Presence here means the simple spacious awareness that is always present whether I acknowledge it or not. Its the awareness, I Am, in which experience arises. If I’m present, I’m present to, or present with whatever is happening.
In language and thought we tend to distinguish between the space in which things arise and the objects in that space. This is true of both inner and outer worlds. For example in our visual perception of the world we see objects in space, which tell us also about the presence of space, even though we can’t see space. We only know space through the objects in it.
Likewise, when it comes to the inner world, we are aware of thoughts, feelings and sensations. We witness, know or experience these things. Our awareness of the presence of these objects (of our awareness) tells us that we’re aware. Awareness can be likened to the field or space in which these things arise.
A note of caution here. In our thinking there is a kind of dualism, between awareness and the objects (thoughts, sensations, etc.) of or in our awareness. As long as there is any sense of “I” (an awareness that is localised in space/time) this dualism is inevitable. Sages such as Ramana and Nisargadatta tell us that even the witness disappears in ultimate consciousness. For now we will just say that there is a kind of unity of space and the thing in space. You can’t have one without the other. The great Chinese sage Lao Tzu puts it like this:
“Thirty spokes share one hub. Adapt the nothing therein to the purpose in hand, and you will have the use of the cart.
Knead clay in order to make a vessel. Adapt the nothing therein to the purpose in hand, and you will have the use of the vessel.
Cut out doors and windows in order to make a room. Adapt the nothing therein to the purpose in hand, and you will have the use of the room.
Thus what we gain is Something, yet it is by virtue of Nothing that this can be put to use.”(1)
This brings us to the topic of spiritual inquiry. In presence or meditation we give our attention to whatever arises – thoughts, feelings, sensations. These are known in much the same way that we see furniture in a room. Something is present in the nothing (space).
It is often taught that to witness the presence of thoughts, feelings and sensations in this way, helps us to be released from their hold. This is true.
However, in the witnessing we often still maintain something of a distance. The feeling or sensation is kept at a distance; especially when it is named (categorised) as something unpleasant.
If I experience something in me and name it “anger”, I’m immediately distanced from it. Once I’ve put it in a box labelled “anger”, I’m prevented from a fuller experience of this phenomenon(this arising, this movement). The same can happen with our experience of the outer world. If I pass a rose on my walk, and call it rose before really opening myself to it, I shall have missed its true nature, being and uniqueness.
But I can also, as it were, drop that label, and allow myself to experience this phenomenon (event, happening) more fully. I can enter more deeply, beyond the label, and experience the full force of the sensation, with no label. I can let it in without defense. I can experience the uniqueness, nuance, flavour of the happening I previously labelled “anger.”
I may now find something completely unfamiliar. I may struggle to find words to describe what I’m experiencing, having dropped the convenient generic term “anger.”
This full opening to the experience leads to something rather wonderful. What we notice when this is allowed to happen is that there is a kind of release. The experience releases its grip. I feel relieved of a pressure or of a burden. I feel lighter. I am “enlightened.” It is said that everything desires liberation. It desires to be “known” – that is fully received as it is, on its own terms. When this happens, that “something” spontaneously “self liberates.” (2)
The more we can open ourselves to such an experience, the more this can happen. If we can go beyond the label, beyond the naming, the classification, and really let the experience in without resistance, the more it will release.
What one is doing here is allowing oneself to be, so to speak, immersed in, completely taken over by the sensation, whilst remaining aware. There is no action involved. The end is achieved simply by surrendering to the sensation. What one surrenders to may appear as a sensation or as an image. If an image appears which somehow expresses the condition which is seeking release, this can also be very powerful. By “end” I mean liberation for the “thing” experienced, as well as for the experiencer. Liberation for the experiencer is often felt as a relief or a release or a lightening.
When someone goes more deeply into a sensation, in order to experience it, they often encounter, when trying to describe their experience, a difficulty with words. Their experience often defies description. I think that this could be because these experiences seem to come from a level of early experience and memory – from early life or existence in utero. It may also be that they arise from even deeper memories, such a previous incarnations, ancestral experience, or prehuman existence. At any rate they certainly seem to be pre-verbal. There is lots of evidence to suggest that we carry deep layers of sensation and memory which come from far beyond the shores of an individual subconscious.
