Unit VII.  Presence


1.  Presence
2.  Characteristics of presence
3.  Direct Knowledge
4.  Awareness
5.  Obstacles to presence
6.  Surrender
7.  Action
8.  Transformation

Materials needed:  Journal, notepaper

Books needed:

The Power of Now
The Path to No-self


The power of now
Centering in the Hara
Freeing consciousness
Scouting obstacles
The Unitive State, Phase VI
Dealing with an unsatisfactory situation


All along, we have been asking, “Who are you?”  And now we are really getting close to the answer.  But, for a moment, let us take a jaunt down memory lane.  Can you remember your life before five years old?  Say, maybe three and a half or four?  What was your favorite pastime?  What did you like to do especially outside when the weather was nice?  Did you have toys or did you make your own fun?  I invite you to reminisce for a while.  Take a minute and really go back and retrieve a specific memory of something you liked to do.  Perhaps you can remember being completely absorbed in digging in the dirt or in your sandbox.  Maybe it was finger paints.  How about the bathtub?  Can you recall the feel of the water, just the sensations of it without any mental commentary.  Or being squirted with the hose on a hot steamy day.  Perhaps it was a tire swing or helping Mom make cookies and the texture of cookie dough.

It was in moments like these that you were naturally in a state of presence.  Hold on to your memory a few more minutes.  Can you remember your feeling?  What did you smell?  taste?  see?  hear?  touch?  If there was an emotional overtone, the memory may be especially vivid.  I remember the car door opening as we went around a curve and holding on to my friend who sat next to it, so she wouldn’t fall out.  My most favorite moments were spent in or near the creek that flowed by our house.  The clay on its banks had the most delicious texture, smooth and cool.  I made dishes for my dolls with it and baked them in the sun.  We made dams in the creek relishing the cool water and the slippery stones along with the water spiders that scooted away when we approached.  Later on in age, I roller-skated down a steep hill and sometimes fell and skinned my knees.  Pain is a memory too.  Then there was the day I nearly stepped on a copperhead and ran for two blocks before I stopped.  Another child gave me a stick of Juicy fruit gum.  To this day, that flavor brings back that memory.

Presence is a felt sense.  It is that feeling back of your heart or deep in your gut that indicates you exist.  You are here, now, in the present.  It may say, “I am.”  Nothing fancy or complicated, nor is it loud or dominant.  In fact, most of us have lost touch with it completely.  However, you can retrieve it if you wish to.  It is there when you find yourself in a particularly beautiful place or see a gorgeous sunset or an awesome canyon.  It is the one who gazes into a baby’s eyes and feels the depth of its beingness.  It is there in any intense sensory experience that stuns you out of the mental chatter.  It is love itself.  It is who you really are.

The whole point of all this is that, in circumstances like these, you are not thinking.  The one thing all the traditions agree on is that thinking or any type of mental activity removes us from being wholly present in the Now moment.  The research I have been doing around this subject has yielded several different perspectives on presence, and I am going to review each one briefly to try to give you a multidimensional feel for what it is.  Since we will be comparing absolute and relative realities, let me remind you of the distinction between these two ideas.  Absolute Reality is all that exists, the Source, in its primary form of vibration or voidness.  Relative Reality is contained within Absolute Reality and refers to all the forms of creation that the primal vibration takes when it manifests as something.

Exercise: The Power of Now

Begin reading The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle (1999) and continue through chapter 4.  Why does he say you are not your mind?  What is the pain-body and how can it be dissolved?  What is the origin of fear and how can we deal with it?  Why is the Now so important?  What is the role of time in presence?  What is the core delusion?  Why would we want to dissolve ordinary unconsciousness?  What is the inner purpose of your life’s journey?

A. H. Almaas (1999) says that personal essence is the pearl beyond price.  It is embodied being, the actual individuation of your soul, the personal experience of beingness.  He makes a distinction between personal essence and the essential self which is beyond this life and never changes.  Essential self is the”I” without an “am,” the true self, inner God, Holy Spirit beyond time, space and dualism.  This “I” has the potential for experience, the capacity for embodiment and the ability to choose.  So we can say that the personal essence is the form that the essential self takes when it comes into a body.   The essential self can be found in the Hara, and this is what Almaas calls presence.  However, presence gets covered up by development of the false personality or ego that creates a separate identity for itself.  So we must dis-identify with the ego and personality in order to resurrect presence.  We will take up that process later on.

Chogyal Namkhai Norbu (1996) is a Dzogchen (Buddhist) teacher.  Dzogchen is unique in its teaching that self-liberation is possible just by developing a state of contemplation in which we remain silent and observe everything that happens.   This state of contemplation he calls presence.  The word “Dzogchen” means the true primordial state of everyone, an absolute condition that is beyond time and dualism and that is a true state of body, voice and mind.  However, in the embodied human being, “body”  means the physical body, and “voice” means energy or vibration in the same sense as that we met in Yoga.  This energy is linked to breathing and so to the vital energy called prana.  “Mind” has a number of levels in one of which there is an ongoing flow of thoughts, judgments, images and reasons.  This is the conditioned mind, called intellect,  whose main quality is “ignorance” which, in this context,  means separation or duality.  However, there is also a true state of mind which is void or empty of content and conditioning.  Direct knowledge in the true mind is a  pure state of consciousness that arises in experience.  It is one of the basic qualities of our own primordial state.  

