you be still and present (the eye of the storm) amidst mind activity, stressors and pressures of the moment or environmental disturbances. A dissociation then occurs between you as the observer and these active elements which helps train the mind in maintaining undisturbed presence while being amongst the continual flow and changes of form and activity of life in general.

A disturbance may be noise or activity around you, inner turbulence or mental activity, an emotional upset or a mounting feeling of pressure that there is too much going on at the time to pause and really be present while you deal with it. It can be a countless array of things that the mind hooks on to in its habitual mode of activity and having to have an ongoing narrative when your focus is away from the true essence of consciousness.

Once you have taken enough breathes combined with inner body awareness to begin to settle (even if you only have minutes for the exercise) you can then give yourself permission to observe your mind activity in a detached non-judgemental way as you continue. This helps the mind to settle further and can be done eyes open or closed.

Even if it mind activity remains agitated for a time, affirm you are not your thoughts and that this is only the activity of mind which will pass. When you continue to observe mind activity while present with breath and inner body awareness, a subtle shift of identity occurs. Consciousness of being as the thinker of thoughts becomes more primary to the unconscious identification with the effects of thoughts and feelings that are our inner reaction to a situation. Low energy levels and mood of the day can also require us to be more consciously present than usual in order to experience mindful presence, feel ourselves and be on top of things.

Whatever it is, the fact something is challenging you to feel stillness, calmness and be fully present in the moment means that ‘something’ is the training you have been gifted in that moment to go deeper and become more adept at mastering your psychology, awareness, effectiveness and wellbeing.

A semi-conscious allowance to be pre-occupied, distracted with inner tension, or waiting for something to pass before you take a breath and relax mind and heart into a conscious state of being, is a symptom of identification with, and being sucked into, the narratives, conditioned perceptions and mindset of the conditioned mind. It can also come from investment in an outcome so that we loose ourselves for a time in some mundane pursuit that seems vitally important in that moment.

The conditioned mind is based on past programming and future concerns. Our true consciousness or state of being is always fully present in the here and now. Being disconnected to that full presence is a sign of reactivity, avoidance or attachment to some aspect of what’s going on in relation to past experience and future concerns. The only true remedy is to let go of concerns and break the loop by practicing some mindful presence for a time. Then when you go back to dealing with whatever is going on you can feel more present, aware and bring that sense into your actions and way of dealing with things. Often, perspective and perception shift and we can then deal with things better, less reactively and with more awareness.

Another prompt to take a moment to practice conscious presence is when you find yourself taking a conflictive position on some matter, opinion or stance. This can take us out of presence and into our mental projections of beliefs, opinions and reactions. Whether these are right or wrong, good or bad, we are more empowered, clear and on track if our identification is not centred on an opinion or resistance to external matters and instead rests in timeless and non-judgemental consciousness while we deal with the relativities of life.

Internalising a sense of conflict and non-acceptance with something, even if it is not involving you, get’s in the way of feeling whole, balanced and open in the present moment.

Even at this moment take some deep breathes, being present and aware of your entire body from within. In the precise moment affirm all is as it is including yourself and you can be fully present in heart and mind. Does this simple intent and action help you feel more present and aware of yourself and your surroundings?

Consider the last time you got caught up in a situation or train of thought (it can be positive or negative). Continuing a few conscious breaths of body awareness here and now, imagine being more fully present with an open heart at that time you are recalling, so you can experience and respond to it with more of your deeper consciousness. It may mean enjoying a good moment more or dealing with a difficult moment better, feeling the empowerment of not losing yourself in it and applying yourself consciously.

Come back to any distractions or stressors that may be current in your day or evening and be present with it fully – observing with a relaxed, open heart and mind. Affirm that “It is what it is”. Simply by more fully illuminating our experience in any moment with a full and present consciousness not identified with it, choice and transformation become more possible within and through you. This is subtle yet becomes more and more empowering and awakening with practice.

Photo on Visual hunt

Embracing the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

It goes without saying that most religious and spiritual practices and systems have their pearls of wisdom and approaches to gaining spiritual experience and realisation. Foundational pillars for building a spiritual life, aligning our lives and actions with divine truth and presence, are initially morals and ethics. It is the positive inner response to morals and ethics as children that first initiates our spiritual journey. Later we begin to feel our personal convictions around them and let them shape and define our decisions and actions. Ethics and morals can be conditioned by beliefs and culture or they can be more universal.

Attitudes and convictions around human rights are an example of what is ethical or moral in one culture can be seen by another culture as immoral or unethical. Religion and culture, history, and how harsh or conducive life conditions are, have an effect on the mores evolved in a civilisation. Thus, we see in some cultures, a disparity between how they treat their ‘own’ compared to outsiders. This is particularly strong in those cultures and religious sects that still retain their links to a long history of tribal life and warfare, or having to have strict codes of conduct to survive harsh conditions. Similarly, attitudes of rights even within a sect, tribe or community can be in conflict with ethics and morals of outsiders when it comes to things like treatment of women, children, the old and sick, the influence of security and ware fare as well as trade.

