When I find presence, for example when I come to your classes, everything is OK, but trying to keep that state outside of class seems to be very difficult. How can I keep presence for longer periods of time?
It is true that at the beginning, and for a while, presence seems like a state we need to first reach, and then maintain. Presence seems to be something that is not here now but if I make the right kind of effort I can find it, and then if I keep the effort going I may be able to keep it longer.
This kind of presence seems to be easier to find and maintain in a place like a yogilates class, or in a beautiful and conducive environment – but much more difficult to reach outside of these environments.
It is the same with our minds. When our mind happens to be more satvic* (quiet, at peace) it is easier to feel that sense of presence, but when the mind is more rajasic (agitated, wired, busy) or tamasic (heavy, sleepy), it is much more difficult.
One wonderful exercise is to try to chose more conducive environments, like nature or quiet, clean, beautiful places. Another one is to give the mind more satvic energy, with things like beautiful music, high literature and/or satvic food. These two practices can become an important aspect of our lifestyle.
For our practical life, it is very important to know how to access the different states of the mind. Learning how to find a satvic state is also very important for the next step of finding True Presence. Without a quieter mind (a satvic mind) it is very difficult for attention not to be taken by the 10,000 things of the world.
Besides the presence that seems to come and go, there is another ‘kind’ of presence – we can call it True Presence, or Presence with capital P, which is not a state of the mind. True Presence is what is aware of the states of the mind. The mind sometimes is tamasic, sometimes rajasic and sometimes satvic. But, how do you know about these states? What is aware of these states? A state is a mixed bag of thoughts, feelings and sensations. Do the thoughts know about the state? Do the sensations or the emotions know anything about a state? No! A thought, an emotion or a sensation is inert, no different than your hand, your shoulder or your knee. Just like a hand, a shoulder or a knee cannot know anything about a state, a thought, an emotion or a sensation cannot know either.
And so, who or what is it that knows anything about a state, pleasant or unpleasant, high or low, positive or negative?
This is probably one of the most profound questions that can be asked: what is it in me that is aware? What is it in me that knows about my experience? The obvious answer is: ‘it is me. I am aware.’
But, who or what is this ‘me’? Who or what is this ‘I’?
It is Presence or Awareness who knows. And this Presence does not depend on any states of the mind.
It is of course much more pleasant to be in a satvic state, much more practical to be in a rajasic state and quite unpleasant to be in a tamasic state (unless you are ready to go to bed, in which case this is the state you want the mind to be in), but independent of the state, it is Presence or Awareness that is aware of the states. The states come and go… Because I happen to be in a yogilates class I feel more satvic; because I happen to be in the office I feel more rajasic; because I just had a beer and a pizza I feel more tamasic etc The states come and go, but what is it that is aware of them? When I am in a more satvic state I am aware of a pleasant sense of peace and alertness. When I am in a rajasic state I aware of agitation and stress, aware of fears and desires. And when I am in a tamasic state I am aware that I feel sleepy and confused and full of negative thoughts. The states are very different, some more pleasant, some more practical and some more negative, but the awareness of them is always the same.
And this is exactly what the practice of presence is: start noticing this Presence, this unchanging awareness aware of your life. Start to see that it is there all the time, independent of the state. Start to recognize this Presence as the background of our experience; any experience.
It is only in the recognition of True Presence that real (unchanging) peace, satisfaction and happiness can be found.
For our practical life, all that is necessary is to have as much control as possible over the states of our mind. The more control we have, the better life we can have and experience. But of course, chasing after better states is what everybody is trying to do, either by material objects, like better jobs, nicer houses or new relationships or by so called spiritual means, like doing breathing exercises, prayer, yoga or meditation.
But chasing after better states is what is called samsara. A continuous turning of the wheel always wanting more and better and different.
The way out of samsara is the recognition of True Presence; the recognition of the unchanging Awareness that is aware of the changing states of the mind.
There is a peace, a sense of fulfillment, a sense of well-being that is directly dependent on the state of the mind. The higher the state, the more peace, contentment or well-being I will feel and experience. But also, the lower the state, the more agitated, unfulfilled and unhappy I will feel. And if this is all I have, then the long, arduous and unforgiving race to acquire and maintain higher states becomes the meaning of my life. This is exactly what Samsara means. The continuous running after what I like and rejection what I don’t, over, and over, and over, and over.
But then, there is the possibility of the recognition of True Presence. This Silent-Aware-Presence, which is available all the time as the experience of ‘I’, is essentially peaceful and fulfilled, which means that the peace and fulfillment of True Presence does not come and go.
True spirituality is the recognition of True Presence – of the True ‘I’ – and then anything else that may be needed will be added unto it.
There is the possibility to search for better and higher states of the mind. This is what most people try to do, either in a materialistic or in a more spiritual way, but either way, it is a never ending journey.
To find a more satvic mind is very important in order to prepare the mind so that, instead of being always lost in the 10,000 things of the world, it would have the space and time to be able to ask the right questions like: who or what is it that is aware? Or Who am I, really?
With this, there is the possibility to find True Presence, the awareness aware of the mind, independent of its state. The recognition of this Presence is the recognition of our true and essential nature, which is peace, fulfillment and well-being, independent of what may or may not be going on outside in the world or inside in the mind.
The recognition of True Presence, of the true ‘I’ – and not the search for higher (changing) states – is the aim of true spirituality.
* There are three gunas, according to Yoga philosophy, that have always been and continue to be present in all things and beings in the world. These three gunas are called: sattva, rajas, and tamas. All of these three gunas are present in everyone and everything, it is the proportion that is different. No one and nothing is either purely Sattvik or purely Rajasik or purely Tamasik. One’s nature and behavior constitute a complex interplay of all of all three gunas, in varying degrees.The interplay of these gunas defines the character of someone or something and determines the progress of life.