Norbu also speaks of the three primordial wisdoms that are the three aspects of essence.  These are Nature, Energy and Essence.  Nature refers to manifestations of the primordial state.  Energy is vibration and it manifests without interruption.   Recall that vibrations are the basis of all creation.  Essence is the real condition of the individual. These three primordial wisdoms correspond to three characteristic conditions of the nature of mind: calm with no thoughts, movement, and presence which is the pure recognition without judgment of either the calm state or movement.  Can you begin to sense where this is going?

Finally there are three purified dimensions in which these three wisdoms take form:

1.  Nirmanakaya - the dimension of form  perceived as an object in relation to oneself.  Here presence is integrated with the external world;
2.  Sambhogakaya - the dimension of energy linked to presence;
3.  Dharmakaya - the essence of all phenomena where presence is fully awakened.

“The practice of Dzogchen is based on two fundamental aspects of the nature of the individual: the calm state and movement of thought through which it is necessary for one to find oneself integrated in the state of presence” (p. 58).  “In the state of presence, which remains the same in relation to thousands of different experiences, whatever arises liberates itself automatically. This is what is meant by self-liberation” (p. 59).

Now, if you are canny, you will have noticed that these three aspects of the relative human, the three wisdoms, the three characteristics of the mind and the three purified dimensions share the same qualities as the three gunas in yoga: tamas, rajas and sattva.  And you will recall that part of the dissolution process is to bring tamas and rajas into balance creating a pure sattvic state.  So we could table these correspondences as follows:

3 Aspects of the
Relative human

3 Primordial

3 Characteris-
tics of Mind

3 Purified

3 Gunas

Table 6-7.  Triads of Presence

Dzogchen practice attempts to integrate forms of energy directly with the state of presence.  It is essential to maintain the sense of presence in every moment.  So the spiritual practice becomes one of learning how to remain present in the moment.

Bernadette Roberts (1982) was one of the first, if not the first, to write a book on No-self from the Christian perspective.  No-self goes beyond the Unitive state that was the final goal of contemplatives and mystics for centuries.  This fact is, as she points out, probably because no one had ever written about it before.  And that is true in most religious traditions  because writers say that the realized state is beyond verbal description.  So it was assumed that the Unitive state was the end and goal of the spiritual journey.  For our purposes now, we are more interested in The path to no-self that Roberts (1985) wrote several years later because this book deals with the Unitive State itself, and that is the one that is relevant to the sixth chakra.

The Unitive State begins with the end of the Dark Night of the Spirit and involves two experiences of self that we have in this phase of development:

1.  Self-consciousness (or contemplative  knowing)  and
2.  Presence  (the Unitive State).

Roberts says self-consciousness is due to the reflexive mechanism of the mind.  
In people who have grown as far as the stage of formal operations in intellectual development, it is normal for the intellect to look at itself as well as the ego, self-image and personality.  On the spiritual path, we make use of this ability to conduct intense self-investigations.  Here we are talking about ordinary consciousness that is self-reflective or introspective.

However, there are higher levels of consciousness associated with the mind and the mental faculties of enlightenment. Roberts speaks of the cloud of unknowing that obscured the face of God in the Dark Night and of the Contemplative Gaze developed in the Unitive Stage which is the fixed gaze upon the Unknown sometimes called the Eye seeing itself.  Here we are talking about a non-conceptual form of knowing that goes beyond the intellect into the intuitive realm.

We find presence in contemplation of the unitive center, or we can call it the still point, around which we must coordinate all the parts of ourselves rather like Shakti doing her housecleaning in the Anja Chakra.  Presence is a gut-level feeling of personal power and energy.  It is the true center of union with God, a living flame of love with a sense of presence.  This is experienced as a deep sense of interiority and spirituality.

Self-consciousness and presence come  together in a prayer of union which gives rise to ecstasy and the ultimate silencing of the little self.  These two aspects of oneself get transformed progressively until the self is completely gone which does not happen until the close of the Unitive stage.  The end comes gradually, almost imperceptibly, and it does not occur until the person is completely surrendered and willing.  It is finally accomplished with a stroke of divine grace.

There are three paths of communication with God according to Roberts (1985) and they correspond to the Trinity:  

1.  The Father, the unmanifest aspect of God as first cause, who transcends  creation and is not seen by the personal self  
2.  The Holy Spirit, or true center
3.  Christ who is the very “life of the soul” (p. 21), our most subjective experience of God  

It is the Spirit that transforms us into Christ.  Spirit is objective, Christ is not.  Rather, Christ is subjective, a feeling presence,  it feels like me.   “The true nature, then, of our nondual experience of Christ lies in our identity with Christ, for whom the Spirit remains as object of consciousness” (Roberts, 1985, p 22).  Therefore, in the Unitive State, we are united with the Father and the Spirit but identical with Christ.  So this is not yet a non-dual condition.  In fact, that does not occur until the final transition to no-self.  Throughout the Unitive State, there is always an individual self-presence that is aware of its unity with God. [It might be interesting to compare  this trinity with the others in Table 6-7.]  

In the spiritual transformations, then, we go from a self-conscious mental self-image to a Christ Self (or God Self) to No-self which is the final transition from unity with God to the Godhead.  Roberts equates the the crucifixion with Christ’s surrender of his divine self, his oneness with God as known through our self-consciousness in the Unitive State.  The final transition to no-self, or to the Godhead of Absolute Oneness, is represented by the resurrection of Christ and his ascension into heaven.  

