The Missing Piece in Mindfulness
How to Take Your Mindfulness Practice to the Next Level
Do you practice mindfulness? If so, you know its benefits. Mindfulness expands your awareness, shifts your perception, and gives life greater meaning and fulfillment.
Living mindfully is a beautiful practice, but have you ever felt that there is more? If so, you would be correct.
The practice of mindfulness can be a trigger that awakens the aspiration to be more of who you authentically are. How do you do this? The answer lies in self-presence.
Eckhart Tolle alludes to this in his influential book, The Power of Now.
“When consciousness frees itself from its identification with physical and mental forms, it becomes what we may call pure or enlightened consciousness, or presence.” Eckhart Tolle
Self-presence is an essential step if you wish to bring your mindfulness practice to the next level. I will talk about the benefits of self-presence and how to become more self-present, but first, let’s look a little closer at mindfulness.
What is Mindfulness, and Why is it Beneficial?
Mindfulness is the state achieved by focusing your awareness on the present moment while calmly acknowledging and accepting your feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.
When you are mindful, you are consciously engaging your awareness in the now moment. Through mindfulness, you free yourself from getting lost in the mind’s constant chatter.
When You Are Mindful You Wake Up
When you can maintain mindfulness, you wake up. Because people’s default state is to be lost in their thoughts, they are, in effect, sleepwalking, reacting to their environment on autopilot. When you are mindful, you are aware of your thoughts. When you are aware of your thoughts and emotions, you are empowered to choose how you respond to what your environment throws at you. You can choose what to think and refocus on.
When you are mindful, you take the first step to living a conscious, intentful life.
What is Self-Presence?
Self-presence is shifting your awareness to your being. It is identifying with who you are in your essence, your Eternal Self.
A.H. Almass, founder of the Diamond Approach to Self-Realization, says,
“In presence, we can know ourselves in a way that is authentic, which means we are knowing what is real in us… presence in the present is the meaning of being.”
Being is also a central theme in Tolle’s work,
“Being is the eternal, ever-present One Life beyond the myriad forms of life that are subject to birth and death… This means that it is accessible to you now as your own deepest self, your true nature.” The Power of Now
Mindfulness is a state of being where you flow in the now moment with awareness. Self-presence is taking that awareness a step further into the awareness of your true nature as the eternal being that you are.
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Self-Presence — AKA, Also Known as…
Self-presence is not new. It is also known as self-remembering and self-abiding.
In the early 1900s, the word self-remembering was coined by the Armenian mystic G.I. Gurdjieff. It had its roots in the Sufi word Muraqabah (watching over one’s heart to gain insight into the heart’s relation with its creator).
To emphasize the importance of self-remembering to his students, G.I. Gurdjieff stated very clearly: “Not one of you has noticed the most important thing that I have pointed out … You do not feel yourselves; you are not conscious of yourselves.” You do not remember yourselves.”
Self-abiding or staying in the ‘I am’ is the practice championed by the two great sages Nisargadatta Maharaja and Ramana Maharshi. The I-thought is the primal thought. It is Being being Being, a reflection of the I-consciousness or awareness of being.
“Can the mind that remains in the Self-state think as ‘I’ and as ‘I’ behave empirically thus and thus? In all manner of ways possible, one should endeavor, gradually, not to forget one’s (true) Self that is God. If that is accomplished, all will be accomplished.” — Sri Ramana Maharshi
What Self-Presence Is Not
The practice of self-presence is simple. However, it isn’t necessarily easy. To understand what self-presence is, it helps to understand what self-presence is not.
Self-Presence Is Not Meditation
Meditation has a broad meaning. There are hundreds of forms of meditation. Encyclopedia.com defines meditating as “thinking deeply or focusing one’s mind for a period of time, in silence or with the aid of chanting, for religious or spiritual purposes, or as a method of relaxation.”
We won’t find a sufficient definition of meditation in a dictionary. But, as the definition states, we generally think of meditation as something done for a period of time. For example, we stop what we are doing and sit to meditate for 30 minutes every morning.
In contrast, self-presence is meant to be practiced continually while we live our life. We self-remember as long as we can remember to do so. In this way, it is similar to mindfulness, which is best as a full-time practice.
This being said, you can bring self-presence to any meditation practice. This accelerates the process of becoming fully self-realized.