As our personal spiritual characteristics mature, ethics and morals become part of a more integrated and universal set of convictions which is what I refer to as values. No matter what the conflicting ethics and morals between different cultures and people, there are common values of love and support within the family, codes of courage and honour, ideals of love, compassion, beauty and the sense of truth, as well as values around codes of conduct to do with honesty, goodness, and considerations of the sovereignty of the individual inclusive of consideration of the wellbeing of the group.

I am of the view that personal spiritual maturity raises an individual’s values above the conditioned mores of his or her own culture to more universal values that are the shared ideals of most major religions and globally influenced modern philosophies. The more values can be applied universally to all peoples at all times, be applied equally to all so that unity (not uniformity), wellbeing, prosperity and sustainability are promoted equally to all as well as to the resources required for the future, the more those values resonate with the true nature of life and living consciousness itself. The individual and the group must be sustained and given the opportunity to thrive on the basis of mutual co-operation, love and liberty. Obviously, if society and each of us individually compromise our codes of conduct, morality and values in order to manage the lowest denominators of human nature and conduct, then our systems and approaches to life are more limited in scope. A remedy is to uphold ideals truly set on universal values that apply in a fully harmonious and friendly universe.

Maintaining high ideals is the only way to gain insight into how they operate and apply in an evolving world. We can then better adopt insight in applying universal values to everyone at all times in our life. In this world of contrasts, where ignorance often still prevails, how do we apply our ideals and values to perceived evil in the world or as it arises even subtly within ourselves? How do we apply these values while in inner conflict or conflict with another, such as when we feel threatened? How do we apply these values when we feel common human emotions like anger, hurt, or sadness? What about other emotive states like self-absorbed pride, self-loathing, jealousy or guilt?

Love of God and all beings as brothers and sisters is the Christian golden rule as does seeking first the ‘kingdom of heaven’. Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita also teaches that oneness with the divine comes first, before the cares of the world. This is because, when we are in a state of pure presence in the moment, where our sense of being and existence transcends thoughts, feelings and actions, we are immersed in the living essence of life and consciousness itself. It is not a mindless, void that eliminates any sense of divinity, humanity, purpose or meaning. Connecting to the living essence of what we are is a connection to something profound rather than just a disconnection from the material world or from our projections of self. Being in the world but not of the world is obviously not identifying with an empty and lifeless void that leaves us robotic or zombie-like.

True awakening into the living light of our own life essence and pure consciousness does equate to connecting to spirit. When we can be immersed deeply in that place then all our feelings, thoughts and actions are external to the consciousness that is our true essence. Feelings and thoughts are inner projections, while the perceptions of the physical senses and the external world they perceive are also experienced as objective occurrences in the medium of our boundary-less consciousness.

Thus, part of spiritual practice is learning to accept all positive and negative thoughts and feelings in ourselves and perceived around us equally. Personal attachments and aversions are all by nature perceived through the conditioned mind. Spiritual identification comes with identification with the substance of who or what we are and not with the projections of self, whether they be good or bad, positive or negative. Being in true presence creates the space for abiding compassion, goodness and growing receptive understanding that is more capable of universal love and discriminating life situations by how they resonate with divine presence rather than how well our reality is conforming to conditioned ideas of good or bad or how they serve our preconceived self-biased agenda’s.

All arising feelings and thoughts can be equally witnessed in the light of clear and true consciousness with presence. A loved one, a stranger or someone causing conflict around us or within ourselves can also be experienced in undisturbed equanimity depending on the power and depth of ones own state of presence This offers greater proactive choices of response, that is not reactive or based on fear or threat.

Being able to sit with positive highs and uncomfortable or painful lows of thoughts and feelings equally is part of renunciation. Handling life in the moment this way, from the inclusive love we find in deep ‘being-ness’ itself, happens when conscious presence of being becomes an end in itself. When it becomes the core of our existence and identity it allows us to do what is termed as loving God and others universally. Progressively doing it within ourselves without being selective enables us to apply spiritual presence to the good, the bad and the ugly within and in the world. Even more, it gives us the insight that the relativity of positives and negatives is a less enduring reality than the true essence of life and consciousness in which it occurs.

In this way, as anger or grief, excitement and happiness, melancholy or disengagement occur, we can open up to these experiences honestly and consciously without identifying with them. Allowing ourselves to experience the full spectrum openly requires having a solid centre that does is inclusive, not prone to attachment or aversion, yet unaffected by the partiality perceived in the moment. That place is the pure essence of our life and consciousness in the here and now. It can be termed at some point of realisation as spirit-consciousness.

I remember once, after spending time with some remarkable yogi’s, gaining the insight that even the masters feel the full spectrum of human emotion in an exquisite way where any level of pain can be contained in an even greater bliss. It is not what we think and feel that defines us, but what we do with it reflects the level of our spiritual identification at the time.

Identifying with the living consciousness from which all emerges is the high path to gaining spaciousness of consciousness. This awareness provides more choice, greater wisdom and perspective on the nature of our human thought and feeling projections. All becomes meaningful when we deal with it in the resonance of consciousness of consciousness. Negatives and disturbances dissolve faster based on the ability to be present with them consciously. The transformation that occurs is an increasing quality and frequency of thoughts and feelings that resonate with the transcendent inner sanctum that is available to us. Conscious processing becomes less necessary.

