Presence in the midst of Everything

In his 70s & 80s, my Dad often told me how surprising it was, repeatedly, to see an old man looking back at him in the mirror, because inside, he felt like he was 20. Now I, like some of you I suspect, am experiencing the same odd phenomenon. My take is that while we inevitably see & feel our bodies aging, we also have a sense that some aspect of us, behind our eyes as it were, is a timeless observer or witness to all that we encounter. There are different names for this: awareness, presence, witness etc. Dorothy Hunt's take on this:

"When we talk about presence, it’s not something that comes & goes, even though you may experience it as something that comes & goes. But there’s something present to every experience of our life, from as far back as we can remember and beyond. So I want to invite you to have an experience of that presence right now:

The only thing we have to do is to just stop. Just stop, and notice, notice: Is there something already present right now? Present to the surrounding sounds? Present to your own thoughts? Present to the environment in which you’re sitting? There’s something already present before, before we try to become present.

And this is really important because in what we call a person, we have this play, this interaction we might say, between presence that’s already here & doesn’t come & go even though it may appear to, and then all the things that do come & go – the objects of our awareness.

Presence is really this that’s awake in you, this that’s aware in you right now. It’s not something far away. Now the reason that you often don’t feel present to the moment, is because the mind has begun its fantasy, its daydreaming, its judging, its thinking, etc and now, there’s something present to that.

So even though you say, ‘Oh, I haven’t been present for the last 15 minutes, I’ve been somewhere else’, actually, the presence that you are, the awareness that you are, had its attention moved to whatever you were thinking about. So the idea that presence comes & goes is not actually true when be begin to understand & explore what’s already here.

We could call it awareness that’s unhooked from thought. It can be aware of anything, right? It doesn’t have a preference. That’s the good news and the bad news we might say. Because it’s aware of things that the mind will feel challenged by; and it’s aware of things that the mind loves & wants to hold onto. But in itself, it’s neither attaching to nor pushing away anything that’s here. And we may not know that this movement of our true nature - that we’re calling presence, that we can feel & sense & intuit when we’re in the presence of this presence - is really the key to our liberation.

Often the mind imagines that we’re going to be free, spiritually speaking, when all of these things that I don’t want to have here are fixed, when all of the ducks are in a row, when all my issues are completely healed & finished, maybe then, I can be awake. But you see, you’re awake right now, right here & now, to this moment. It’s not something far away.

So when I talk about the play of presence & personhood, I’m really talking about how it is that when we identify only as a person, we separate ourselves from this that’s present in all of us, this that’s awake in all of us, this that’s aware in all of us."

Dorothy Hunt “The Play of Presence and Personhood.” Sounds True, Psychotherapy & Spirituality Summit, 2018.

Photo by P. Michael Lovas

Photo by P. Michael Lovas

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