The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle (1999) is all about presence.  He says:

           Being is the eternal, ever-present One Life beyond the myriad forms of life
              that are subject to birth and death. . . also deep within every form as its inner-
              most, invisible and indestructible essence. . . You can know it only when the
              mind is still, when you are present, fully and intensely in the Now. . . To
              regain awareness of Being and to abide in that state of “feeling-realization” is
              enlightenment. (p. xiv)

Our True nature is the “I am” consciousness in its pure state before identification with form.  Being is the indestructible essence of everything, its true nature, the ineffable and indescribable reality behind the words.  Being is our own essence and we experience it as feelings and our own presence.

However, when we are growing up, we learn how to use the mind conditionally and, thus, all of the problems of humanity can be referred to a mis-identification with the mind and to the belief in time and space.  The beginning of freedom is the realization that we are not the thinker, not the possessing entity.   It is mind that creates the idea of separateness and identity.  A voice in the mind makes judgments, assumptions, and  assessments and it runs on constantly with thoughts.  However, there is a gap between thoughts that can be widened with practice to open out a condition of no-mind which is a higher consciousness without thought and beyond the self.  Tolle goes into detail about how the mind creates resistance which leads to pain and suffering.

Finally, Taj Inayat (2005), a Sufi teacher,  recently recorded a talk called “Emerging Divinity.”  She speaks about the need to open our hearts in order to give birth to the Divine One who wishes to manifest in the world.  The soul is the womb for the Divine, she says, and we must give birth to the One we want and long for.  For many of us the heart has been closed for protection against the betrayals and woundings that life gives us, so opening it requires a great deal of sensitivity and compassion.  The heart will come out when there is enough safety.  Meanwhile, there is a loving presence waiting there, and it will wait forever because it loves us so much.  This is the Beloved One of Sufism.  It is a dim countenance, an inner presence behind all. When we make room for It and reach out in longing, the Beloved will come to meet us, to know ItSelf through us.  

Practice: Centering in the Hara

Prepare to sit for meditation in the usual way.  When you are settled, fold your hands together over the Hara.  This is located three fingers down from the navel and about two fingers inside, more if you are well-padded, but in front of the spine.  Then bring your attention to the Hara and breathe into it.  This is the place in the body where you are grounded, the center of Chi in Oriental traditions.  It is the still point of your Being.  Simply sit and meditate on this center remembering that thoughts follow the breath.   So keep the breath moving in and out of the Hara.  When you are finished, make notes in your journal about what you experienced.

Characteristics of Presence

What seems to me most characteristic of presence is silence.  Presence does not extend itself to compete  for attention in the marketplace.  Nor is its voice loud and demanding, but rather still and quiet, patient in its waiting for recognition.  There is a boundlessness and formlessness about it that makes it difficult to comprehend except through the felt sense.  It may make itself known through intuition if the mind is silent.  We are most likely to come upon it during meditation when the mind has been quieted and the senses lulled to sleep.  Or we may contact it during those moments between sleeping and waking before the mind gets in gear.  You may notice when you awaken in the night to go to the bathroom that, if you can accomplish that without thinking about it, you will go right back to sleep; whereas, if you allow the mind to begin a rehearsal of your worries or plans for the next day, you may find yourself with a bout of insomnia.  It is not easy to quiet the mind, but well worth learning how.

Light is a quality of presence as has already been mentioned in the previous unit.  However, it is associated with truth as well as with the Godhead.  If you allow yourself to become aware of the auras of other people, you may be lucky enough to encounter a person who is radiant with presence.  Such a person has a face that literally shines.  And the body emanates good health and vitality as well as a quality of youthfulness.  When Jesus said to his disciples, “Blessed are the eyes which see what you see” (Luke 10:23), he was referring to the ability to see the light of truth through the clarity of presence.  We are drawn to the center by the magnetism of Divine Light.

The ability to see is connected to insight and to understanding.  We say, “Oh, I see,” when we understand something.  The psychic gift of clairvoyance is the ability to see what is not there or to see beyond the present time or place in space.  It is called the gift of “seeing.”  In presence, we see without eyes but with an inner faculty of the soul.

Jesus taught that God is Love.  He meant that literally.  Love is the energy of the Divine One, and it pervades the universe and all space.  We are immersed in Love and receive our nourishment from it in the same way that a fish lives in water.  What a pity that we are usually unaware of it and many of us feel that we are not loved at all!  This is due, largely, to a misunderstanding of what love really is and how it manifests.  We are not talking about the romantic love that feeds on sexuality but about Divine Love.  We may not recognize real love because it may not come to us in the form with which we expect or desire it.  It may not take the form of ecstasy or rapture but kindness or compassion or respect.  You are experiencing love whenever someone does something nice for you, shares something from the garden or when someone listens to you without any personal ego agenda.  Love flows from presence as water flows to the sea.

The energy of presence is relaxation, the ability to allow something to be what it is.  This implies acceptance and surrender.  Relaxation is connected with the ability to live in the present moment, the Now.  Peace that comes with being present is another characteristic.  We speak of the peace that passes understanding.  It comes with grace as a gift from God.

Presence manifests as a lack of self-consciousness.  The movement of attention and energy is from the inside outward toward others.  We focus on the needs of others rather than on ourselves.  Karma Yoga is the discipline that helps to develop this capacity.  Self-consciousness since it is a product of the ego goes down with the ego at ego death.  There is no longer any need to maintain an identity in order to keep up the illusion of separateness.  We are all one at the center.  We all have the same center – the Presence of the Divine One.  When there is a gap in thinking or judging or mental effort, this One can come forward and be recognized.

Presence is also integrated.  That means all parts of oneself are harmoniously related and working together without  repression  or ego defenses.  There is no longer any need for defenses because one is identified with all that is.  Rather, ego is doing its legitimate job of keeping the personality together and interfacing with the outside world.  It does not interfere beyond its realm of expertise.  There is a felt sense of well-being, contentment and equanimity.

