|A Field Guide to Conscious Loving Presence
Prospective Contents Back to top
Preface: Conscious Loving Presence
Introduction: Losing the Field
Part One: Entering the Field
Part Two: Dancing in the House – the Body and the Brain
Part Three: Integral Practice – Working with the Mantras of Remembrance
A Field Guide to Conscious Loving Presence Back to top
Introduction: Losing the Field
It is true, in an important sense, that we must become like little children if we are to “enter the kingdom of heaven” – if we are to rediscover the field of our conscious loving presence, which is the beginning, as well as the mature end, of our human possibility. A fully mature adult embodies the tenderness, simplicity, and openness of a child. Whereas our so-called adulthood is characterized by defensive patterns that prevent our childhood structures from ever reaching wholeness or maturity.
I may at times ask a client, “If you gave yourself permission to feel and speak as a child right now, how would you express your needs?” I ask this not to reinforce a childhood need structure, but rather because most of our so-called adult needs are, in fact, imbued with continuations and projections of unfulfilled child needs. Our unconscious defenses and denial of this fact are responsible for all our dysfunctional and self-destructive adaptations to life on this planet: our hungers and our resentments, our disregard and our violence, our everyday pain and un-fulfillment.
How then might a child, with adult language, respond to this question of needs and wants? I want love. I want to be fed or nourished. I want to be known. I want to be connected. I want to feel safe. I want to express myself. I want to be heard. I want relief. I want to feel full and substantial. I want to feel One. As mammals, we are all keyed to the experience of being bonded with, and nurtured by, the mother. Our bodies know what to expect. And they know when that expectation has not been realized or has been lost. Even at best, such direct bonding is a provisional arrangement that must transition into new forms. But from womb to breast to responsive mothering, it is our first and primordial experience of the field of conscious loving presence while in our embodied life.
The early loss of awareness of essential self and the identification with body and separation is an inevitable dynamic. Hence it is not my intention here to argue for a Utopian vision of a culture of perfect parenting or of “perfect childhood.” That in itself will not solve the human dilemma of separation and survival in an embodied existence in a seemingly dualistic and material world; although it would give us the optimal foundation nature intended. But my intention here is simply to point to the structure of human experience. It is founded on loss and our response to loss. And our need is to embrace this consciously and lovingly.
For our mammalian embodiment, the deep bond of emotional and physical nurturance with the nursing mother is a naturally privileged and temporary extension of our pre-birth unity and fulfillment – the comprehensive connectedness and nurturance of the womb. The experience of being bathed in the mother’s attention, and in her energetic and heart-field, while ingesting the pure total nourishment of her warm milk is nothing less than a divine ecstasy – a sense of warmth, nourishment, and complete sufficiency that pervades everywhere in the body and in the consciousness. Every system in the body is opening to its own divine dance of growth, integration, unfoldment, and reciprocity. The attunement pathways of the brain and nervous system are unfolding with the capacity for self-attunement and attunement with others. We are buoyed for our journey into the sea of experience and our inevitable reactive and contractive adaptations to the stress of life. This is our divine moment which some of us never experience and all of us lose all too soon. It is also an occasion that may be admixed with inconsistency and many mixed emotional messages, as our caretakers do not perfectly embody that divine presence, but rather express their own adaptive conditioning to the stress of life.
It could safely be said that all of our addictive processes – processes that to one extent or another define much of our adult human functioning – are the organism’s attempt to restore a sense of aliveness, connectedness, sufficiency, or peace that our adaptations to life have not otherwise been able to retain. This includes not only our addiction to grossly self-destructive external substances, uppers and downers, inners and outers, in an effort to restore that divine milieu. It includes not only our addiction to hormone-stimulating behaviors – relational, sexual, thrill-seeking, power, etc. It includes not only our addiction to everyday arousers, soothers, or numbers. Ironically, it especially includes our addiction to our neurotic defensive systems, to the denial of real feelings and needs, to compulsive thinking and reactive emotion, to a fixated sense of self or ego, to the need to be right, and to all of our projective systems that actually reinforce and maintain the experience of separation. In sum, they are the activities of traumatized children not knowing how to own or to integrate their actual experience.