Rather than rejecting uncomfortable thoughts and feelings, people and situations, we can embrace them as a practice rather than fighting them, or trying to find an answer or fix for them to go away. Gradually, a transformation and shift will occur where full presence is less shaken and we can respond to positive and negative elements in equanimity with the full spectrum of who we are intact , more alive and conscious.

Practicing letting go within ourselves to be present and consciously embrace all aspects of ourselves and life, builds trust in what we are without our own separate manufacture. With that progressive knowing and trust, through practice and attention, our thoughts, feelings, perceptions and actions can be offerings in this presence. As it becomes greater than our own sense of a separate self , divine providence will help us to continue and lend us strength even when we are amidst a major challenge or “the valley of death”. A deepening and expanding sense of calm alertness, an open mind, body and heart and a unified sense of connectedness are the guide posts for our progress. The thoughts, feelings, perceptions and actions that arise and harmonise with this bring abundance and happiness. Learning to conquer our own demons by practicing this in the face of our negatives and pains will bring unimaginable rewards and a sense of personal freedom.

Photo credit:jin.thai on VisualHunt.com/CC BY (modified w quote)

Being in Love and the Love in Being

As the famous line goes “the greatest thing you’ll ever learn is to love and be loved in return”. Love, the essential food for the soul, is felt and expressed in countless ways. While intensity of mutually intimate affection and companionship are sought after, the high’s pass and change. Self-validation and inner-identification must come from within ourselves, with shared love and friendship an expansion of inner beauty.

Contemporary culture puts much emphasis on sexual or romantic fulfilment when it comes to relationships. Nonetheless, life is full of an authentic diversity of relationships that touch us all. As we mature, long-term relationships take on complexity charged with the investment placed in each others lives. Challenges successfully traversed and trust built over the course of time contribute to depth and growth of love more than the less frequent magic highs.

So what is the key to keeping love alive, happy and fulfilling in relationships? We have to dig a little into the mud to find the seeds and roots of the beautiful lotus flower above. Likewise a bit of digging within ourselves is needed to find what really drives and fulfils us in relationships.

Two certainties are that we cannot determine someone else’s personal experience of reality or of a relationship, and we can only take responsibility for our own personal experience. Being fully responsible for ourselves is a key element of personal sovereignty, personal freedom from dependencies and knowing ourselves. It is part of the equation that brings needed space into ourselves and intimate relationships to maintain the spark.

We are always challenged with facing a mirror when it comes to engagement with other human minds and ego’s. The relationships we cultivate and how we deal with them say much about ourselves. There is only one effective way to cut through the complexities, and to engage with a loved one or anyone else in a way that consistently feels like you are on track, no matter what goes down. The key is learning to practice ‘presence’ within oneself and with others through the ‘Art of Being’ and the ‘Art of Listening’. Both arts are closely connected and both start within ourselves.

Drama and issues arise from conditioned programming of the mind rather than who we really are soul to soul. When identity is locked into our stream of thinking with its well entrenched opinions and personal stories, it becomes very hard to tell the difference between present awareness and perception conditioned from the past.

Our mind is a beautiful servant but a disastrous master, as many increasing modern issues of mental health, suicide, divorce and so forth indicate. Dominance and identification with mind is reinforced by our pre-occupation with thoughts, worries, concerns, and desires which are all to do with past or future. It is impossible to be and come from authentic love when we are barely in the present moment, with past pain and decisions infiltrating the present along with underlying hopes and expectations of the future. Are you consciously present and reading here and now or partially on to the next thing?

We can process specific things in therapy, but the way to break egocentric habits at the root is to be fully present in the timeless now with an awareness not dominated by thought or semi-conscious labels used to define everything. From the still and alert space between thought, we can observe thought and feeling as they arise, without being drawn in. The light of fully present consciousness, deep in us all, dissolves reactions and ‘reactions to reactions’ , like sunlight dispersing clouds of mind-forms obscuring ‘what is’. With practice we can observe our mental and emotional bodies without them defining and driving us. Conscious spaciousness can be found amidst the stream of experiences and challenges.

Mind and body are beautiful tools for self expression when we stay in the drivers seat. Ceaseless mundane and habitual thoughts and feelings become creative expressions amidst peace and stillness of mind.

Defining and interpreting things is of course necessary – writing this article for example and any purposeful mental effort. Like words themselves, mind can only point to or objectify what truly is. Once you are locked into justifying, defining and proving reality via the conceptual mind, it becomes your sense of self. Fearfulness then arises around letting go of the conceptual mind that defines you – thoughts of self, the world, likes and dislikes, what’s important and what’s not. Trouble stilling the mind is often fear of releasing this mental grip, like having to consciously release a fist you did not know was clenched. The release is as beautiful as an unfolding flower, for the stillness of being it reveals.

While it is good to stand by noble values, identifying with opinions, thoughts or feelings, can trigger conflict. Identification can lead to consciously or unconsciously manipulating or demanding validation from someone else for our mental/emotional stances, as if survival of a relationship or imagined serious outcome is at stake. While positive passion and conviction show character, this type of attachment and mental positioning is not very conscious.