Because of access to direct knowledge, we are able to hold a vision of the Beloved, as well as of how things really are, and to maintain a Light on the altar at the center of our Being.

Direct Knowledge

We have met the idea of direct knowledge in prior units, so will just acknowledge it here.  We discovered it in Yoga and Buddhism as Prajna.  Almaas defines it as felt knowledge, knowing through feelings.  It is very subtle and comes from your own experience.  For example, you may be talking to someone and somehow you know they are lying to you.  You also know that there is no point in confronting them because they would deny it and you have no objective proof.  This is a felt sense and it may come, in part, from detecting the quality of someone’s aura.  There are at least 26 known senses, to which we give overt attention to only five.  However, we may be aware of the others on a subliminal level.  With practice, they can be brought into consciousness.

It is important to investigate all of our felt knowledge to ascertain whether what we “know” is real or a projection of some sort.  This is where clarity comes in.  If I do not understand all of my internal experience, I am subject to errors of perception and discrimination.  That is why the early stages of the spiritual journey require us to go through such extensive self-examination and inquiry.

There are forms of knowledge beyond intellect, intuition and feeling.  At even higher levels of consciousness, we become one with experience and the experiencer, so we essentially can know what God knows because we are identified with the Godhead.  This may take a while.

Knowledge requires awareness because without awareness you cannot  know yourself.  Part of this means really inhabiting your body because it is the vehicle of your experience in the world, and the senses are your tentacles to explore the world.  Furthermore, the felt sense depends upon the body awareness.  To know our essence requires that we be able to explore the inner regions of consciousness.  “This deeper knowledge becomes available when we start seeing that all experience and all that exists is knowledge, a knowledge that is itself presence, is Being” (Almaas, 1999, p. 148).  Almaas goes on to say that Being is a knowingness, a consciousness. . . both the knower, the known and the knowing.  Another three in one.

Roberts (1985) goes along with this only she calls it open mind.  She says that  religious truths eventually become experiential if they are practiced long enough.  The nature of this experience is the knowing.  An open mind is one that is not stuck in its own point of view and tendencies to judge but one that can see beyond itself to other alternatives and thus gain insight, understanding and wisdom.  For Roberts, direct knowledge is a way of seeing that is not filtered through a reflexive mechanism, so it can see reality in itself as it really is.  To achieve this, we have to get out of the self.  Then, as self-consciousness gradually fades away, we begin to enter a more or less permanent state of contemplation.

Almaas (1999) says there is a still higher level of knowing that he calls not-knowing.  This is beyond the mind, but we know it is there because when we approach it, the mind disappears.  You may have experienced this in meditation when you find yourself in a dark silence and cannot remember anything when you return to normal consciousness.  We cannot know it because we cannot conceptualize it in the usual way.  It is beyond all the so-called normal faculties of the mind.

Like Tolle, Almaas (1999) says that elements of the mind such as memory, thinking, imagery, projections into the future and the like are the basic reasons for our suffering.  In order to see through this process we need understanding.  When we begin to examine ourselves to gain more understanding we start a process of unfoldment that leads to the realization that Being is our true nature.  At this point, understanding becomes the interface between Being and the mind.  You are Being, and this awareness of beingness is understanding.  When you understand something completely, you can go to the next level of your spiritual development.  You will recognize this as transformation.

Almaas calls the essential aspect of understanding the “diamond consciousness.”  “At a deeper level of realization there is a union, a co-emergence, for the absolute reality and the diamond consciousness” (Almaas, 1999, p. 162).  Roberts would agree.


We need to make a discrimination between awareness and consciousness.  It seems to me that to be conscious, one must have something out there to be conscious of though I suspect Buddhists would disagree.  And it feels to me as if there must be someone, some entity, who is experiencing the object of consciousness.  This is a dualistic concept, I realize, but I have yet to experience consciousness apart from some  object of that faculty.  We can be self-conscious in thinking about ourselves and what we are doing.  Or the focus can be external upon an object.  Similarly, we can think about our own thinking in an introspective manner.  But, in every case, we are conscious of something. There is an element of attention that is focused on the object, so it is a two-way interaction.  Roberts (1985) says that ordinary consciousness is responsible for the experience of duality whereas the Ultimate reality knows no distinction between self and other.  Probably this is because at that level, there is only One.

Who is the one who is conscious?  Well, it can be my ego-self, my body-self, my Higher Self, my witness-self or my God-self all in varying degrees and levels of beingness.  Eventually, it is only God.  And it may always be God using our bodyminds as tools for Its perusals.  Almaas (1999) says that Diamond consciousness is an aspect of Essence.  It is Being with form, a manifestation of the absolute reality.

Awareness, on the other hand, can mean just being awake without any self-reference or object of contemplation.  There is no projecting or focusing of attention.  It is more of an intake process, one-way.  This is the sense in which I suspect the Divine One is awake. . . aware.  Almaas says awareness is a kind of space, and there is an absence of duality which would distinguish it from consciousness.  And, indeed, it feels that way to me.  There is a sense of being, of reality, of truth.   “. . when you are Being, you are awake.  You are acutely aware of everything; but the awareness is not self-reflective” (Almaas, 1999, p, 190).  It is just the experience of Being itself. . . letting the world come in.  

