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Posts Tagged ‘ego’

PS_20150130152500I was driving home and had pulled up to the line, waiting for a space so I could nose my way onto the roundabout. It was busy, it being that time of night we used to call the rush hour but which now lasts from 4:00 pm ’til 7:00. It was wet, dark, and I was tired. The traffic was fast, unyielding. I settled down to wait for a gap, but I was disturbed by the flashing lights and the honking horn of a van behind me. It yanked itself out into the neighbouring lane, looking for a squeeze past, much to the consternation of those drivers already in that lane. Just then, a gap appeared on the roundabout, so I moved into it and cautiously joined the flow. Then the van came by and I saw a fierce-faced man giving me the finger.

Had I been a bit overcautious in moving off and thus sorely tested his patience? I really don’t know. Had I zoned out for a moment? It’s possible. I had certainly done something to upset him, though I’m also minded these days it takes very little for the fingers to start flying.

My reaction? Self questioning, self doubt, and yes, a little hurt by the face pulling of this stranger whom I had so mysteriously offended, but mostly I was saddened to think such anger might be floating just below the surface of everyday life, that we have only to snag ourselves ever so briefly against the flow of this mad, mad world for teeth to be bared and that phallic finger to be jabbed.

It is the egoic face and the egoic phallus that confidently accuses the “other” of incompetence, of being a knob, whilst bestowing the mantle of perfection on the accuser. It is the same face and finger we see reflected in the public opinion columns of the online media where we quickly learn that public opinion, unleashed en-mass and anonymous, can be a very nasty thing indeed.

One of the great wisdoms of ancient Chinese philosophy is that we can only view the world as it truly is from a position of stillness. Stillness comes when we dissolve the ego, when we react even to shocking events in an unemotional way. Emotions, be they good or bad, come pretty low down on the evolutionary scale, and they hold us back – worse they imprison us and render us vulnerable to manipulation. It’s only through stillness we become aware of these things, that under the influence of strong emotions we are not truly our selves at all.

In spiritual terms, ego and emotional arousal disconnect us from the true course of life, they subvert our direction, our purpose, render us vulnerable to an adverse fate or simply to the meddling of others. While we don’t need to go so far as to subscribing to an irrational belief in such things, I certainly find life is sweeter and smoother, the less my ego has to do with it.

I imagine, in an advanced society, we would all rest content in the unassailable validity of our being, and would not be roused to anger when someone questioned what we said or did, or even if we were a little slow pulling onto the roundabout. On the other hand, in a retrograde society, dissent, or even a senior moment, is met with a torrent of irrational abuse, and then we’d better all watch out.

We see this in the senseless cesspits of the comments sections of online media – a constant cross-fire of low minded thinking, based upon the dubious fictions that are these days peddled as facts, and in the belief the high ground is owned by those who shout loudest and longest. I might express an opinion on world affairs, or on the weather, or even simply on the comparisons between a Biro and a fountain pen, but my opinion would be seized upon by those of an opposing view, not with the aim of exploring the validity of my thinking, nor seeking, by the sharing of facts, to persuade me of another view, but more, by the finger and the angry face, shut me down, to silence the discussion, because in even allowing the debate, whatever its nature or topic, the ego is challenged, and a population reacting permanently to emotional stimuli finds itself in a perpetual fight for imaginary supremacy.

Of course, in a world where facts are easily checked, easily verified, spurious arguments might be short lived, the liar eventually silenced by the obvious and unassailable truth. But we live now in a post-truth world, where inflammatory falsehoods are blatantly paraded by those in powerful positions as fact, while truths are dismissed as fictitious. We are no longer surprised by it. We expect it, we accept it, and by doing so risk abandoning hope of forming rational opinions on anything ever again. Whatever the headline, whatever the view expressed through whatever media, we must now pause and ask ourselves the question: what emotions are these words intended to manifest in me? At whom am I supposed to jab my finger?