The true “I” within is untouched by suffering, division and concepts. True self is not made happy or unhappy by someone else. Deep down we are indestructible and absolute, without need of “I am this” or “I am that”, we are complete as “I AM”. Past and future lose their grip when real fulfilment occurs here and now, where true self resides in the gift and outpouring of life and being.

Eckhart Tolle says that harmony is present in relationships to the degree that there is inner space in the relationship. He suggests full presence, without any agenda, be practiced with brief encounters we have with ‘strangers’ such as the ‘invisible’ shop or bank clerk, fellow shopping isle customer, or parking attendant. Tolle observes how brief seconds of presence during these connections accumulate in life to bring much richness that many of us miss out on. Being present in such encounters prepares us to bring presence to more intense and challenging engagements with loved ones we have history with.

Responding out of the stillness of mind and heart, with inner body awareness, is a gifts all involved. Holding no opinionated position while true to presence can diminish mental positioning in others without diminishing who they are. This impact of presence arises from the ability to be the space and witness of whatever is happening within ourselves as well as around us. It is not easy, and the mind can be clever by making this an ‘enlightened’ ‘superior’ mental position so it loses authenticity. This is where depth of practice in dealing with our own ego comes in.

Real life can pass by while we spend much time and energy in our role paying, navigating mental positions, fears and power games. Lao Tzu says “Do not seek the truth, only cease cherishing your opinions”. When we learn not to react to our own pain and not take stances, we can do the same listening to and beyond other peoples pain and mental positions to their true essence.

From the depth and space of absolute consciousness, relativity becomes a loving journey of adaptation, flowing the absolute presence of being into every moment and experience. Separated from the absolute, relativity sooner or later becomes suffering.

We can have sacred love and relationships with each other when we live, express and share essence of being. Relative details and content are impermanent vehicles for mastering diversity in unity, unity in diversity – they don’t define us. Loving spacious awareness is a basis for sacred love and relationships where shared living presence lies within and in our midst.

Try this!

5 Day Fast of Identification with Thought and Feelings:

  1. Daily affirm “I am not my thoughts, I am not my feelings, I am not my body and I am not my actions”. Write this out and display it where you can see it, remember and affirm it day and evening.
  2. Note your level of mental activity through the day and emotional up, downs or neutrality. It can be interesting noting this in a journal for the five-days.
  3. Take 5 minutes four times a day – morning, lunch time, arriving home end of day, before bed – for this 2 part exercise:
    • Observing: to simply sit or stand alert but relaxed – observe what you physically see, hear and feel and what you mentally see, hear and feel within as objects in the space of consciousness. All experience is occurring in the mind – no real inner or outer.
    • Grounding Your Sense of Being: include complete inner body awareness to your observing. Check in with different body parts – your feet, abdomen, spine, hands, jaw, arms, legs, heart, etc., little quick scans of non-judgemental attention only, to maintain grounding of being while you observe everything going on. If anywhere feels tight or contracted instead of relaxed and expanded, physically tighten and breath into that spot for 3 seconds then release it and breath into it again before going back to whole inner body awareness and relaxed conscious breathing.
  1. Through the five days, also practice the affirmation, the observing and grounding while doing simple things and being with people at times when you can create the space for it.

I would love to hear any feedback from anyone who does this 5-Day Fast!

Photo on VisualHunt (modified & quote added)

Five Revealing Steps to Empower Life and Love

The pivotal power we have to individually shape our life and sense of self is our mind. On the one hand, we create and define ourselves, our perceptions and our experience of life with our thoughts, beliefs and ongoing focus. What are you tuning into on a daily basis and how much content in your mind is there by conscious choice? On another level, we can open ourselves to the question of whose mind it really is – who is the thinker of conditioned and creative thoughts and maker of choices? What is it that you connect with in your heart, mind and guts and say “this is me”?

Since our thoughts and feelings are projections of consciousness, then the key to self awareness lies in our ability to identify not with the content of our minds, our appearance or performance, but with the consciousness from which they arise. When we explore this experientially as many meditators, sages and teachers before us, we go through a number of layers of observation and insight before we get to a place of being where we truly feel we are absorbed in the being-ness or substance of what and who we are.

I propose here five stages and have put in bold the practical focus to use as an exercise for each stage. As a practical exercise, it is best to only go as far as the stage you can rest in the experience of, for a prolonged period of 5 minutes or more or even indefinitely. That can take any length of time and sessions to achieve, depending on the individual, the willingness and openness, the regularity of practice, but progress does and will come. Progress through these states then becomes a natural process of observation. Gradually you will notice aspects of a further stage has been occurring with practice of sitting in silence and presence. No particular sitting position is required except that a comfortable and upright position is best for non-disturbance and alertness.

