If there is one skill-set I now believe necessary to alter our procedurally learned experience of absence, it's the gentle discipline of a Daily Presence Practice, one that continually deepens our roots within hidden holding.
So, how might this look?
- Setting aside a minimum of ten minutes a day (twenty seems to be a sweet spot for many who are beginning a daily practice)
- Sitting in a relaxed position with the back straight, not rigid
- Entering our breathing with approximately 4 counts on the in-breath and 4 counts on the out-breath
- Breathing into the belly, rather than into the chest
- The emphasis is upon gentle breathing rather than deep breathing
- Choosing a single sacred word to be silently repeated, especially in the first few minutes and during moments of distraction. This allows us to return to our breath and our deep intention of coming home. (Possible words: Tender, Home, Abba, Amma.) Suggestion: breathe a single syllable on the in-breath and a single syllable on the out-breath.
- Hint: Consider practicing six (and not seven) days a week. For some reason a "day off" allows the ego to relax a bit and not get so serious about "doing it right" and not so discouraged when a day is missed.
The blue line in video clip below represents a restful, tender inhale and easy, restful exhale. You are invited to breathe with this image for several minutes (allowing yourself to either join the pacing or utilizing it as a model for breathing, knowing that your own pace may need to be somewhat faster or slower).
Only this: tender breath . . . tender breath . . . tender breath.
Meditation-as-prayer isn't "something other," an experience outside our everyday, hardwired need to be in relationship. No one does well without presence, no one.
Being-with isn't some-thing, it's the resonance between two beings; not some-thing we do, rather . . . it is the obvious, yet mysterious experience of between-ness. ("I couldn't even explain to you how good it feels to look up across a room and see you standing there.") The space that was empty remains space, yet no longer empty.
For many of us, our earliest relationships didn't go as well as we needed them to. Being-with may have been limited. Being-without happened more than we might have wanted. That doesn't mean that our original need for resonance has disappeared. It also doesn't mean that the simple nature of being-with, built into all that is, has ceased functioning.
At the heart of spiritual awakening in all traditions is this common theme: the Original Heart has always been here. It is still here, in each new moment, offering the reassurance, the tenderness, the love we have always required. When Jesus asked, "Who among you, when your child asks for bread, would offer a stone?" he was actually saying, "Hey folks, knowing love isn't a matter of luck or finding something special, it's a matter of discovering your deepest nature. What each of us most need is what we're each hardwired to receive. This sharing of love is built into who we are. Our hardwiring for love is the best hint we have of understanding the ultimate nature of things." He chose the name "Abba" (tender parent) to define the ultimate nature we all share.
So, in the next minutes, you might want to allow yourself the opportunity to experience this simple, "nothing special," hardwired Original Presence. No matter what sense of absence you may currently be feeling (one that likely includes conclusions about love that were formed long ago), allow your hands to become the hands of the child pictured below, resting in Tender Presence. Simply experience that which is both utterly mysterious and our deepest nature.
The following is meditation-as-prayer when we're experiencing emotional difficulty:
Sitting in darkness, we feel exactly as we feel, which may include feelings we don't want to feel.
There is nothing to do. Nothing need be done.
We change no-thing.
Doing no-thing extra, we simply enter our breathing, presence that is already here.
Just this breath. Just this tender breath. Slow, easy, without effort.
Breathing as the needed companion that has always been here.
"I enter this tender breath as it gently enters me."
Presence Practice-WHen-Anxious or feeling stuck
“Something is very wrong (or hopeless or unworkable or . . . “). So goes our Level One thinking, darkly bonded as it is to our Level Two memory of absence. Thoughts repeat themselves through the day, fueled by this negative alliance: “nothingness” continually triggering our “It’s up to me” strategies for getting through life.
There is another way, as close as our next breath. The “no-thingness,” the ever-present AND, the hidden Presence we are currently out of contact with is as accessible as our next breath. What we most need is this next tender breath.
Nothing esoteric. No need to “walk on your knees for a hundred miles, through the desert, repenting.” (Thanks Mary Oliver.)
Just this tender breath.
This is how we allow “the most sacred” to meet “the most unbearable.”
With the video clip below, you are invited to practice this slow, restful breathing pattern.
My original meditation teacher, Allan Hunter, would say "Breathe and wait." He was essentially saying, Don't be expecting something new or special when you're meditating. Don't go looking for profound experiences or new insights. Just be faithful to your daily practice and pay close attention through your day to the shifts and changes in your life. Other than feeling calmer, accessing what we deeply need will likely not be a conscious experience during our time of meditation. Rather, it will show up in how our lives begin to transform: day by week by month by year.
This isn't a video, but it can be very helpful way to consider a breathing practice. Consider each breath to be how you are downloading what you most need at a level deeper than your thinking.
In the images below, our chronic and unending thought patterns continue unabated. (Represented by the "blah-blah-blah-blah.") Many who attempt to meditate become quickly disillusioned because they can't "stop" their thoughts. It might be helpful to realize this is not the goal of a meditation practice.
Traditionally within a mindfulness tradition it can become very important to recognize "thoughts as thoughts" rather than believing them as "reality." Thoughts come and go. Thoughts tend to be re-presentations of our core beliefs, often the very negative beliefs that were learned procedurally. Hence the value in observing thoughts without buying into them.
The problem here is that, for many, there remains a hidden imperative: "I must recognize my thoughts." This quickly becomes one more task, yet another "It's up to me" method of staying in charge.
But what if we were to give up taking so much responsibility for our experience within meditation? Yes, it is important to recognize and no longer buy into our chronic thought patterns. It is also wonderful to hold and be-with our thoughts, bringing compassion where it has been missing until now.
What if we were to also trust that, deeper than our current awareness, something essential, something loving, something we've been needing our entire lives was being downloaded into us?
Completely beyond our doing. Deeper than our conscious awareness.
The images below give an indication of precisely what I have come to trust is happening each time I allow myself to cease taking so much responsibility for my life and simply ask Love to meet me. I'm, of course, asking to be met at the place I'm most in need, a place that I likely wouldn't know enough to ask for.
Blah-Blah-Blah-Blah continues. No problem. Sometimes we even notice the pattern and refuse to buy in. Deeper still, the downloading of what we most need. Our only "task:" Breath and trust.
I need more deeply than I can know. I ask to be given what I most need.
For those who know the Eucharist: This, too, is Divine Download, deeper than words.
The following animation is from Circle of Security International, a group I co-founded in 2006. It explains in a bit more than 4 minutes how procedural memory is passed along from generation to generation. It also gives hope for those who begin to recognize the impact of the emotional bias we were offered as children.
The clip below is a one-minute and 39 second split-screen ("Childhood"-PBS/1991) of a mother and Zoe, her two-month old infant. Pay attention to the micro-cues that Zoe offers her mother, seeking the presence of someone who is both FOR her and WITH her, while also requesting the steadying availability of presence that allows for autonomy and growing capacities of the self. The simple, yet profound synchrony of shared cueing, with the mother following her daughter's lead, offers insight into what genuine resonance can look like. (Notice how the mother shared her daughter's delight and also her brief, momentary distress. Notice how this mother consistently has room for her daughter's bid for closeness, then distance, closeness and then distance.)
How might our lives be different if we had experienced this level of shared intimacy? What would happen if we began to experience the Hidden Holding/Tenderness/Benevolence of the Universe as (at least) equally attuned to our moment-to-moment lives?
The following message is for those who are struggling, feeling lost or without resource. It is meant to be listened to again and again. Again and again. Again and again.