The post truth world presents many challenges if we are to thrive, or even just survive as independent, thinking individuals. The emotional landscape of the future will be a tempestuous one as it reacts to bare faced manipulation, and there will be no safe media on which to rely for facts. There will only be the braying of the crowd on the infotainment channels, in the cesspits of social media commentary, and of course those crass, emotive headlines in the dailies.

But we can at least rest easy in our selves, and in our right to be, regardless of what fictions assail us. We ask questions if we must, but trust no answers that are nailed home by the finger. And in the mean time we endeavour to show kindness, while expecting none in return.

I also beg we all be patient with the guy in front, hesitating to join the Lemming like rush on the journey home.

Because it might just be me.

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barcode

Here’s something to think about. You’ve pushed your trolley round the supermarket, done the big shop, got a pile of stuff and now you’re going to put it all through the checkout. You say hello to the checkout guy/girl, they take the first item, scan, then slide it down to where you’re waiting to bag it up.

This is where things become interesting.

You don’t want to look like a dope, so you pick the item up and bag it quick. The next item comes at you a little faster than the first, but you get it in the bag before the third item is coming at you. But the third item is a little faster still, and this time you don’t quite get it in the bag before the next item’s coming at you. You speed up, the checkout person speeds up too. What kind of game is this? Who does this checkout jerk think they are, pushing you like this?

Well, it’s easy enough to understand, once you see it from their point of view. The checkout guy/gal doesn’t want to look like a dope either, so the faster you pick up that first item, the faster they’re going the scan the second. The faster you go, they faster they think you’re expecting them to go. Maybe they’re thinking you’re a grumpy old git hissing at them while they struggle to find the barcode on that packet of crisps, or maybe the barcode won’t scan at all, or maybe the machine’s playing up today.

Not a word’s been said, but both of you are struggling now with negative perceptions of one another, both feeling threatened, and all simply because nobody wants to look stupid.

Insecurities start with negative perceptions, not just of others but of oneself. I can be a bit slow, especially when it comes to thinking on my feet, so when others are rushing about making decisions, or talking fast at me and expecting me to pick up complex information, I feel vulnerable, threatened, and this awakens the ego whose job it is to put me back on the pedestal of my supposed competence, and from which I feel I’m slipping. Ego tries to make us feel safe by making us feel strong. But mostly it ends up making us appear either mean or stupid.

Here’s another illustration. I called into a coffee shop, asked for a coffee. It cost £1.75. (Pay attention now) I offered the girl a fiver but she’d no change. So I pieced together £1.75 in bits and bobs, including coppers, from the corners of all my pockets, and gave it to her. She kept my fiver and gave me change (which I’d thought she was short of). I’ve no idea how much change she gave me, exactly, but it seemed a lot. I was now very confused and queried the fact she’d kept my fiver, even though I’d just given her the £1.75, and what was all this change, and was that right, and could she explain it to me?

She looked a little nonplussed, and gave me my fiver back. This didn’t feel right either, but I was also feeling self conscious and stupid for not getting it by now , so I walked away with my fiver, plus the change. As I went I made a rough assessment of the change, and it amounted to well over £5.00, but some of this was mine to begin with, so whatever the nature of the misunderstanding here, I felt sure I was considerably in profit.

I returned to the till to say I felt there was still a mistake, and could we start again? At this point however, the Maitre D became involved and, from the sourness of her expression I guessed she thought I was attempting to take advantage of the girl. I did the best I could, returned all the change that was in my hand – hers plus whatever unknown quantity was my own, but kept my fiver. I’ve still no idea if I actually paid for that coffee, and if I did, how much I’d paid for it, but I had the feeling throughout my drinking of it that I’d overpaid, and yet, paradoxically, that my custom wasn’t welcome any more because I’d tried to pull a fast one.

The girl had been a little slow, and so had I, neither of us with bad intentions, but the assumption of maleficence on the Maitre D’s part, or at least my imagining of it turned a quiet coffee into an embarrassing ordeal and a resentment of the Maitre D’s ugly cats-arse mouth which even now I’m struggling to expunge from memory. I was polite throughout, Ego wouldn’t let me get away without feeling a fool, and without making me promise (to myself) I would never frequent that establishment again – actually the coffee wasn’t that great – gave me indigestion – and the Maitre D was a real sour-puss, so this won’t be a problem at all.