We are attuning to living consciousness that is already there, so many people can be experiencing insight and realisation of elements of all five stages while still wrestling with stage 1 or 2. However, being able to consciously reside primarily at each stage progressively reflects a fairly natural progression and integration of what some call presence, being in the ‘now’, or even aligning and uniting with spirit. There are many sophisticated and more complex systems of meditation and spiritual awakening in traditional paths throughout the world, some of which I have practiced. The stages below are a simplified set of steps to help guide conscious awareness and experience in what is otherwise a very simple but not necessarily easy practice. They do not replace the many benefits of a good teacher, a simple, virtuous and generous life while putting one’s deepest values into daily practice for conscious awakening.

We all need encouragement, guidance and inspiration and this can be from reading, video’s, sessions with teachers or other practitioners, what we focus on, the people and environment of our daily lives. Since a state of presence gives us an ability to rise above causes of suffering and reach new levels of wellbeing, it could be said to be the inner goal of all life enhancing pursuits.

Read the following slowly and feel each point as you go before practicing.

The Five Stages

1. Sensory Perception

Firstly, we must take a moment to relax the body, be aware of a few deep breathes coming in and out, and observe our experience of being here. The first stage is characterised by being present with our sense perceptions and the world around us. Our five senses are taking in data all the time whether our attention is on it or not. Go through each sense during the course of a few breathes – observing what is being seen, heard, felt, smelt, and even tasted while in a relaxed observing state develops sense acuity and alertness. Often a sense of goodness and appreciation can arise as the mind quietens with pure non-judging observation. At this stage of observing the sense-perceptions, our awareness and identification goes deeper and the mind begins to relax and notices more in the immediate present moment.

2. Mental and Emotional Thoughts and Feelings

At the second state, as the mind quietens down, in the space of our being and amidst sense perceptions, observe thoughts or half thoughts, feelings or hints of feelings as they come and go. Being present with the stream of thoughts and feelings that normally takes us with them, by observing them as they arise then letting them go, leads to a more spacious and quieter state of mind and alert presence. Therefore, in this second stage we get glimpses of the still and vast spaciousness of consciousness beyond the thoughts, feelings and perceptions and notice with fresh experience and insight that we are not our thoughts and feelings. They are contents of our consciousness as much as any other perception.

Eckhart Tolle in his talks distinguishes the contents of our consciousness as occurring in linear time (of past, present and future) which he terms the horizontal dimension. Going deeper experientially into consciousness here and now can be termed the vertical dimension.

3. Inner-body Awareness

In the third state where mind activity is settling, we start to become aware of a silence and living stillness within and around us, the feeling of ‘inner body awareness’ becomes the base or grounding of our sense of being. Proprioception is the sensing of the relative position of one’s own body parts without vision (also sensing the strength of effort being employed in any movement). The qualitative aspects of total body awareness as a unified energy field and alive presence can be heightened at this stage. Inner-body awareness with a relaxed mind and heart grounds the subjective sense of presence more deeply in the present moment. The horizontal dimension of linear time dissolves into a spacious eternal nowness where the ‘now’ is a more prominent reality, in the absence of mental activities and projections of memory or an imagined future moment.

Thus, the third state commences a more prominent sense of the vertical dimension. Taiji and xigong or yoga can train the mind in accessing these states more easily and more deeply. Other examples are heightened lucidity while deeply relaxed, or the psychological ‘zone’ in sports or dance. Simple exercises like dynamic relaxation can help here as well if you have trouble settling in this stage. Sense of time fades away as consciousness enters the fourth state.

4. Embracing the Self in Pure Consciousness and State of Presence

In the depths of this conscious state, inner body awareness becomes borderless while the mind and heart remain settled. Open spacious awareness is not a void, for there is a fullness of experience of presence and aliveness. Localised consciousness of self as a mind contained in a body dissolves into a sense of non-local consciousness where so-called ‘external’ or ‘outside’ phenomena (including thoughts or feelings of others, sounds and movement) are experienced as happening within a non-local or borderless field of consciousness. Sense of self can be displaced with this non-localised field of heightened and broad reaching awareness.

These are only words for something that is experienced in a state without words or concept. However, to give it more sense, consider the previous stages of sensory perceptions and observation of thoughts and feelings. Whether perception is of reality ‘outside’ the body or from ‘inside’ the body, it is all being processed in the brain and occurring in the mind so we are in fact experiencing everything as it is occurring in our consciousness. Without consciousness, none of it exists.

In spontaneous moments of this state, the world can seem to go into slow motion while sensory perception is unusually vivid and broad. It can be associated with unusual sensory acuity. I’ve read many accounts by sports people or others in a crisis moment describe similar states to those accessed in meditation and spontaneously.

A spontaneous shift into this state occurred when I was attacked by a group of drunken guys while walking from a concert with a friend many years ago. I had an experience of perceiving things in a 360 degree view where even small details at a distance were picked up while more immediate actions required at the time occurred effortlessly and automatically in slow motion. I blocked every kick and punch coming at me with calmness and minimal attention on them, while taking in a slo-mo panorama of everything going on all around me. It was a liberating experience without a sense of aggression, fear or reaction in myself.

This 4th stage is selfless alignment to the field of consciousness in which all experience of phenomena occurs. Thoughts are unnecessary at such times where no immediate analysis or intellectual effort is required. The moment is simply happening as we observe stillness or action occurring in it. This has been described as ‘consciousness of consciousness’ or the ‘light of presence’ and is not an intellectual process, yet is alert and aware. Heart and mind are open and clear. As one resides in this stage longer and deeper, it is accompanied with a great sense of bliss, goodness, beauty, fullness and oneness and other qualities like love which in the end are only words without the fullness and profoundness of the experience itself.