A variation of this is witnessing.  We can witness without feeling any need to respond or react.  Whatever is happening simply comes into us, we notice it and let it go.  If nothing is happening as in the condition of contemplation or samadhi, we can still be awake.  A distinction can be made between sleep and samadhi.  I am tempted to suggest that awareness may be on the borderline between consciousness and unconsciousness.  However, I suspect that it is possible to be aware even when unconscious.  Certainly awareness goes beyond the mind as it is a characteristic attributed to Beingness.

Norbu (1996) says that “In order to give results, awareness must always be accompanied by presence.  Being aware means knowing the consequences of one’s actions. . . If one is not present, it makes no difference whether one is aware or not.” (p. 125).  This sounds like a feedback system.  I do something and notice the results.  There is an interaction between an entity and its impact on the outside world.  In this sense, we should become aware of the effects of what we manifest in the world and our own condition in all circumstances.  This means to live life with the real presence of awareness.  Norbu says that “The principal thing is not meditation but knowledge. . . It arises from awareness of our existence at the relative level. . . If we don’t actually live in the nature of the mind we only have a mental concept of it” (p. 128).  He goes on to say, just to tie things up neatly, that “The nature of the mind is a term that refers to a condition that is beyond the existence of the body, the voice, and the mind, the knowledge of which can only arise through experience [cf direct knowledge].  Knowing the limits and characteristics of the relative condition one can really become aware of their true nature” (p. 129).

There is yet another way of looking at this.  Tolle (1999) says presence is when Being becomes conscious of itself.  Being, consciousness and life are synonymous.  Consciousness is the light emanating from the eternal Source.  Everything is alive and conscious.  Human consciousness is God-essence expressing itself in form, and we can realize our own God-essence as pure consciousness.  On the other hand, the egoic mind is consciousness lost in forms which leads to fear and suffering.  Presence is pure, enlightened consciousness free from identification.  He suggests that the degree of consciousness can be defined as the width of the time gap between perception and thought.

Tolle (1999) says the witness-self is pure consciousness beyond form, and it can be developed by watching the mind.  When you watch the mind, you are drawing the energies of consciousness away from mental forms in a kind of detachment.  You have to reclaim consciousness from the mind in order to realize Being because so much of it has been trapped in thinking.  “When consciousness frees itself from its identification with physical and mental forms, it becomes what we may call pure or enlightened consciousness, or presence” (p. 84).  Stillness is consciousness freed from thought forms.  Back to Patanjali.

Exercise: Freeing Consciousness

Read chapters 5 and 6 in The power of now.  

Practice: Freeing Consciousness

Sit as for meditation.  Then,  focus your attention on the inner body.  See if you can feel the invisible energy field that surrounds you.  You may be able to sense a subtle pulsation in it.  Attend to your breath and allow it to settle down and become regular.  Did that change the energy field?  Play with your breath and see if you can determine the relationship between breath and energy as a felt sense.  This is your life energy.  Feel its movements and patterns in your body as well.  Continue with Tolle’s instructions for “Connecting with the Inner Body on page 93.

3.  Then do the exercise to flood your body with consciousness on pages 103-4.

Obstacles to Presence

We can think of basically three main obstacles to the experience of presence: personality and ego, emotions and mind.  Let us look at each of these briefly.

The ego and personality are formed in infancy and early childhood as a result of feedback from the caretakers, family and teachers, if any.  The ego is a self-protective instrument that is invested in control of self, others and the environment.  In its formation, it created a self-image which is how it sees itself based on responses it has gotten from others and its efforts to master its surroundings.  We then identify ourselves with this inner master and forget who we really are.  Ego is an essential faculty in our complex society, so it is not bad, in itself.  However, to maintain its existence, it has to support an illusion of separateness.  It also closes off awareness of the Dynamic Ground which is terrifying to its need for control.  So, from ego’s inception, we experience ourselves as separate individuals, and we have lost our connection to the Divine One.

The personality is composed of many different aspects or roles we have learned to play in order to please and placate those upon whom we depended for our existence when we were small.  We may even identify with some of these roles and, in doing so, we lose touch with our souls.  Almaas speaks of the “hole” as a feeling of emptiness, lostness or lack that we all experience as a result of the repression of aspects and qualities of ourselves that were unacceptable to those we needed to please.  You may have had the experience of feeling like no one wants your gifts; the gifts, that is, that we came into this life bringing with us.  Most of our addictions are efforts to fill this hole because we no longer know what caused it, and that ignorance is protected by repression.

The emotions associated with lack of presence have to do mainly with resistance and the accompanying contraction and pain.  The basic emotion behind this is fear.  We may feel out of control, dislike our work, feel like we have no support for who we are.  Or we feel terribly vulnerable in this complex, fast-moving society in which we live.  We are aware of the destruction of the planet and the implications of that for our survival as human animals. There is the threat of war, of lack of gas to get to work or oil to heat our homes.  Or maybe our relationships are not working well for us.  Everywhere we turn around, there is something else that threatens our well-being to say nothing of our very existence.  So we are afraid.  The body’s response to this is to freeze or contract and prepare for attack.  Adrenaline soars.  The body tenses and prepares for the worst.  This is resistance, and it puts presence safely in the background while ego gets ready to defend itself.  Ironically, if presence had been left in charge, it would automatically do what is right and called for in case of actual presenting danger.

One particularly devastating ego reaction to fear is negativity.  This is another form of resistance.  Instead of doing something about my problems, I prefer to complain or to blame someone else.  Getting into the victim mode is a typical form of negativity.  If I identify myself as a victim, I do not have to take responsibility for solving the problem or for taking action.  It is a role favored by many women and aged persons who may feel helpless to deal with their issues.  I was guilty of it myself until my son called me on it.  Having to confront what I was doing was a huge shock because I was completely unaware of the dynamics of the defense until it was called to my attention.  All the forms of pessimism are also negativity.  “The world is going to hell in a peach basket” is a phrase that comes to mind.