But we can see how quickly the tension mounts as soon as we feel vulnerable and lose our basic trust in the good intent of others. To live well and happy lives we have to assume the other person is like us, wanting to do the right thing, wanting to help when needed, and maybe spread a little happiness along the way. Nor must we feel threatened by our own shortcomings. (I never was any good with money)And we have to assume that if we’re struggling, and we ask for help, others will be big hearted enough to help without strings or questions.

You might say, however, approaching each day with a naive trust in everyone’s best wishes makes us vulnerable to the con-merchant. But if someone cheats me, even though it’s obviously my loss, it’s not really my problem. My problem is how not lose touch with myself, or lose balance when things start to fall apart and my abilities are tested.

This isn’t easy of course when every day our email inboxes are infested with suspicious junk that wants us to “click here”, when scammers ring us up at home claiming to be from our bank in order to steal our money, or when the car insurance renewal notice arrives and you query it because it seems expensive, and they instantly knock off the two hundred quid they were trying to cheat you out of anyway. It’s not easy when even the State takes your children and saddles them with a lifetime of eye-watering debt because they wanted to get a university education. So, yes, I admit, it’s even more tempting than ever to capitulate and retreat to a defensive position, crouch behind the barricades, simmering with anger or quivering in fear.

Except,…

How can we live like that?

If at least in our every day interaction with the people we meet, we try to assume good intent, if we assume that should we struggle, others will help, and for no other reason than it’s the human thing to do, then we’re each pushing back the tide that sometimes feels as if it’s going to overwhelm us, swallow us down and wash us up as yet more zombified pawns, blind and amoral instruments of the machine.

So,..

Starting with the checkout tonight. Pick up that first item really slow, bag it like there’s all the time in the world, and see what happens.

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Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait 1819-1905The Ego is our self constructed sense of self. It is a thought-form, so called because it is constituted entirely of our thoughts, thoughts about ourselves, about others, and about the world around us. It is in part, self defensive, assuring us, amid a sea of conflicting opinion and ambiguous social currents, that our way of thinking, our way of living is the correct one. It’s also inherently fragile, having left out all those things we deny we could ever think or allow as part of our identity – things like falling in love with someone of the same sex; feelings of friendship or even just basic respect towards someone of another race or creed; accepting that women are human beings; admitting sometimes we get things wrong; admitting other people’s ideas are as valid as our own.

Throughout all of life’s complexities and ambiguities, we can trust the ego to safeguard our position, and it will raise a storm of emotion when its superiority is threatened, when it fears exposure for the fraud it ultimately is. Then it will insist we take action, defensive or offensive. The ego can lead us astray, it can have us make fools of ourselves, it can cause us to incubate neuroses; it can make us hurt or even kill others.

One of the most powerful symbols for the ego is the gun. Take a look at the entertainment aisle next time you’re in town. Pick the top ten DVD’s and see how many carry a gun on their front cover. There he is, the hero, the “ego,” bearing a weapon in order to assault his enemies. It is the archetypal statement of superiority, that my ego has acquired the power to exterminate yours, that my argument shall ultimately triumph over yours, for no better reason than I am stronger or cleverer or more dangerous.

The young are easily seduced by the gun. They are persuaded by perverted cultural programming that it possesses not only a noble imperative, but also a romance. The young are also least prepared, emotionally, psychologically to have much of an idea about the ego, the ego being itself too strong and too big to be seen, masquerading as it does as the very root of our being. We think it’s who we are, that there can be no “us” without it. When threatened it will turn to weapons, and if no weapons are to be had, then fists will do, and failing even that then some malicious comments posted online will sate its appetite for a while.

And there’s really not much the gun-less can do. Fear of death will have me nodding readily to your tune. I may not be happy about it, I may resent it, and you may rest assured my own ego will ensure the first chance I get, I’ll turn the gun on you. And the hotter the revenge against your insults to me the better, for there is nothing quite so satisfying as the signs of a violent and horrifically painful capitulation on the face of one’s enemies. What? Got no gun? A Samaurai sword, or a knife will do. Plenty of those on the covers of DVD’s as well.