5. Embracing the World in Pure Consciousness and State of Presence

State 5 is embracing all living things and phenomena in conscious presence. Maintaining identification with the consciousness in which all reality is occurring, rather than your own mental activity and body, develops a more tangible and subjective experience of the nature of life, consciousness and energy in all things and unified connectedness. The space of presence found in stage 4 becomes inclusive and unified without being drawn into separateness by noises and motion, objects and things, without mental judgement and interpretation of events and others, or distracted by mental narrative about ones perceptions. Consciousness of consciousness cannot occur with such mental states, perceptions and activity.

It is a different modus operandi. One can function and respond with a heightened sense of freedom from an invested self. While discernment, alignment with values and standards remain intact, they are more based on resonance with the experience of consciousness than on conditioned beliefs and self-interest. Living in this state in daily life, after regular practice in a quiet place, requires a creative and spontaneous, selfless and affirming sense of harmonising with the space of consciousness in which all is happening. Sharing this state with others provides experience and insight into the source and possibilities of harmony in diversity, co-ordination or synchronisation in life.

There is so much further to be explored in the spectrum of consciousness, but the above steps are what I’ve found to be the barest foundation of most spiritual or conscious awakening practices.

Living Continuously in Pure Consciousness and State of Presence

Being able to hold the space of Stage 4 or 5 continuously in daily living is a noble aim and can lead to sublime realisation. Being a loving and aware person, then expanding the consciousness of that into a deep and continuous state of presence allows the light of awareness to infiltrate the subtlest areas of disturbance within oneself in the face of life challenges. It is consciously developing soul from both vertical and horizontal dimensions. It is transformational to all. I acknowledge all saints, masters and great teachers who truly embody conscious living as living ideals to deepen our own exploration and modern lives.

A Simple & Powerful Way of Enhancing Mindful Living

What are we always doing naturally that is immediately and continually available as a focal point of grounding and expansion of consciousness, providing the link between form and formlessness, doing and being, physical life and beyond death? …… it is our breath.

Conscious breathing is the vehicle for various therapies, relaxation techniques, basic and advanced meditations which are about shifting the mind to a higher awareness and spiritual awakening. Conscious breathing is also key part of the benefits and authentic practice of yogic techniques, xigong and taiji which are about unifying awareness of body, mind and spirit beyond the separate ego-self.

Breathing is something that happens by itself, so it can be witnessed like consciousness, so in meditation it is not something you do but witness with awareness. This is perfect for putting the receptive mind in an open, present and alert state.

These techniques involve directing the breath in ways that engage inner alertness, a relaxed yet focused mind synchronising breath, movement and attention producing a sense of mind, body and spirit alignment and wellbeing. In qigong and taiji for example we can practice performing actions that are practical while maintaining a mindful presence of body-consciousness and the environment around us. In other words, they can enhance the effects of conscious breathing in stilling the activity of the mind while maintaining wakeful alertness of mindful body movement that is synchronised with the breath. This type of mindful practice trains and teaches us how to apply this same balance of doing and non-doing with a spacious awareness while dealing with daily tasks, observing our thoughts and feelings as they arise and thus help develop identification with consciousness instead of the content of consciousness. We can learn to utilise breath and mindfulness to maintain a sense of balance, a sense of stability and focus while being present with real arising thoughts and feeling responses to situations without getting taking away by them.

With this awareness we can become more empowered to deal with stress and emotional reactions, habitual negative or non-productive thinking, behavioural habits and compulsions, by being able to experience them without them becoming our whole sense of self in the moment. Without processing them, just by embracing them deeply with the light of consciousness and presence, keeping our energy moving with conscious breathing, these same thoughts and feelings can transform from habitual and predictable reactions to new and creative ground.

The space between our thoughts and feelings is what reveals the consciousness that is projecting them. Maintaining a state of presence and awareness of this background of consciousness gives us a greater ability to respond and experience all aspects of ourselves and our life with equanimity and perspective. The breath can be used as an intermediary focus between the content of mind and the consciousness from which it arises. Learning to engage with more quality and frequency of consciousness of consciousness can then become the grounding point for spiritual awakening and experience.

Mindful awareness enables us to experience spaciousness of mind and heart where thoughts, feelings and situations come and go in a medium of consistent stability and relaxed openness. Conscious breathing gives us an immediate tool that helps ground our present moment awareness within and without in a balanced way. At the same time boundaries can dissolve so we feel unified with reality in and around us. Good practice of Qigoing and taiji or yoga combines relaxed body movement or postures with conscious breathing to further ground this mindful awareness into our inner experience of the physical body and the circulation of breath and subtle energies to create a more tangible subjective experience associated with this state of being.