The mind’s role in all this is to maintain the sense of dualism.  This means I am the subject, the one who is doing it; and there is an object out there to which it is being done.  This can be a person, a thing, a society or even one’s own thoughts within.  The mind is invested in maintaining separation because the brain is wired for concept formation which requires groupings and boundaries, and consequently separation, for its operations.  Neurons fire in on-off patterns; this is dualism.  So the part of the mind that plays through the brain is going to be dualistic because   that is how it knows to function. Details on this process can be found in earlier guidebooks.

Thinking usually follows the patterns learned in school which are also dualistic and separating.  Furthermore, thinking depends heavily on concept formation and formal operations.  Setting limits makes us feel secure and so we try to keep our personal boundaries intact.  We have a need for permanence, so we can plan our lives and keep control over what happens to us.  All of these things influence how we live our lives and deny presence.

Time and space are two essential constructs for mental functioning.  However, they also create problems.  Our culture encourages us to spend a great deal of time  either in the past or the future.  Memory is vitally involved in thinking, but it is always about the past by definition.  Daydreaming about the future or spending inordinate amounts of time planning it also deny the present which is the only real time we have.  The same problems arise around the idea of “here.”  Just consider where you are placing yourself in your reveries.  The Caribbean maybe, Europe, Santa Barbara, a friend’s house, school, your place of work, etc.  Not where you are right this minute.  You cannot be present in those places until you get there, and then it will be Here and Now.

None of these obstacles are insurmountable.  But we do have to address each of them individually and rearrange our thinking about them.  There is a real, important fact behind the phrase, “Thoughts create reality.”  What we think about  impacts our ego, personality and emotions which then arrange things to determine certain outcomes.  Often the outcomes are negative because that is the way our thinking structures our reality.  So what can we do about all this?  Self-inquiry is essential and on-going for a lifetime.  In time, it brings a certain amount of clarity, but we cannot afford to rest on our laurels at least as long as we have a functioning ego.

Exercise: Scouting Obstacles

Immediately after one of your meditation sessions when your mind is relatively clear and relaxed, get your journal and begin to list the obstacles to your being present in the Now moment that plague you the most.  Under what circumstances, do you wander from the present?  What are the most viral triggers?  What do you fear?  Remember that anxiety is a form of fear.  When are you most likely to stray from the present?  Alternatively, what circumstances are conducive to being present?  When do they occur?  Can you create more such oases?

When you have a fairly comprehensive list, work with it for a while, grouping similar issues in order to detect some themes.  You might want to prioritize them in order of importance or impact on your life.  Then design a plan to bring one of the issues under control so as to extend the times when you are present.  What actions do you need to take to make presence a reality in your life?


“Hiranya, don’t try to surrender,” my teacher said and smiled at me.  Those five words gave birth to intense insights for the next six months.  My almost immediate reaction was to create an attack of sciatica which lasted for two and a half months.  To appreciate this, you have to understand that the agony and anguish of sciatica comes largely from muscle cramping in the hips, buttocks and legs though there is also an underlying cause in which a nerve gets pinched and becomes inflamed.  Siegal et al (2002) say that most of the pain of sciatica and the lower back comes from muscle cramping and that that is due to fear.  Think for a minute about what this means in terms of the resistance and contraction we have been discussing.  As soon as I heard Siegal’s tape, I relaxed and the worst of the pain disappeared.  We can treat the inflammation; and, in fact, I later learned how to do this with herbs and homeopathic remedies instead of painkiller drugs which are usually narcotics.  During my next attack, I kept the duration to three weeks and experienced only one night of insomnia due to pain.


The spiritual path is one of dissolution.  That means we must be prepared to give up ego control, identification with personality aspects, ego agendas and dramas, self-consciousness, dualistic thinking, negativity, fears, and ultimately our souls.  Remember the sequences of dissolution outlined in previous units of this guidebook.  Your choice is whether to return to the Divine One or not.  Doing so means giving up all that you think you are or have been in the past.  It means willingness to live in the present bringing forth your own deep essence in the form of presence.  

What is

Surrender also means acceptance of “what is” right now and allowing it to be what it is.  There is a commitment here to acknowledge that the present moment is the only time we have.  The past is gone and the future never comes because when it does arrive, it becomes the present.  It is probably no accident that we call living in the Now, presence.  Someone once said that the Now moment is a gift, so we call it a present.  So is presence a gift, and we need to actualize it as a way of being grateful.

So “what is” refers to a time element of “Now” and a space element of “Here.”  I am here in this moment and I am awake and present, willing to deal with whatever the moment requires.  I acknowlege my vulnerability.  I am willing and able to pay attention and to focus my mental concentration faculties on whatever needs them, but without identification with the outcome.  I am content with silence and it feels good to me.  If my heart is broken, I can peer into it with compassion and see what it needs to mend itself.  I am ready to step into the river of contemplation that leads to the Godhead.  I am also ready to release attempts to control others and the environment, but also prepared to take whatever steps seem appropriate to me to remedy bad situations.

How to Surrender

“Leap and the net will appear” – a coaster in the Isabella catalog

This quote really resonates with me as I stand on the brink of the chasm knowing I have to leap but not having quite enough trust to take the plunge.  Even though I know with my mind all the things I am writing about, the fear of extinction is still present and active.  Roberts (1985) says that the Final Battle is between self-preservation and self-extinction.  Her experience of it was as an observer.  It seemed to be going on apart from her as she watched the struggle between her Christ Self and the energies of transformation.  This is the way of the Cross, and it requires a selfless faith and an openness to formlessness.  