Hence, the order of the world, as we know it, is an elaborate and complex acting-out of the trauma of our separation from the field of conscious loving presence. And until we are able to surrender our defensive posturing and return to the scene of the loss – our childlike innocence and vulnerability – we will be hard put to find the doorway back into the kingdom, or the openness required to walk through it. Because all of our worldly conditioning is designed to adapt, compensate, substitute for, or deny our actual condition – our perceived loss and our reinforcement of that loss – we are always “missing the mark,” the Greek term translated as “sin” in the English-language bible. Our “sin” is thus our patterns of thinking and behavior that inadvertently reinforce and entrench our sense of separation from the Field. Whereas to fundamentally shift our psychological point of view, translated in the English bible as “repentance,” re-allows once again that childlike innocence that is open to new possibility: the possibility of recognizing and re-embracing as present something we believed was lost. And what we seem to have lost is not just some provisional experience in our childhood history. That is but a reflection within a larger dynamic. What we have lost is the very ground experience of our being, the reality of conscious loving presence, that embraces and transcends the circumstances of embodied life.
For the “good news” is that the lost kingdom, the field of conscious loving presence, is not the province of a distant or separate God, or of a church or temple hierarchy. Nor is it the exclusive property of our mothers to offer or withhold. Nor is it an idealization or a fantasy. Nor is it a distant accomplishment, or a reward for good behavior. It is the inherent field of our own being. It is “what we are made of.” Thus can Jesus freely encourage us to “be whole, even as our Father in Heaven is whole.” Conscious loving presence, even amidst the “fang and claw” of phenomena, is simply what the universe looks like from the inside. And we are spiritually disposed, as well as structurally enabled, to experience it.
It is the nature of embodiment itself – to be born as an individual body in an apparently dualistic and material world of finite dimensions – that is the fundamental existential or spiritual challenge. There is an inevitable journey of separation and rediscovered union that we are structurally designed to be capable of making. Our evolved brain/body organisms are structurally disposed to be able to experience and respond to separation and survival; to be able to analyze, associate, project, make sense of, and otherwise intuit or gain insight into our real situation; and ultimately to directly access and apprehend increasingly integrated patterns and widening fields of information that embrace and transcend our provisional separative perceptions, and relocate ourselves within the non-material and unitive context of conscious loving presence. This is our mature spiritual potential.
We are not born as the mature accomplishment of our developmental potential. We are born as vulnerable and dependent beings into a relational field requiring nurturance and reciprocity. This is manifest life understood as kaslimal, the Mayan term for profound mutual indebtedness that is at the same time a “mutual ensparkedness.” This in itself is but the reflection of the divine hologram, the dharmadhatu, or the mind of God, we might say, in which all things embrace and embody each other in an infinite display of reciprocity and nurturance. That is the field out of which we are born. And it is a field that, even within the structure of our life in time, enjoins us to the experience of being fully nurtured and of then being able to fully nurture. The development of our human faculties must begin in a dependent condition; and the quality of our early bonding, nurturance, support, and healthy attachment will have everything to do with the success of our integrated development as we move through the natural stages of maturation. The separation from the originally experienced dependent field of conscious loving presence in childhood is inevitable. And human beings have certainly demonstrated their capacity to overcome early deficits in order to make healing choices towards consciousness, love, and presence. Our childhoods are part of a larger pattern of our own conscious development, not deterministic in an absolute sense. However, the optimal use of our faculties in evolving a life in which consciousness, love, and presence are still paramount will be encouraged by optimal support and reciprocity during the stages of our organic dependency.
When these organic developmental needs have been suitably met, we will most naturally evolve that healthy independence that allows us to assume responsibility for our lives; including primary responsibility for our own feeling states. This means, above all, assuming responsibility for our felt states of separation and for the way we act out and maintain states of separation, rather than projecting blame onto the past or onto situations in the present. For although in our dependent and immature stage we cannot be responsible for maintaining the integrity and reciprocity of the field of conscious loving presence, as mature adults we are entirely responsible. The pain, loss, fear, or overwhelm we experienced when our adult caretakers were incapable of maintaining the reciprocal field led us to deny or withdraw from our own field of being, or to solidify our natural tendency to withdraw; adopting compensatory and protective behaviors that inadvertently reinforce and maintain our sense of separation from the all-embracing field that includes ourselves and others.
This then is the pain we suffer, not through the loss of the field, but through the loss of our ability to experience the field. We could define all mature growth work, and all true spiritual discipline, as the steps we take to recognize and release our own mechanisms of separation; and to re-allow and to re-establish our relationship to, even our identity with, the field of Conscious Loving Presence. This is not philosophy. This is who we are. This is who you are.
A Field Guide to Conscious Loving Presence Back to top
An Excerpt from Part Three: Mantras of Remembrance
Part Three of this book in progress focuses on working with the “Mantras of Remembrance” as part of an integrated path of spiritual practice that has evolved in my own work with people. The ‘mantras’ are not mantras in the technical sense. They are phrases for contemplation; for awakening direct comprehension. But the word ‘mantra’ best captures their directness and intimacy to the meditation process. Please do not allow these mantras to become slogans or catch phrases or rules. They are occasions for intimacy with reality in the tenderness of your own meditative process.