Self-Presence Is Not Self-Observation
Self-observation is a practice often used with self-presence. Self-observation is the practice of impartially observing your thoughts, feelings, actions, and body. It is sometimes called witnessing self, or the inner witness. A witness is a direct observer.
Self-observation helps you become aware of your beliefs, thought patterns, and emotional wounding. Because you are an impartial witness to what you are witnessing, self-observation helps you break your identity with your mental, emotional and physical bodies.
In some ways, self-observation is a prerequisite to self-presence as self-presence also requires you to be an impartial observer in the now moment.
Was Mindfulness Translated Incorrectly?
Interestingly, when mindfulness was first translated into English, it was done so incorrectly. It was translated from the Buddhist word sati, or smriti in Sanskrit, which literally means ‘that which is remembered.’ In this context, we can see that self-remembering (self-presence) is a closer translation to the meaning of smirti. Because of the mistranslation, the ‘remembering self, I am’ is often left out of the practice of mindfulness making it incomplete.
“Thomas William Rhys Davids, found himself charged with adjudicating Buddhist ecclesiastical disputes. He set out to learn Pali, a Middle Indo-Aryan tongue and the liturgical language of Theravada, an early branch of Buddhism. In 1881, he thus pulled out mindfulness… The translation was indeed rough. Sati, which Buddhists consider the first of seven factors of enlightenment, means, more nearly, “memory of the present,” which didn’t track in tense-preoccupied English.” Virgina Heffernan, The Muddied Meaning of ‘Mindfulness’, The New York Times Magazine
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How to Become Self-Present
In simple terms, self-presence is observing the observer. It is witnessing the witness. While self-observation is you observing yourself(thoughts, feelings, actions), self-presence is being aware of the witness that is witnessing you observe yourself. It is reflexive. It is awareness turned back into itself.
This may sound complicated or difficult to understand, but the practice of it is much simpler than it sounds.
A metaphor would be watching a movie. You are not what is happening on the screen. You are observing it. The screen is your thoughts, emotions, and actions. But then you become aware of the you who is watching the movie. You witness you watching the movie. You(Eternal Self) witness you(personality self) watching the movie (your thoughts, feeling, actions).
Self-observation is the observation of that which is given to consciousness. Self-presence is the observation of consciousness itself, the essence of your Being, ‘I am.’
Simple Steps to Become Self-Present
The best way to learn to be self-present is to start with some simple steps. If you are already proficient with mindfulness or impartial self-observation, it will be easier for you.
When first starting the practice, you can close your eyes as it can be easier with your eyes shut.
- Become aware of your breath. Simply observe your breath.
- Move deeper and begin to watch yourself observe your breath. Ask yourself, who is watching me observe my breath?
- Sense the existence of the ‘I’ who is witnessing you observe your breath. When you sense the ‘I’ who is witnessing the observer, state ‘I am,’ and feel its presence. Be that ‘I.’
Once you have the sense of what being self-present is, be self-present for as long as you can, as often as you can. As you go about your day, be self-present. When you have a sense of it, you will be able to be self-present without the help of the breathing exercise.
In the beginning, you may only be able to maintain self-presence for a few seconds or minutes before a thought or outside distraction steals your attention away. When you realize you were distracted, remember and go back to being self-present. One way to help stay in self-presence is to ask yourself periodically, “Am ‘I’ existing?”
Add Self-Presence to Your Mindfulness Practice
When you are proficient at mindfulness, you can focus your awareness on the present moment. Through mindfulness, you free yourself from getting lost in the mind’s constant chatter.
When you are mindful, your awareness is engaged.
The truth is that the only time you are self-present is when you are aware of being self-present. Once you have a sense of self-presence, the most challenging part is forgetting to do it.
There is a popular Zen Koan:
Before Enlightenment, Chop Wood Carry Water.
After Enlightenment, Chop Wood Carry Water
On the outside, what you do before becoming enlightened may look identical (chop wood, carry water) to what you do after becoming enlightened (chop wood, carry water). But, inside, the difference in your state of being is entirely transformed.
This is true with self-presence. When you are able to maintain self-presence for longer periods of time, you may find your consciousness expanding dramatically. Your perception of who you are expands. You are no longer limited to the density of the personality self and body. You reclaim your identity as the boundless, powerful, eternal Self that you are, ‘I am.’
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