However, you don’t have to practice these disciplines for years or become an expert to start getting great benefits. Taking brief times to be still and breath even a dozen times at the start and end of the day, while mindfully breathing 2-3 times during daily activities can provide progressive benefits with a little persistence. This involves being aware of the body form head to toe, and being fully present during each second of inhale and exhale, noticing any natural holds or pauses, areas of relaxation and tension in breath and body. Just taking brief times to do this, observe and be aware with a relaxed mind as it happens will bring its own results.

Many of us have characteristic breath patterns which reflect how we deal with stress as does the stress patterns evident in our posture and body tissue tension and sensitivity. Noticing pauses or momentary holds in the breath along with the quality of inhale and exhale will gradually open the breath naturally to a more rhythmical and deep cycle and calm the mind to wakeful alertness. Conscious breathing, sustained or regularly practiced as a momentary technique will naturally still the mind and energise the body promoting alert mindful awareness. These two conditions, a calm still mind and relaxed alertness or focus, are preparation for realisation of the nature of consciousness and therefore spiritual awareness.

The experience of inner body awareness using postures and controlled movement synchronised with breathing helps to ground us from ‘spacing out’ in such states, ensure we are practicing a balanced alertness of non-thinking consciousness. In this consciousness, awareness of breath, inner body experience and surroundings can then be all observed in equanimity. When the observer or the consciousness of the experience embraces the experience unconditionally in the moment, it is not defined or contained by it.

One of the first techniques of basic yogic breath is a three phase breath expanding the abdomen, then the chest or thoracic region, followed by the top of the chest or clavicular area with the inhale, noticing any pause before allowing each region in the same order to relax with the exhale. Try practicing this in your conscious breathing.

With practice as you feel more fully present in yourself after some conscious breathing you can also invite joy, love or peace fully into mind and body. These, along with illumination, compassion, goodness and beauty are natural qualities that can be tapped into in such calm, open and unified states. How simple and valuable then, can the breath be, in taking charge of developing more deep and authentic personal experience of these often sought after states.

Making a daily practice of conscious breathing enables us to employ such practice effectively before, during or after times we feel imbalanced, forgetful or reactive. in order to regain a centred and deep sense of being that was always there and never truly lost. Just notice what happens, not only to yourself but often to those around you, when you break a pattern of stress or reaction that would otherwise have run its course. Notice the change and then stay with the breath rather than creating a commentary of the gained insight and shift, thereby remaining present in your ongoing ‘nowness’.

When you are in mindful stillness, you are tapped into who you are as the source of thought and experience and not defined by them. Thus your awareness resonates more closely with the authentic self untainted by any one mood or situational context, closer to the formless and eternal self which can also be termed spirit.

May you continue in serene and energised conscious breathing.

Photo on Visualhunt with quote added

Connecting to the Power of Life in the Present Moment

Mindfulness

Mindfulness, is a buddhist term embraced by western psychology and is now a modernised term for practicing awareness of experience in the present moment or a ‘state of presence’. In the buddhist context it develops self knowledge and wisdom to achieve enlightenment and be free of suffering. In western therapeutic modalities it is used to deal with mental illness, anxiety and stress. The last sixty years it has been researched and recognised as an approach for various effective therapeutic uses, in addition to general wellbeing, performance enhancement and spiritual awakening.

The deeper art of mindfulness is in training the mind to let go of identifying with projections of self. Projections of self may be through identification with outward appearances, circumstances and material things. More primary are inner projections of identification with thoughts, emotions and bodily experience. These ever changing aspects of experiencing the world as individuals can take us on cycles of ups and downs that seem to have a life of their own. Many people’s sense of self and the world, moods and states, perceptions and opinions are reflected in their mental narrative and emotional state as an overall accumulative effect as well as acutely during intense moments. Identifying with them is considered to be the source of suffering by ancient teachings. Training our mind enables us to get beyond our projections of self, deeper into authentic states of inner equilibrium and self realisation, beyond thought and emotion and into the more stable background of consciousness from which mental activity arises.

The inner projections above are the primary ways we really get locked into egocentric identity and loose our ability to be consistently in the drivers seat when it comes to thoughts (most of which are repetitive and predictable yet filter our experiences enormously), emotions (which can really influence our perception independently thoughts and beliefs or collaboratively with them, cause us to be reactive instead of proactive, and forget ourselves when they arise intensely). Body image and inner body experience can also become part of a self-perpetual loop. Emotions, thoughts and bodily experience become illusory when based on our conditioned programming and expectations, we cannot separate them from our sense of who we are. Our personal experience of thoughts and beliefs becomes its own evidence of the reality of those same conditioned beliefs and views thus reinforcing them. The psycho-physical landscape of how we hold ourselves in body and form in the world reveals where we are balanced and life affirming. Alternatively our stress patterns will reflect imbalance, a divided mind identified with positive and negative thoughts and beliefs spliting our identity from our true state of Being.

When we are identifying with these three primary inner projections, they cease to be useful tools for embodying, expressing and sharing our true presence in the world. Instead they become a tool of the ego and in the guise of ‘adaption’, ‘protection’ and ‘self image’ and become the substance of what ‘ego’ does to separate us from a true sense of connection and oneness with life and consciousness. Ego hinders us because it involves identifying with aspects of our life and selves that have no inherent existence of themselves. Ego identification is investing our experience of self in the things and self-created images we give meaning to, rather than identification in the source of where that meaning and purpose truly comes from, our true self as pure consciousness and life.