Roberts does say that we cannot make this final leap by ourselves but must wait for God to come and take us.  All we can do is get ready.  Among the things we might be doing while we wait is checking to see if we have dis-identified with all worldly attachments, see if we still need to forgive someone, develop patience and practice yielding to what is.  We can learn how to yield, to let go of our resistances if we examine them and track them to their sources.  We can practice selfless service along with mindfulness that keeps us in the present.  That mindfulness is a matter of focusing attention on what we are doing right now and only right now.  

Exercise: The Unitive State, Phase VI

Read Phase VI in The path to no-self and make notes for yourself.

Last, it seems to me that we ought to add pride to the list of things to be examined and released.  Pride is an ego strategy that sets us apart from others and makes us feel superior.  We are all special and distinct; but, if we allow ego to glom onto that idea, we are reinforcing separation which is counterproductive.

So we cannot try  to surrender, we can only arrange our lives so we can relax.  That means dealing with the fears directly and taking action where appropriate to cut off the source.  Tolle (1999) advises us to change, improve or remove ourselves from bad situations.  We have to yield to the flow of life rather than oppose it.  Tolle (1999, p. 171) suggests a few steps to surrender:

1.  Accept the Now unconditionally
2.  Relinquish inner resistance to what is
3.  Relinquish mental judgment and emotional negativity
4.  Explore the gap between expectations and what is.  This is the pain gap.
5.  Remember that resignation is not surrender.  

We do not have to accept an undesirable life situation if we are willing to change it.  There are a few steps to this process according to Tolle (p. 172):

1.  Recognize fully what we want
2.  Narrow attention to the moment
3.  No labels or judgments
4.  No resistance or emotional negativity
5.  Accept the isness of the moment
6.  Take action to change the situation
7.  Practice surrender by not labeling the Now.

Surrender re-connects us to the Source, the energy of Being.  Action is secondary.  Surrender creates a higher vibration in your bodymind and thence into your life.  “It is a silent but intense presence that dissolves the unconscious patterns of the mind.  They may still remain active for a while, but they won’t run your life anymore” (Tolle, 1999, p. 176).

Exercise: Dealing with an Unsatisfactory Situation

Think of a situation in your life that you find untenable and wish to change.  Then read Chapter 10 in The power of now.  Using the guidelines on pages 173-178, work out a plan to make the change you need to make and implement it.


We have touched on action, but it is a larger concept than just doing something.  It involves the whole movement of vibration and how that interacts with presence.  Review Table 6-7.  Triads of Presence with Norbu’s triads and the gunas.  We see that there is a factor that is calm and relatively inactive until something moves it.  This something is a quality of energy or vibration.  These two taken together create something new that, for our purposes here, we are calling presence.  So there’s a stability factor and an action factor.  This means there is a potential for growth, change and transformation.

You can think of your aura as a high vibrational field that surrounds the physical body.  Actually, most of you is not visible to the naked, untrained eye.  But it is sparkling, moving and giving off light and energy all the time.  The chakras, nadiis and the hara are all organs of this energy body.  You can learn how to move and use this energy to fuel consciousness and the spiritual journey.  Usually, most of it is sidetracked into mental or intellectual pursuits and/or self-consciousness.  However, it is possible to re-route it into presence which will accelerate your spiritual growth and development.

There are always choices.  Roberts (1985) talks about the Will-to-God.  When we awaken and begin to undertake the spiritual journey, this is a turning point from which we long for and begin to look for the Divine One.  Such is the power of this choice that nothing else can take the place of the Beloved we seek.  In the Dark Night of the Soul, we find ourselves in a black hole or void in which we feel deserted by the Beloved.  From there the will-to-God leads us to the Unitive Center around which the fragmented parts of ourselves are gathered in and integrated.  This leads to a plateau of silence and peace in which there is a nothingness that again makes us feel abandoned by God.  This blank wall in the mind marks the end of thinking and an awareness of the darkness of God Himself.  We also feel trapped there because we know we cannot go back to what we were before.  The only way is forward into the unknown.  This is the gateway into the revelation of God that is at the peak of the Unitive Stage.  Here, there is a shift from ordinary consciousness to God-consciousness.

In the next phase, there is a union of God and the self in which the soul is drawn inward, absorbed, consumed and inflamed.  Here the movement turns outward into the world in a burst of selfless service supported by a love for God so great that it burns to extinguish itself in suffering.  Roberts likens it to a flame of burning love that leads to a burning issue: to either die and to have eternal vision or to move in order to return so great a love, i.e., to return God’s love.  This flame is God’s energy creating the transformation.  Roberts says it is a movement of both subtle power and unknowable intelligence” (p. 85).  “What I saw was how God was the eternal movement, which meant more than that God moves; it also meant: this is what  God is – namely, movement” (p. 84).  Now everything is the will of God.  Roberts goes on to say that God has a three-fold movement:

1.  Within Himself, he moves to act, create, sustain
2.  Within His creation, He moves as its life force
3.  His creation all moves in Him.

So, like the triad of knowing, we have the mover, the moved and the moving.  Furthermore, the whole movement of the unitive Self is toward self-extinction and dissolution (p. 117).  “The first movement is transformation of self into Christ, and the second movement, Christ’s return to the Godhead” (p. 118).  This occurs in Phase IV.  When the flame finally goes out, the entire unitive center goes leaving stillness and silence.  There is no movement, no sense of emptiness, no within.  The whole self dissolves into God. (p. 134).   “. . God is all that remains” (p. 144).  This is the Great Flow – all things are in God, so God flows in and through everything (p.183).