Dr. Rajan Sankaran, the Indian homeopath, has coined the term “vital sensation” to describe this deeper level of experience. The vital sensation underpins and informs both mind and body. It appears in both mind and body, but comes from a level that is deeper than both. It is a sensation that pervades the whole being. It is usually unconscious and is present (even if unconscious) in every critical or stressful life situation. It is a sensation present in the whole being and not just a part. It is a general sensation.
Sankaran’s theory, supported by many documented homeopathic case studies, is that this realm of experience is not only pre-verbal, but pre-human. What do I mean by this?
At this level, if someone can relax and open enough, they often start describing something which seems to be beyond the reach of a specifically human experience. Thus it is beyond the reach of the language of human experience – beyond the reach of the language of imagery and feelings. It seems to be beyond psychology and notions of the human unconscious. Sankaran refers to the world of thought, imagery and feeling as “human specific”(3). It is the world of the human condition, of human relationship, aspiration and fear. What lies beyond this, according to him, is the world of “non-sense”, where strange things just are, apparently without rhyme or reason. It’s a bit like entering the world of Alice in Wonderland, where a completely different logic prevails. This level is referred to as “non-human specific.”
(C.G. Jung was also aware of something beyond the human unconscious and used the term “psychoid” to describe that level where the human unconscious merged with the realm of matter.)
What Sankaran and other homeopaths have found is that if a person can let go enough to get beyond the logic of human experience they will start to to use “nonsense” words and descriptions which don’t seem to be rooted in their own experience or personal history. These descriptions cant always be explained in terms of a personal history, or a birth experience, or even in the collective history of the species. These descriptions seem to belong more to the world of nature than to the human world.
At this level, most people will begin to talk in terms of either:
1. an internal lack in their capacity or structure
2. a specific kind of sensitivity and reactivity
3. me versus you; an experience of victim and aggressor
These three realms of experience belong respectively to:
1. the mineral kingdom
2. the plant kingdom
3. the animal kingdom
(There are other groupings, but it’s these three that come up in the majority of individuals.)
It is as though the person has tapped into a level of experience in which an energetic pattern peculiar to a mineral, plant or animal finds expression. The person describes a specific kind of lack or incapacity (mineral). Or they describe a specific kind of sensitivity and reactivity characterised by a specific sensation (plant). Or they describe a specific pattern of me versus you, of victim/aggressor (animal). Given enough time and space a person will sometimes even describe a mechanism, behaviour or way of being characteristic of something in nature.
These are not surface experiences. But they do colour everything that happens in a person’s life. They are unconscious but somehow always present. To access these deeper habits and ways of being one has to go beyond one’s story, with its feelings, explanations and ideas of what causes what. This is beyond the realm of human logic and experience. Here one stumbles upon patterns that seem to be far older. Patterns that are to be found in nature, but somehow live on in us. Is it these that seek “self liberation”? Perhaps, when they are liberated, so are we.
1. Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, Penguin Classics, 1963, p67
2. “The term self-liberation should not, however, be taken as implying that there is some ‘self’ or ego there to be liberated. It is a fundamental assumption, as we have already said, at the Zogqen (pronounced Zogchen, ed) level, that all phenomena, are void of self-nature. ‘Self-Liberation’, in the Zogqen sense, means that whatever manifests in the field of experience of the practitioner is allowed to arise just as it is, without judgement of it as good or bad, beautiful or ugly. And in that same moment, if there is no clinging, or attachment, without effort, or even volition, whatever it is that arises, whether as a thought or as a seemingly external event, automatically liberates itself, by itself, and of itself. Practicing in this way the seeds of the poison tree of dualistic vision never even get a chance to sprout, much less to take root and grow.”
Namkhai Norbu, The Crystal and the Way of Light, p33, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1986
3. See the many books by Dr. Rajan Sankaran, such as:
The Sensation in Homeopathy, Homoeopathic Medical Publishers, Mumbai, 2004
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Short pieces from Julian on all aspects of healing, psychology and spirituality