Presencing: Attuning in Every Moment
Practice Beyond Practice
Much of the approach to contemplation in Christianity has come from the monastic tradition. While full of wisdom and centuries of experience, the practices are coming from a context of an entire life structured around prayer. Most people do not live in that context. Many people struggle to carve out even one or two sessions of 20 minutes a day for a meditation sit. If you have a two-month old and a two-year old like me, forget about it.
So is contemplation beyond my reach then? Is contemplation a luxury for the leisurely? Even those who do have the time often come to a point of desiring a deeper integration, a hope to take their practice beyond the confines of a period of time essentially removed from the rest of everyday life. What about contemplation in the midst, throughout the moments of our day?
Several voices in the Christian tradition write about a continual, living practice such as this. Perhaps most well-known was Brother Lawrence, the monastic cook who wrote about practicing the presence of God in every moment. In the Eastern Christian tradition, The Way of the Pilgrim chronicles an anonymous Russian vagabond using The Jesus Prayer as the method to always have a prayer on his lips. More recently in the 20th century, Frank Laubach wrote about his “game with minutes,” detailing a process of trying to pray without ceasing, “a minute-by-minute effort to follow the will of God.”
All of these approaches have in common the goal of taking practice into every moment of life. While all of them have their intrigue and value, they also fall short because of their inability to transcend an over-reliance on the mind.
From Mindfulness to Recollection
Thomas Merton was also from the monastic tradition, but buried in the back of No Man Is an Island he writes about a practice called “recollection.” Not like common usage of the word, as in “to remember,” but quite literally, a re-collecting of our entire being, in every moment possible.
Merton distinguishes this practice from concentration, not just a focusing of thought, but bringing “the soul into contact with God.” It is an experience of presence. Presence to ourselves, to God, and to everything in God. This process brings together the inward soul and the outward soul, the spiritual intelligence with the practical intelligence, the deep will with the will engaged in the activities of life.
Still, most of Merton’s instructions on recollection remained focused on a practice in the mind. Occasionally, he did speak of it engaging one’s whole being.
“When I am not present to myself . . . my senses, my imagination, my emotions, scatter to pursue their various quarries all over the face of the earth. Recollection brings them home. It brings the outward self into line with the inward spirit, and makes my whole being answer the deep pull of love that reaches down into the mystery of God.”
This is not a “religious disposition” that some are known to adopt, which is a sentiment of proper kindness and nicety. This is a deep connection to the experience of divine love and mystery penetrating beyond moments of practice and into the fabric of life itself. This is life itself becoming our practice, which eventually no longer feels like practice, but the singing of beautiful song—at one with the music.
My Contemplative Path – into Presencing
Growing up in the evangelical church, I didn’t have a lot of guidance when it came to trying to understand my deep desire for mysticism and contemplation. I learned mostly on my own, reading mystics discovered in footnotes and references. I found myself naturally drawn to the writers and practices listed above.
I couldn’t have articulated it before, but I was trying to discover a pathway to complete transformation of consciousness into an unceasing experience of loving union with God. I believe that is the ultimate goal of nearly every practice of prayer and contemplation in the Christian tradition. “That they may be one as we are one” (John 17:22).
With an integral view we can know that we are always connected to the divine nature within us in the face of God-being-us. Even as we are able to transcend the mental hurdles that keep us from believing that as a concept, experiencing it as a reality is rare enough in a fleeting moment, let alone every moment of every day. If we stay only in our minds, it is basically impossible.
Recently, we have been exploring the integration of the contemplative path into our heart and gut centers, in addition to the head center (which usually has most of the focus in traditional meditation). Presencing is taking the practice of recollection into our hearts and guts, in addition to our minds. It is regularly attuning into presence—presence with our essential/divine self in our gut, and presence with our deepest heart of bliss and love. In our minds it is not continually thinking about God, but rather recollection into experience of transcendent awareness in the midst of everyday life.
In my path along this practice, I can say that progress is real and the conscious experience of presence evolves into greater depth and richness. Not every moment. We won’t always recognize it. But then that is also part of the path. It does not require mental reflection of the experience for the experience to exist. It becomes an underlying reality. A different consciousness regularly attuned to deeper presence.
Neural Pathways of the Soul
Recent studies on the brain and mindfulness have revealed the principle of neuroplasticity, basically that our minds actually continuously shape and form depending on the thoughts we regularly think. The more a thought is repeated, the deeper the neural groove is etched in our brain. This has revealed to us the importance of repetition and the need to engage in specific practice and training. It has also shown the need for creativity and to always keep learning, to build new neural pathways to keep the brain from calcifying into a few regular unchanging patterns.
We’ve also just begun to learn that the heart and the gut have extensive neural networks and nervous systems more powerful than previously thought. Indeed, the operating center of our being is not just found in our head, but very much in our heart and gut as well.
While setting apart time for practice is helpful, what would it do to our internal neuronal network if we “attuned regularly” into presence in all the centers of our being? A head-re-collecting in each moment into experienced awareness. A heart gathering in each moment into bliss and love. A gut grounding in each moment into our essential/divine identity, power, and creativity.
The Practice of Presencing
Presencing is a process that is practiced all throughout your day. It is a turning at every possible moment in which you can remember to do it. These practices do not work if just thought of at random. They take specific intention and dedication to first develop new neural pathways, and then over time the grooves are established so that the practice flows more naturally. But intentional, committed repetition is necessary to get to this place.
It’s probably best to start with just one center to begin. We recommend presencing through heart-gathering for those who are new to this practice.
1. Presencing your mind to experienced awareness
This is the classic practice of the presence/recollection. You can use a mantra of your own discernment, a phrase of scripture, or part of the Jesus Prayer. Say it internally as often as you think of it, and try to think of it as often as you can. You can track your progress as a means of seeing the discipline have effect.
With an integral view of the Three Faces of God, this practice goes beyond always thinking about God, and into an expanding experience of transcendent awareness beyond the egoic self, witnessed in every moment.
2. Presencing your heart to bliss and love
Similar to our mind practice, but this time without words, gather your being into your center. In each moment, whenever you become aware of it, consciously experience yourself attuning to your heart, which is at once the deep personal mystical center of your soul, filled with love and bliss—and at the same time your personal connection to each and every one. Don’t think about these things. Bring your consciousness into that place, into that reality. Presence yourself into this heart space. Connect to oceanic bliss and personal love.
3. Presencing your gut to essential/divine identity
Ground your being down into your gut as the place of your essential/divine identity. Attune yourself not just to the knowledge of this truth, but to the experience of it. Feel your being in God as God being God. Similarly, you can plant your feet on the ground and draw up conscious being from the earth, into the specific presence of where you are now, at this very moment. Presence yourself in your gut especially in response to fear, anxiety, or worry.
4. Transcending Practice
In time, the practice begins to shift into a form of “auto-pilot.” You realize after the fact that you have been presencing without consciously trying to. This is the groove of being deeply present in mind, heart, and gut, of being experientially at one with the infinite, the intimate, and the inner divine. It won’t be all of the time, and further attuning in presencing is always necessary to deepen this experience of consciousness into an unceasing reality.