Roberts also discusses her battles to put down the energies of the siddhis though she does not call them that.  And she talks about how a disruption always occurs just before we move on to a higher level of development.  We need to become aware of every interior movement and change because this is where Spirit is working.

It seems that the further along we go the less action we can take because we must surrender the initiative to God.  However, selfless giving or service is something we can do because it furthers the transformation, and it also give us an arena in which we can function while all these internal changes are taking place.  Roberts warns that there may be a period in which it becomes difficult to function in an ordinary manner.  So it might be wise, when you sense you are approaching this junction, to arrange for someone to be around to help ground you.

Unlike the mystic journey, what Roberts is describing is better referred to as the contemplative journey.  As such, you probably will not experience dramatic lights, voices and visions as described by the mystics.  However, keep in mind that either way God is going to take over your life.  So be prepared for some surprising changes.


All of what we have been discussing are experiences you can expect to encounter during the process of transformation.  It seems to me that at this level of development, the whole process accelerates probably because the One takes a more prominant role and virtually all we can do is learn how to surrender.  Transformation involves a total surrender of self: personality, ego, mind, self-consciousness, individuality and soul.  This means our identities as separate individuals.  The death of self means the surrender of both a personal self and a personal God.  What is lost is both God and self as objects of consciousness.  We are God and, in the final stages, we must accept that and prepare to give up all the images we have created of ourselves during our entire lifetimes.  We have to develop enough trust to leap into the unknown void of silence and darkness while not knowing whether we will become unconscious or whether we will find the light.  

We must also be prepared to surrender our minds and mental activities especially all tendencies to judgment because they are  based on an unwillingness to see things as they really are, lack of acceptance of where others are and ignorance of the reality of change.  What happens in this stage of development is a gradual emptying of the contents of consciousness and mind.  This emptying follows the interior transformation (Roberts, 1985, p. 162).  Roberts reminds us that the interior transformation is two-fold based on the dualistic setup of the self, i.e., self-consciousness and the unitive center.  “It is only when both transformations are complete that we discover that the unitive self or center was entirely dependent for its existence upon the reflexive mechanism of the mind.  In the final transformation, both will do down together” (pp. 162-3).

We are told that then we will be knowing through the mind of God, but there is no way to find out for sure without going there.  And we do not know if we will be able to function as normal human beings except by taking the word of those who have gone before us.  With respect to this, it comforts me somewhat to know that Bernadette Roberts has raised four children since she left the convent.

Ordinary consciousness may have to go as well because it is partly responsible for the experience of duality.  Ultimate reality makes no distinction between itself and other because It is the only One.  There is only One of us.

For Norbu (1996), the process of transformation is built-in to the individual.  If we can stay centered in the state of presence, whatever arises will liberate itself automatically.  Spiritual practice means integrating oneself with vision.  Vision includes all sense perception and is a manifestation of the energy of the primordial state with no judgment, acceptance or rejection.  So we need a state of relaxed presence integrated with whatever perceptions arise.  Unlike other traditions, Norbu says the senses need to be present and alert because they are the gates to clarity.  

Presence means we can remain observant no matter what happens, we can maintain our stance, our center, our groundedness.  The state of “what is” means continuous presence without distraction.  So we are talking here about being able to maintain focus and concentration on the here and now.  All we have to do is stay present and relaxed.  “Thoughts appearing and disappearing are the ‘movement’ which is the function of clarity, so we need to learn to work with it. “The ‘calm state’ is just an experience. . in contemplation, in the state of pure presence, there is then no difference between the calm state and the movement” (Norbu, 1996, p. 116).  Therefore, we need to maintain presence whether there is calm or movement.  Every aspect of body, voice and mind is integrated with contemplation.  When we achieve stability in this state, we are always present no matter what is occuring in our lives.  “. . an authentic state of presence is, by its very nature, relaxed” (p. 123).


We have looked at presence from several different perspectives and identified the aspects upon which several traditions agree.  It is located in the present moment, and it is stable as well as free of personality and ego agendas and self-consciousness.  It is aware, relaxed and integrated with access to direct knowledge or prajna.  Obstacles of dualism, thinking, separativeness, resistance, negativity and boundaries have been overcome and all aspects of individuality have been surrendered to the Divine One.  Selfless action can be taken appropriately and is initiated from the center.


Almaas, A. (1999).  Diamond heart, Book Three: Being and the meaning of life. Berkeley, CA:  Diamond Books.

Inayat, T.  (2005).  “Emerging Divinity” [CD].  New Lebanon, NY: Wisdom’s Child.

Norbu, C.  (1996).  Dzogchen: The self-perfected state.  Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion Publications.

Roberts, B.  (1982).  The experience of no-self: A contemplative journey. Boston: Shambhala.

Roberts, B. (1985).  The path to no-self: Life at the center.  Boston: Shambhala.

Siegal, R, Urdang, M. & Johnson, D. (2002).  Back sense: A revolutionary approach to halting the cycle of chronic back pain.  NewYork: Broadway Books.

Tolle, E.  (1999).  The power of now: A guide to spiritual enlightenment.  Novato, CA:  New World Library.  Reprinted with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA. www.newworldlibrary.com or 800-972-6657 ext. 52.

This completes Unit VII. PresenceUnit VIII. Healing Soul follows and deals with the gateway into higher consciousness.

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