A talk from an online sitting, November 2017
“The paradox of the here and now” was the title of a talk I gave recently with a colleague who works in the field of experiential learning. The paradox referred to was this. To be truly present to our immediate experience, we have to move aside, a little, from our thinking minds. In order to reflect on this experience we have to go back into our thinking minds.
In preparing for this I began to pull together some quotes on the topic of “the here and now” and was struck by how many different spiritual traditions emphasize this as part of their spiritual practice. Many of us, of course, will have come across this in our contact with eastern meditative practices, Eckhart Tolle’s ‘the Power of the Now’ or ‘Mindfulness’ training. But this idea is also present in other spiritual traditions: Richard Rohr – a Catholic monk and mystic – points out that the historical word for presence is simply “prayer” and notes that ‘Jesus often called it “vigilance,” “seeing,” or “being awake.”
There is also a growing body of research showing that paying full attention to our immediate experience can be help reduce suffering from stress, anxiety and pain. But other benefits have also been noted. Doctor and spiritual teacher Richard Moss speaks of how being fully present to our experience allows space for our conscious selves, rather than our thinking mind, to come to the surface, often as a deeper sense of knowing or sense of intuition. Others talk about the here and now being a doorway to becoming more real and authentic. As Ekhart Tolle puts it – the here and now is the only thing that is truly real – everything else is just a memory, or thought about the future. Most recently, I came across a neurobiologist explaining how paying attention on our body and sensations can help shift the focus inside our brain away from an overly conceptual version of ourselves that can sometimes be at the root of toxic blame, shame and narcissism.
But few teachers, spiritual traditions or psychologists suggest that being “here and now” is easy: in a sense this is why meditation is called ‘practice’. The primary challenge is how to encourage the busy mind to quieten down for a bit – or how to step aside from our thoughts. However, another key challenge is the fact that when we stop, and become truly present to our experience, sensations or thoughts that we normally avoid – physical or emotional pain, or an uncomfortable truth – can come powerfully into our awareness.
After pulling together these quotes, I asked myself where “here and now” fits in the Trillium Awakening path. In some respects, it runs through all our practices: in gazing, and being in mutuality with another, we are drawn deeply into a ‘here and now’ awareness both of the other person, and our own experience of being with ‘the other’.
However, I found the notion of “Radical Embrace” in the Trillium Discovery Course comes closest to what many traditions say about both the challenge – and the benefits – of “being present” to the here and now moment.
Radical embrace is one of “Four Alchemical Ingredients” in the Trillium path to Awakening. The others three are “Transmission, Greenlinghting, and Daring and Perseverance: all of these are also very relevant to the challenge of staying present, but I want to focus particularly on radical embrace.
In radical embrace, the key element is being willing investigate, rather than avoid, things that come up into our awareness:
- A natural process of investigating and integrating your (positive or negative) conditioned responses, broken zones, and shadow issues to permit greater freedom and authenticity in your self-expression and relationships with others
- Attention is directed to how your body registers any issue that is “up,” then that issue (or reactivity) is invited to come fully into awareness and even be “lived” for a while
- In the original words of Linda Groves-Bonder in her Six-step Recognition Yoga: “see it, feel it, live it, be it, transcend it, and speak it as appropriate all along the way”
- Or, to approach it slightly differently, see it, feel it, describe it, become it, bring Presence to it, and experience it organically moving toward healing and integration
Some of you will recognize how this links closely with the idea of Greenlighting:
- A distinguishing quality of radical embrace is the greenlighting of whatever states are arising without trying to change them before they have had a chance to be fully felt, described, experienced, and integrated
Another element of Radical Embrace is similar to that mentioned by Richard Moss, and perhaps also central to the way in which the practice of mindfulness helps in the management of pain and stress:
- In the process (of Radical Embrace) the natural wisdom of your body and whole Being may be revealed, resulting in the mending of all kinds of internal divisions or “splits”
Given the fact that this can be very challenging to do on our own, the Trillium approach is particularly helpful in emphasizing ways in which we can support one another in this process: This is also referred to in the description of Radical Embrace:
- We support one another in bringing Presence—awareness, curiosity and compassion—to our issues so that they can evolve naturally and be integrated into our whole selves and
- We make room for one another to speak from their places of wounding, conditioning, or reactivity, even when it sounds unflattering or decidedly “un-spiritual”—because it brings about deep healing in the places we need it the most (the parts we’re ashamed of).
Worth saying that this is also about listening to – and speaking about – the “good bits” as well as the difficult bits:
- Similarly, we bring this same quality of inner sensing to help embody subtle awakening experiences of expansion, consciousness, bliss, deep peace, etc.
For a couple of breaths: just tune into, or pay attention to, anything going on in your awareness – physical sensations (your body touching your seat or a sense of warmth or cold in your hands), something you are hearing, seeing (if you keep your eyes open), or even smelling.
If there is a strong thought or emotion coming up, just acknowledge this as part of your here and now experience.
On the second or third out breath, say quietly (to yourself) Thank you – thanking consciousness for bringing this particular sensation, feeling or thought to your awareness.
Thank you. Thank you.
And so on, for about two minutes.
*with thanks to Richard Moss for introducing me to this practice