In moments like that, seared into your memory forever, you feel the presence of something bigger, something more vast and real and beautiful and true than the ordinary world. You feel it in every fiber of your mind-body. It startles you. But deep inside you recognize it, and you know that this presence is always near, hidden just behind the veil of ordinary consciousness. You don’t need to fly to Paris to feel it (but it doesn’t hurt). You can experience it right now, wherever you are, if you learn how to grow quiet and still and open enough. Presence isn’t achieved, it’s allowed.
Call it the Kingdom of Heaven, nirvana, awakening, or simply the presence – whatever it is is beyond all of our pretty names and concepts. Still, the mind hungers to understand. So we struggle to identify and describe the sacred presence. And that’s when the trouble starts.
This isn’t easy for me to say as a philosophy professor, but when considering the mystical realm, for once it is true – feelings are more valid than facts. Facts have to do with the mind, conceptual thought, discursive reasoning, logical structures, careful definitions of words, and – shudder – empirical evidence. But in the realm of pure, trans-conceptual experience mere empirical evidence shimmers and shifts like a mirage revealing still deeper and truer forms of knowing. This is what every meditator knows – that in the depths beneath the thought-stream there rests in immense field of boundless, content-free stillness. And the wordless knowing that we are that stillness.
Once your meditation practice reveals this depth authenticity you realize that you can endure anything – that you carry within you the solution to every problem. You shift from human perspective to holy perspective. You see the big picture, and you are filled with a peace that surpasses all understanding. “Welcome all appearances with benevolent indifference,” writes Rupert Spira. “This leads to spontaneous meditation that is our true nature and the experience of causeless peace.” When we let go, we are always meditating.
When we realize the spiritual presence that we are, every room becomes a church, every thought a prayer, every conversation a benediction, and every action a ritual. Our sacred work is the transformative alchemy of our life. It is how we strip away the veneer that hides presence from us. As Soren Kierkegaard wrote, “Prayer does not change God, but it changes him who prays.” And as Meister Eckhart put it, “Our bodily food is changed into us, but our spiritual food changes us into itself.” Our spiritual practice does not improve us, it reveals us.
The presence never leaves us because it is us. The question is not How can we enter the presence? It is What made you think that you were anything other than the presence?
[This piece was originally published in my "A to Zen" column in the July/August 2019 issue of Unity Magazine, and is reproduced here with permission.]