The strength of an argument, of reason, will always be outmatched by proficiency with arms, which makes me wonder how we ever progressed beyond a state of barbarism, to find the time to build cities and invent rich cultural lives as well.

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I am on the A565 Trunk Road(quaint name), heading into Southport. It’s a beautiful afternoon, warm, sunny. There’s the usual weird wobbly rumble coming from Old Grumpy. I think it’s the CV joints, though the last mechanic I discussed this with reassured me it’s more likely the tyres.

I’m doing about 45 mph, trailing at a respectful distance behind a Nissan Micra. The speed limit here is 60, but there’s no hurry. We’re overtaken with an impatient flourish, and in swift succession by a BMW and an Audi, then another BMW, each brightly lit. This is such a  cliché.

Numbers one and two son complain, and enquire of me if I am comfortable being so humiliated.

“Humiliated?” I enquire.

“You’re just too patient,” they say.

Ah! At this point I am supposed to “burn” the Micra off, and regain face by doing battle with the arrogant, hectoring haste of the BMWs and the Audi.

Grumpy is capable of a respectable 120 bhp, and I am capable of the occasional burst of speed, so all things are possible,…

However.

“The funny thing about patience,” I say, “is that I’ve spent my whole life waiting patiently for something to happen, only to realise that it does not exist.”

“Profound,” says number one son, facetiously.

“Sad,” says number two son, ironically.

But it was not “sad”. Nor had I wasted half my life waiting for that certain something that it turns out did not exist. The realisation itself is a valuable thing, profound if you like. Softening of ego the prize of middle age; anything else, by the time you reach your fifties is, in some regards, a failure.

When does my life begin? When I finish school? When I finish University? When I get a job? When I find someone to marry? When my kids are born? When my kids have left home? But already I am forty five, I am fifty, I am fifty five, and I am still waiting for my life to begin. Patience. Patience. How about when I retire?

Will my life begin then?

Of course your life began when you were born. And you knew how to live it then, one day at a time, one moment at a time, until you were slotted into society, probably around the age of five, and your first day at school. And then for the rest of your life, you were living it with your eyes either focused on some point in the future, like hometime,  or looking back with regret or longing. Maybe tomorrow I will begin my life, or, if only things had been different, I might be living it now.

What would it be like, I wonder, to live one’s whole life as a child, a child unsullied by the corruption of a “civilised” education, a child untainted by the virus of “ambition”, the egoic craving for attainment, of rising to the perpetual aspirational arrogance of the brightly lit BMW and the Audi?

Focussing our attention, our hopes, our aspirations, even our fears in the future leads inevitably to the negation of the importance of our lives as they are right now. So no, I did not mind that the BMWs, nor the Audi had blasted past rumbly Old Grumpy, nor that the little NIssan Micra seemed in need of a bit more speed. I was preoccupied only by the beauty of the afternoon, that the chestnuts we passed were in blossom, that the yellow tassels of laburnum were unfurling, which placed us precisely a week away from number one son’s birthday.

BMWs and Audi, rear view hoggers and cliche’s, were gone into the far distance now. Transient. Unimportant. Is life a race to the bottom? No. More important is the realisation that what you’ve spent your whole life waiting for does not exist, that life, actually, is “now”.

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baywatchOkay, sorry about that. But now I’ve got your attention, here’s a sexy Schatz and Sohne torsion clock, made in West Germany, circa 1973 – and until recently, broken. I saw it on “The Bay” over Christmas, popping up of a sudden with a “buy it now” option, so, this being my sort of thing, I bought it. It cost me £15, and I’ve spent about £10 on bits and pieces to get it going. It was reluctant to run at first, but a good clean, a light oiling and a bit of tinkering seems to have released the life in it. There’s quite a lusty swing to the pendulum now and it looks just grant sitting on top of my bookcase. I wound it fully on Saturday and it shouldn’t need winding again until next February.

schatz

You can get virtually anything on Ebay of course. The upside is this helps to keep old things, like my broken clock, in circulation, things that might otherwise end up on the tip. That ugly wooden duck ornament? Those jeans that no longer fit? That hat you bought for a wedding and don’t know what to do with now? Rest assured someone, somewhere in the world wants it and will buy it from you – they just have to know it’s there, and Ebay facilitates that knowlege very well. But there is another side to Ebay that says much about human nature, and you see it when you start bidding for items.