The following excerpt from Part Three discusses the use of the first mantra, Conscious Loving Presence.
Working with the mantra Conscious Loving Presence
The use of the mantra, Conscious Loving Presence, is definitely not a matter of “fake it till you make it.” Actually, it is a matter of inquiry or investigation – as are they all. We may begin by asking – and later by noticing or remembering – where in the field of my experience does conscious loving presence exist right now?
First we take the word “conscious” and let it bring to mind our present experience of awareness. Commonly, our awareness is completely identified with, or entranced by, the objects of our awareness, whether sensory or imaginal. Although awareness itself is present, apart from its objects, it is not readily discerned because it is too closely identified, or associated, with its objects. I know the world I see, but not the knower of that world.
Because awareness in itself has no defining content or edges, its dimensions may be said to be infinite. The contents that rise and fall in awareness do not limit its free and infinite capacity. When awareness “identifies with” – seems to be not other than – the arising objects, this “objectified” awareness becomes like a flat screen of reality in which infinite space is pressed into a seemingly very fixed and limited dimension. The spaciousness and freedom that is awareness is now lost in our experience.
This is the case of the dreamer who is lost in the dream, has no freedom within it, and is unaware of herself as the awareness in which the dream is arising. Now the limits of our reality appear to be governed by the mechanics of the “flat screen” world, its logic, conditioning and causality, and we can only seek ‘meaning,’ ‘happiness,’ and ‘survival’ within its terms. This might be said to be “samsara,” the illusory world of birth and death. It is illusion in the sense that it is merely a distortion in the interpretation of experience based on awareness being ignorant of itself. But it is relatively real because it ordinarily and universally defines our experience of existence.
How then to awaken from this self-limiting world in which consciousness finds itself? This would seem to be the object of much spiritual seeking and even of much mystification – as the natural tendency of the objectifying mind is to objectify even the way out of objectification, and to put its attainment at some far distance. Thus, at one level, the many spiritual traditions have – importantly – sought to awaken the consciousness of humankind to a more aware, harmonious, loving, and integrative way of life as a corrective to the most disharmonious and self-defeating aspects of the dream. And yet, they may do so without necessarily awakening primordial awareness back to itself. Only in the subtlest teaching traditions – in some Buddhist or Advaita schools, for example – is consciousness encouraged to turn directly back on itself. In certain tantric schools, the student is offered what is called “pointing out instructions,” in which she is helped or directed to be able to discern in some small part her own primordial awareness, or the nature of her original mind, at the very beginning of – and as a basis for – continuing practice and development. In some sense, this mantra, conscious loving presence, is a pointing out instruction.
Where then, to return to our first question, does consciousness exist in the field of our experience? If I notice my experience of this moment, can I discern or distill from the content of my awareness the actual nature of my awareness itself? Can I rest my awareness, even momentarily, on the experience of awareness itself, undistracted by its objects?
When we realize how active and identified the mind is, how it is so used to go galloping off into the field of objects, it is easy to see why the first task of any meditative insight is learning to quiet the mind. This subtle relearning of how to use our awareness is best accomplished in a more peaceful playing field. In fact, the practice of insight may flow quite naturally and spontaneously (though not necessarily) from the practice of stillness.
The exercises offered in the first half of this Field Guide are a pocket digest of all the tools you need to carry in order to be able to spread out a picnic blanket of stillness and insight in the midst of your playing field. These include practices with the breath, practices with reciprocity and loving kindness, and step-by-step exercises of detached and comprehensive awareness leading to resting at the heart in the nature of awareness itself.
Now, take up this mantra and repeat it, at first slowly, and with as much conscious loving presence as seems to be true of you. Less or more. And then more slowly still, remaining with each word until you are able to locate it within your experience. Holding the word “conscious,” notice in what way and to what extent you simply are conscious. Even if your mind seems largely driven by distraction, dullness, or judgment, notice the aspect of yourself – that slim fiber of awareness – that had to be conscious just to make that determination. You needn’t struggle with your mind to remove it from its content. Simply increase the weight on the consciousness side of the equation by “noticing” your current state of mind, and then “notice” that you noticed. Notice that this capacity to notice is your consciousness, and that it is a faculty that exists independent of its content. Gradually you will be able to “tease out” this experience of “being aware” for short periods and to distinguish it from “what you are aware of.” As you come to more naturally rest in the experience of simple – or naked – awareness, you will come to experience that this quality of consciousness is simply and fundamentally always true of you, and hence accessible whatever is arising. Consciousness is in itself free and spacious and it bestows a growing sense of freedom and spaciousness in the midst of experience.