So how do we best practice ‘mindfulness’ in a way that disengages us from this false identification? Can we be more fully and consistently in a unified state, harmonising mind, body and emotion with our true nature and values? Can we spend more time in qualitative creative and insightful states rather than mundane and habitual ruts of thinking? Is it realistic to be consistently in this space of alignment at the right place at the right time? What further aspects of life experience open up to us when spiritually mature in this way?

Mindfulness is in principle so simple, it can easily be disregarded by ego consciousness. Not only that, it can be very difficult to break old habits and so requires consistent practice, consciously with will and effort until it becomes second nature. Even then, we must be on guard when it comes to egocentric states that take us back into identification with conditioned patterns and suffering. The ego seems to resist being put in its place once we have invested in it for security, success, survival or happiness. In truth, the ego can do nothing of its own because it is our creation, our own projection of ourselves.

Practice and Application of Mindfulness

Essentially, basic mindful meditation is a practice in stillness for what is also required in action to live in a true state of presence. It is being able to subjectively surrender our complete experience in the moment to the consciousness from which it arises. It is allowing ourselves to be still, present and unified in a presence or spaciousness of being. This state is found, and not manufactured, often using breath or another single focus as a way there. We can observe each thought, feeling and data input as it arises or presents itself. Initially, many associated thoughts and feelings are are noticed like a cascade effect of ceaseless mind activity. Things can seem to get busier before they settle if we are not used to this shift.

With practice of stillness, presence and observation, these associated thoughts and feelings diminish until we experience some space between arising thoughts and observed sensations. Eventually we realise they occur in our consciousness, and we are in fact the space of consciousness in which it all occurs. It is not about understanding this intellectually, but being in it fully and subjectively. With that experiential realisation it becomes much easier to get into the zone quickly and more easily maintain it while we go about our day of tasks and communications. Thinking and feeling becomes more balanced, even minded, yet even more rich and far reaching with more choice.

Enormous changes occur once this happens, this shift and new sense of inner freedom and wellbeing continues to provide greater depth, awareness and insight based on personal realisation and experience that goes deeper than our words and mind narratives can conceive. Love, receptivity and connectedness can be enriched on new levels. This space is not vacuous but full of subtlety.

With practice, the most opportune time to apply mindfulness is during highly positively or negatively charged experiences. Mindfulness is not just a neutral or numb state, although can be easier to attain in a neutral state t first. Relaxing mind and body during ‘charged’ times, and embracing each thought and feeling as a projection of who we are, help flex the muscle of consciousness and awareness. These times offer high energy that intensifies and expands our state of presence. When ego identified, we tend to energise projected thoughts, feelings or egocentric needs relevant to the time, loosing ourselves in intense moments, sensations or role playing. With mindfulness we can embrace the same content from a deepening and expanding consciousness with alignment in our true state of being and transform the energy from reactivity into a personal victory of higher consciousness and conscious action.

It is sometimes useful, while witnessing these times of highly positive or negative experiences, to affirm simply and briefly within yourself “I am not my thoughts”, “I am not my feelings”, “I am not my body”. Then simply be, observing what is going on within and without before we speak, decide or act. The content (thoughts, feelings, perceptions) are still there to be experienced even more deeply but without attachment, aversion or the dislocation of identification with them. No matter how bad or how wonderful our thoughts and feelings are as they arise, our true being is an immensely greater field and reality from which they arise. Embracing really strong thoughts and sensations in this conscious state of presence enables greater joy, true insight and reality of being.

Practices like Taiji, qigong, meditation and yoga help us to disengage from identification with our inner projections. Actually doing anything you enjoy with complete attention can be effective for many people in sport, business, or hobbies like working in the garden. The advantages of taiji, qigong or yoga is that they create a space to feel every part of the body and breath consciously and fully while relaxing the nervous system and mind. They are designed and developed over the ages to balance the mind and body energy specifically. Golf, relaxed rowing or gardening for example, can offer similar states but not necessarily cultivate the focus and quality of the conscious state depending on the intention and experience of the doer. Likewise, we see in the orient, zen walking and raking, flower arranging, calligraphy and painting done as a sacred discipline in special settings along with martial art applications like archery or taiji sword. With intentional practice, intent and setting are important combined with controlled and relaxed activities done in a state of still mind, synchronised movement and breath.

Activities that are too sedate or too stimulating to mind, body or both may not be as effective to develop the mindful state. The above are active ways to utilise inner body experience to take one out of the thinking narratives of mind. Yoga teaches one to release resistance, discomfort and disturbance by relaxing and breathing into it with acceptance and allow it to transform without having to process or ‘do’ anything with it. The light of pure awareness or consciousness itself is transformative and unifying. So it is with all things in life. This is why some non-action techniques of sitting meditation or sivasana (corpse pose in yoga) are considered as both the most simple and advanced techniques of practice. What activity incorporating these principles would make an enriching part of your daily practice?

 

Photo by Barnsjukhuset on Visual Hunt / CC BY