Bidding isn’t like the “buy it now” option. Not all items are listed as “buy it now”. “Buy it now” is just online shopping, while “bidding” is more a competition in which stuff is no longer “bought” but “won”.

When bidding you decide first what’s the maximum you’re prepared to pay, then enter small bids up to that limit. Clearly, if someone is prepared to pay more than you, and puts in a higher bid than your limit, you are no longer winning; you are losing, and nobody like to lose. It’s at this point you should walk away, but instead you are tempted to forget what you think a thing is actually worth, and you switch to an ego driven mindset based upon how much you want it. And how much we want a thing increases in proportion to the degree we think we are being denied it. When that happens, there are no longer any limits.

There was another broken clock I fancied on the Bay last weekend. It had been on for about a week, with a single enticing bid of just £3. I began to bid on Sunday morning, the day the auction ended. I offered an initial £3.50, while setting my automatic maximum bid to £15, because that’s the most I thought it was worth, and I wasn’t going to budge beyond it. I was outbid immediately, my limit burned away by a bidder far more determined to have it than I was. Then I sat back as other bidders joined in the frenzy, and I watched in disbelief as the “value” of that £3.00 broken clock ran up towards £40. I hope the winner was happy with their prize, and thought it worth the money; I’m sure the seller will be even happier.

It was interesting, observing the desire to “win” flickering in my own breast. It was tempting to join in, to not be denied this thing I’d been watching for days. And as the time ticked down to the closing of the auction, I hovered on the brink of upping my bid. I could have put a maximum of £100 on it, and probably won, but that would have been to take leave of my senses. This is why auction houses are so successful. On Ebay there’s no auctioneer adding their own helium to inflate prices even further, but it’s still the perfect forum for demonstrating the power of want over need, and the relegation of a thing’s actual value to the human desire for its possession.

It’s fun, Baywatching, but when it comes to bidding, beware that ego; you really have to know when to walk away. It’s much safer to watch out for those “buy it now” items, and if the price is fair, go for it. Don’t get caught up in a bidding war, because no matter how much you might want that piece of junk, it’s probably not worth what you’ll end up paying for it.

And just when I thought it was safe to go back into the water: a new listing! A Bentima torsion clock with a lovely little Kern movement, all for a fiver and a “buy it now” button. Okay, losers, this one’s mine!

Here it is, in bits:

bentima
That should keep me quiet for a while.

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Burne Jones and WIlliam Morris 1874Eckhart Tolle is a spiritual teacher, and a successful author. His books “The Power of Now” and “A New Earth” have been devoured by a worldwide audience in search of that intangible “something” that is missing from our lives. Tolle brings together insights from all the world’s religious traditions and, for me at least, his success lies in his non-religious, transcendental approach to matters of mind, body and spirit, also to his humility and his engaging sense of humour. It’s no secret that Tolle has suffered from depression and anxiety, no secret either that his success is due also in part to the way he has dealt with his own mental illness.

In a society built on rationalism, determinism, and materialism, people who are mentally ill are not seen as reliable witnesses to the facts of life, at least not usually by those who control the gateways to employment, and financial remuneration. But if we think about it for a moment, the statistics suggest one in five of us have or will suffer from a mental illness. Then, since 80% of mental illness goes undiagnosed, this suggests very nearly one in five of us doing valuable work right now is already mentally ill, yet managing to hold the place together somehow – so we can’t be that unreliable either, can we? What’s even more interesting is that by implication, statistically, probably one in five of those people who hold mental illness low regard, are themselves mentally ill.

