“You know that space between your thoughts? Stay there.”
– Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche
There is a place that I call Home. It’s not the house I live in, but my house is in It. I keep wanting to return There, but I have never actually left. Whenever I return to It, I once again see that It has always been here.
In this vast “Here”, everything is fully accepted, nothing is excluded. It’s like a theater that presents comedies and tragedies - all appear on the same stage, and the stage doesn’t discriminate between happy and sad stories, good writing or bad acting. All are accepted unconditionally. This stage is our snapshot of the realm called Presence – the empty floor beneath all the dramas and comedies.
This is our original Home, the Place where we find all places and all times. It has always been right here, right now. With a little thought we can form an understanding of this “Home”, but it isn’t really much help until we directly experience it for ourselves.
To do this, we’ll take the second of our Three Steps, back from Orientation. Again, there is nothing wrong with Orientation - you’re just setting it aside to explore a third realm. And here’s where your experience of visualizing the Storyland overlay becomes valuable – you’ll use the same technique to peel back the layer of Orientation to reveal the realm of Presence.
First, step back from Storyland, releasing all your feelings, meanings and abstractions. Feel the click that brings you into Orientation and stay here for a few moments until the fog of Storyland has dissipated and your surroundings are clearly in focus.
Next, gather up the contents of Orientation: all the labels and measurements, names, descriptions, locations, sensations of distance, even your sense of position within your surroundings – all these go on the next overlay. This should contain everything you are holding in your mind – all the outlines, names, distinctions of every kind, even those between the different realms. Any point of view, any lingering expectation, any idea of what should or should not be – put every bit of it on the overlay.
Let that overlay drop smoothly away, like a wave washing it off you, and simply float in the ocean of sensation. Now you are in Presence. This is the realm of immediacy. There are no memories here, no thoughts of the future, just pure perception without the mind clinging to it. When a particular experience is finished it’s completely gone - no past, no future, just the crackling of the senses right now.
Presence is this moment itself, all by itself, this living moment that is the space every individual moment fills. Here there is no direction, no boundaries separating this from that, no measurements of time, simply the current of life buzzing through all our senses. This isn’t a void or blankness, but the opposite – like electricity giving life to a light bulb, this is the stuff that gives life to all things, ideas, feelings, movement and non-movement. Nothing is excluded!
When you have let go of everything you are holding mentally and emotionally, Presence is what is left. You don’t have to go anywhere to find it – you are already here, and have always been here. It is obscured by your unique Storyland and Orientation realms, and when you let them drop away, Presence is revealed.
When you try to describe Presence, what problem do you immediately face? If you peel away the overlay containing the labels, how can you use words to describe your surroundings? How can you make distinctions between Presence and the other realms without immediately returning to Orientation? The answer is that you can use words and concepts to point to Presence, then leave those pointers behind and take the step. Immediately you find yourself in Presence, and you see that the words are no longer necessary.
Now you can see that just the way you create Storyland, you yourself also create Orientation. You decide the names and the ways to measure things. You are the creator of your own overlays, and you can decide when to remove them. You can also see now that Presence is the one realm that you didn’t create. By peeling back the overlays containing Storyland and Orientation, you see that the mental stuff you weave is what both orders and obscures Presence. This is Home, and it is always right here whether you are aware of it or not. Just as Storyland is the subjective realm and Orientation is the objective realm, Presence is the essential realm.
How would the common objects we described in Storyland and Orientation strike us in Presence?
- Bell: “Ching...”
- Temperature: “Whew!”
- Thoughts: “Buzzzzz...”
- Feelings: “&@#%$!!!!”
Notice that for each of these examples, when you’re in Presence you’re only aware of the bare sensation itself. You haven’t distinguished it as being something apart from anything else, as something you’re relating to, so you’re not even aware of yourself as a separate entity; there is just the sound, the feeling or the sight that is occurring right now.
Practice – Breath Awareness
You have learned to recognize the physical sensation of stepping through the border between Storyland and Orientation. Now spend some time becoming familiar with the border between Orientation and Presence.
Sit in a comfortable upright position. Feel the click as you step back into Orientation, and do the labeling practice until Storyland has faded away. Now bring your awareness to the sensation of your breath going in and out through your nose and label it “breathing”. Do this for three breaths. After the third breath, let go of Orientation and feel the wave as you step back into Presence with a long sigh. Begin a cycle of putting your awareness on the breath while inhaling and releasing into the wave while exhaling. With each inhalation make your spine just a little straighter, and with each exhalation relax the rest of your body and mind just a little more.
When I step across this border to Presence I feel my entire body and mind relaxing at once – I’m no longer holding on to anything either physically or mentally. It’s critical to understand that this isn’t a “kicking-back” kind of relaxation, which is a direct path to Storyland. Keep your back straight while letting all your other muscles relax, like a Zen monk sitting in meditation. In Presence we’re fully alert with our attention tuned into the buzzing of this clear moment, and it’s the mental and bodily clutching that we’ve relaxed.
Do this just-sitting practice for three minutes. If you can, set a timer so you don’t have to watch the clock.
You will naturally find yourself straying away into Storyland, maybe immediately, maybe after a few moments. These sidetrips into Storyland are not a problem. When you find yourself there, simply step back into Orientation and give a label to the story itself. Label your breathing for three breaths then release into Presence and resume the breath awareness cycle. Keep doing this until the three minutes have passed.
Characteristics of Presence:
- Immediate. No past or future, just the crackling of life on the cutting edge of this moment.
- Flowing. Awareness of constant change in each of the senses, while not identifying them as senses.
- Peaceful. There are no boundaries separating things, no contention for space.
Snapshot of Presence: the empty stage before the play begins.
In Presence our familiar distinctions between things like good and bad, here and there, and hot and cold are gone. There’s no feeling that we have set them aside, or that we have somehow negated them – they simply aren’t there. As the ancient sage Bodhidharma said, it’s “vast and clear”. There aren’t even any distinctions of Holiness or Purity.