Thus the first word of our mantra, conscious, reminds us in the beginning to pause long enough in our experience to investigate, to discern, or to distill the simple fact of consciousness itself, ever present, free from what it is identified with, free from thought. In time, with regular practice, less ‘investigation’ is needed, and the word becomes a simple and instant reminder to return to ourselves as the nature of consciousness at this moment.
This is no mystery. We are learning to consciously free ourselves from the restrictive loops, the previously long-reinforced circuitry, in both the instinctive-reactive and the symbol-making parts of the brain. We are reinforcing instead, and building and strengthening new circuitry, in that prefrontal part of the brain designed for enabling our capacity to access pure awareness, and which ‘nature’ intended and evolved for our bodily vehicle. As we strengthen and facilitate these new pathways, the simplest suggestion can more naturally activate them.
We now take up the second word of our mantra, loving. At any given moment it might be easy to say to ourselves, “There’s absolutely nothing loving about me right now.” And this may sometimes feel true when we sit down with this mantra. Again, we are not asked to fake it till we make it (although that might be a valuable and reasonable skill on other occasions). Here we are asked once again to become still and to discern, “What is it that is true of me at this moment that could at all be said to be loving?”
It might be that you cared enough to do this exercise; or that you would really like to be more loving and peaceful for the sake of all concerned. It may be that you had just been willingly helpful or considerate of another’s needs even though you didn’t feel loving. Perhaps it is easy for you to recall the image of someone you miss. Or you had a flicker of appreciation for the goldfinch fluttering outside your window. Or you felt a moment’s tenderness towards your own predicament or towards another. Or you didn’t yell at someone when you might have. Maybe you just want the day to start over so it will go better. Because you care.
These don’t sound like something so noble as ‘love.’ They may sound more like scraping the bottom of the barrel (which in itself can be a loving thing to do). But can we allow that these are all expressions of an underlying love that animates and supports our life, even though that love may be veiled under so many layers of story and reactivity that it appears as a mere shadow, or even disguised as its opposite?
If we have great grief, it suggests that there is great love there. If there is great fear, what is the love it implies? If there is great anger, what is the original love that is its counterpoint? Because we think of love as a way of feeling, we easily allow the absence of loving feelings, combined with various stories of unlove, and even reactive behavior, to make a case that there is no love here. So it sometimes requires great discernment and willingness to tease out awareness of the love that is present here now, even in its most disguised or unassuming form; to admit the love that we are. If in this way we can discern even a thin vein, a waft, a reluctant or puny nugget of love in our field of experience, then we blow on it long and gently as we would to help a little ember or coal to burn more brightly; until it begins to glow a little more clearly in its own light and begins to be seen and felt for what it is. That gentle blowing is itself an act of love.
Of course, love is a feeling too. And as we breathe more life into our little ember we will open up the pathways to feel that love bodily and at the heart. Hopefully, the recognition of love will not always be so hard to come by. Our previous work with tonglen and loving presence, reinforcing the love circuitry and love chemistry of the brain/body, will also make it easier to access the love current which is at the heart of our presence.
And what is presence? It is what we are that manifests as loving awareness. When our love and our awareness – that is to say, our fundamental energy and consciousness – is not identified or involved in, not co-opted or translated by, patterns of reactive conditioning or dullness, we experience ourselves as essential alive presence that is both loving and aware. This is our primordial emptiness – empty of all but our alive compassionate presence. This is the “default” position available to us as embodied beings when we have successfully navigated the developmental circuit board of our evolving brain/body, with all its possibilities and pitfalls, and come to re-experience ourselves as the embodiment of simple universal presence.
As a tool, this mantra – conscious loving presence – is clearly not intended to stand alone. By itself it would have limiting hauling power or thrust. Its greatest value lies in the context of a supportive practice that is teaching us how to recognize and release our reactive patterns, and to nourish our capacity for conscious loving presence. Then turning that phrase over with the tongue of our thought, allowing the juice of each word to release, can instantly salivate a dry mouth or a dry moment, like opening a piece of Juicy Fruit gum. At first, the recognition may be relatively shallow, but it will serve us. With practice, the recognition and absorption into contentless, all-inclusive conscious loving presence will deepen.
Ultimately, we may discover that there is no one who aspires to, cultivates, has the capacity for, or resists conscious loving presence. There is only the field of conscious loving presence itself.