As a student in England, Tolle, suffered terribly from feelings of anxiety and depression. One night he lay down so overcome, he told himself he could not live with himself any longer. Sadly, this is the fate of many – an illness held in secret, ending suddenly with a tragedy that leaves others shocked by its unexpectedness. But what happened to Tolle was not what usually happens. He experienced an inner separation and an insight that was to be the catalyst of his life’s work. I’m paraphrasing here but he asked himself something to the effect of: who is the self that cannot live with my self any longer? The self he could not live with, he concluded, was the bit he associated with the pain, the egoic self. And he reasoned that the essential part of “Tolle”, indeed of all of us, was something else, something above, and not part of the pain.

He went on from this potentially fatal moment to become a teacher, counsellor, and an engaging life coach to millions. His teachings are all over the place – on Youtube, in books, DVD’s, lecture tours. I find in them much that explains the highs and lows of the lives of human beings, but the story of Tolle is itself an inspiration, demonstrating that mental illness does not invalidate anyone from playing a constructive or even a leading role in society.

Yes, we’ll sometimes have a hard time from ignorants and materialists who think the brain is a computer made of meat, and that a part of our brains have gone rotten. But our brains are not rotten. You cannot diagnose mental illness from a brain scan. Our brains are like everyone else’s. There are no bits missing. What mental illness does, however, is it puts us on the edge of something, thrusts us into the depths of an unknown, even at times a frightening inner realm, but the stories we bring back from that place are important – not only for our own healing, but the healing of others like us. So tell the Internet your stories. Use your creative faculties.Get a blog, get a Flikr account, and get busy.

I spoke last time about the three vessels of being – the physical, the mental and the spiritual – and how attention to any one of them can help maintain the others and restore us to ourselves. Creative expression is very much concerned with the mental life, and is the most natural channel for the otherwise jagged and ferocious energies of mental illness. So many artists and larger than life celebrities are mentally ill, yet they are also possessed of the most remarkable abilities. So, write it, journal it, paint it, doodle it, tell it in poetry, sculpt it, and learn by it. Through creative expression we turn something negative into something positive and, as we give external shape to what has up ’till now been only an internal, mental thought form, we realise it is not who we really are at all, that pain. It dwells within us, yes, and it looks like that, but it is not who we are.

The search for who we are is the same as the search for our life’s meaning, whether we are suffering from a mental illness or not. But that you suffer can be interpreted as a sign you sense there is something vital missing from the world, that your inability to fit in with it is more a reluctance to dance with a partner who is not of your choosing. Again, one in five of us will at some point suffer from a mental illness. It is not our fault if society has difficulty in accommodating that fact, or in facing up to the question it begs regarding the nature of society, and the direction it is moving in. But neither can we blame society for its ignorance if we do not tell it how we feel.

Do not say how can I live with myself? but say instead who is the self that cannot live with my self. And in separating yourself from the pain, go seek instead the self you want to be.

I leave the last word on this to Eckhart Tolle:

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keys

“Master, when will you teach me?”
“Have you eaten?”
“Yes.”
“Then go wash your bowl.”

Presence is inner space. It is stillness. It is making room inside ourselves for the primary essence to return to conscious awareness. Without presence, our lives are dominated by our thoughts and our memories, and we mistake them entirely for who we think we are. Only when we still the mind, when we rise above the flow of thought and memory, do we invite presence and reconnect with the authentic self.

So, try this for a moment:

Sit down. Take a deep breath. Focus. Don’t reminisce, don’t anticipate the future. Narrow your sights to the present moment, and above all STOP THINKING! Do it now.

Did it work?

No.

It’s impossible to stop thinking. And anyway, we have to live, to work, to take care of our families, get through college, pass exams, fix the car. Try doing any of that without thinking! It seems “presence” is not only a difficult thing to attain, it’s also impractical and unhelpful in our everyday lives. So, do we live as we should, or do we retreat to a cave and nurture presence instead?

Actually, presence is helpful and practical; it’s just a question of how we get there. If we can somehow create that space within ourselves, we can move beyond our thoughts, rest in spaciousness, and from there recognise our thoughts for what they are: mostly imposters and prophets of false doom. We think when we need to, but we no longer confuse “thought” with “identity”.

The deliberate cessation of thinking is impossible. Even to attempt it is only going to make matters worse, risking thoughts of self loathing when we inevitably fail. We should think more of “presence” as a state where our thoughts proceed at a more measured pace, and where we no longer find ourselves caught up with their contrived chains of endless urgencies:

We must do this, we must do that, or this won’t happen, and then we won’t get that, so we won’t be able to go there, and so and so won’t like us any more, and then we will be unhappy,…

If we can distance ourselves from the chain of thought, it’s a start. And indeed, if we sit quietly we find it is possible to observe the run of thoughts from a place within ourselves, without actually engaging them. We merely watch their coming and going, without judgement. If we feel our emotions getting hung up on particular thoughts, we press them gently aside. This is a powerful practise, and we find, in time, moments of deeper presence creeping into our lives of their own accord.

“Master, when will you teach me?”
“Have you eaten?”
“Yes.”
“Then go wash your bowl.”

There are many ways to nurture presence and they aren’t that difficult. They require a little imagination, and the cooperation of the ego. But that they require Ego’s indulgence is the reason so few of us make way in this search for presence – egos, being entities comprised entirely of thought, are not naturally inclined towards the cessation of thinking.

Try this instead:

Look at your hands. Now (in a moment) close your eyes. How do you know your hands are still there? Because you can feel them. But what are you feeling? You are feeling the energy of the body. It’s particularly noticeable in the hands. Now breathe in, and very gently out, and breathing out, focus more on the feeling in the hands. The feeling grows stronger. Breath, it seems, can help focus stillness and amplify one’s sense perceptions.

Remember this.

Using the imagination as the vehicle, and the outward breath as the energy to drive it, it’s possible to explore more of the body this way. Thus, we discover similar feelings in our arms and our chest. The region around the heart and the lower abdomen also respond strongly to the caress of breath-assisted imagination. The more we practice, the stronger and more readily these feelings come to us. And at some point, while we’re doing all of this we realise we’ve not been thinking about anything for a while. We have become still, we have become more “present” in the body, and we feel calmer. This is a very effective practice on the road to presence.

But there’s more.

When we become familiar with this feeling of centred calm, secure within the body, we begin to see and feel the outer world differently too. I’m looking at my keys – familiar things – but I realise I hardly ever truly see them, because the mind is not interested in them as they actually are. It labels them “keys” and moves on because it has so many other things to think about.

But, observed in stillness, a deeper dimension is revealed to my keys – the shape, the colours, the myriad indentations, the fall of light upon them, the reflections, the highlights. Be warned though: the mind may have trouble here as thinking tries to reassert itself. We might try to think about the keys: What doors do they open? This one is looking worn out and maybe I should replace it; I wonder if the battery is okay in my little torch thingy. Should I test it?

We cannot observe in stillness while we are engaged in thought. Thoughts are like stones tossed into the lake, breaking up its morning stillness. In stillness we accept only sense perceptions as they come to us – here primarily our vision, but we can also bring the ears, the nose and the sense of touch into play. But however we observe the outer world, we simply let it be, without analysis or judgement. We sense the world without thinking about it and if we’re doing it right, the feeling that arises is one of calm alertness.

Experienced on a larger scale, say in the outdoors, in the natural world, observing without judgement the tremble of every leaf and every blade of grass, this feeling of presence can be very powerful indeed, but as the lesson of the keys reveals, it can also be experienced in the minutiae we oftentimes simply overlook. And the observations need not be of static things. We can observe movement just as dispassionately and discover the stillness in it (stillness in movement) It can be experienced even in those things that we might consider a chore – ironing clothes, clearing out the garage, mowing the grass,… or washing the pots.

Master, when will you teach me?
Have you eaten?
Yes.
Then go wash your bowl.

Perhaps we should be more willing to embrace those mindless tasks for what they have to teach us.

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