This was written for Kira's Ways of Knowing workshop with discussions and reports (here  here  here  here  here).  See also:


    To contemplate (an issue) is to "open up" the question in your direct and personal experience and then see what develops.  Go into it in particular, and in depth.  Here are some questions and considerations that go at the matter from different perspectives.  Don't try to "answer" the questions as if the answer is somehow implied by the question, or the question is a query to some cosmic search engine of what is "already known".  The "information" in a contemplative question is You, or rather, the result of activating the question in your awareness and in the world.  If you can't "open" these particular questions, perhaps you can adapt them such that they work for you.  Or take an alternative entry point that you already know about.  Any way "in" is a good one.


    I'd like to propose Presence as a topic for contemplative inquiry.  If this means something to you, take note of it (and question it).  If not, read on, because it won't do to start by asking the familiar question "well, how do you define presence?"  Presence can get on quite well without any definition.

    To start, I reviewed some of the dialogues about the early ideas behind the PlayAsBeing group.  Perhaps that is a dangerous starting point, because the discussions there are very abstract (even though what they "point at" is not).  If you have an ideology about such issues, hold it lightly for now.  To get something fresh, and to "contemplate", I suggest resisting the impulse to go into an analytical or language-oriented perspective such as "what is Mind (or Being)?".   Don't assume these Big Words actually refer to anything at all.  There's no "noun" to be located.  For the time being, assume they refer to what You are right here right now being / doing / changing. Their meaning is their effects on the process that is you -- which (for reasons we can't go into here) are not necessarily knowable in the familiar sense.

    S: There is a difference between stretching the mind to learn new things and learning about THAT MIND ITSELF and then relaxing some of its central, and problematical features, thus uncovering a way of knowing that is more appropriate, natural.

    P: [Let's consider] the question how we can best function in PaB, "helping it along" as you expressed it. Now one radical position would be to say: there is ultimately nothing we can do, and trying to help things along is not appropriate for a Being kind of view, so if we take that stance we can simply hope to attract individuals with very strong motivation exploring the nature of reality.  But another stance would be to try to kindle that kind of motivation and in that way to "help along"... My option is to see what motive people actually have.
    P: Wu-wei implies: watching keenly, but not manipulating and in PaB too, the question is: how to respect and cultivate everyone's motives, without manipulating including of course respecting and cultivating our own motive.

    P: It (Being) may sound like an idea without any grounding, without any application, in some sense even more vapid than the notion of "God" or "Tao" and yet the (seeming) paradox is that when working with Being, getting familiar with it, it turns out to be in some sense more concrete than anything else
    S: The poison of idealism lies in its seductiveness. It pushes peoples' buttons in powerful ways, appealing to slightly confused notions of rightness, etc. "Being", by contrast, doesn't mean much to people.
    P: When you suggest that we try to go beyond the ordinary mind, you then don't mean to try to use a different mind? Is it more like dropping any notion of mind altogether?
    S: No, there is no real "going beyond" because that itself is part of the way the ordinary mind thinks, and reaches, and wants's more a matter of learning, seeing, and relaxing ...even this relaxing is just seeing, ultimately, hence my emphasis on seeing and how this = Suchness
    P: so to sum up, what do you suggest we do with respect to what you call the ordinary mind: watch its operation, try to drop it, or ... ?
    S: you cannot drop what is not learned about and then seen fairly thoroughly, within an apt (spiritually-oriented) perspective ...


    How, then, can we talk about something called Presence without creating another Big Word like Being, Suchness, and so forth?

    I'm going to resist some tempting answers, such as to consider Presence an "absolute" state or quality, a state of consciousness, and so on.  Maybe it is something like Tao, which famously, cannot be "tao-ed" (named, defined specifically).  But then is it abstract?  And if so does it exist?  And in what way?  Are there "little taos" that are somehow more actual but expressive of a "big Tao"?  What do the "traditions" say? 

    Presence seems like one requirement for getting at the traditional contemplative question "who (or what) am I".  As a "throw away" definition, consider presence as the dynamic condition in which one is maximally aware of the totality of oneself and one's actual situation and circumstances as an embodied, conscious entity.  We can't call it a "state" if that refers to a static situation.  It's more like a process.  We also can't seem to discover the source or boundaries of the entity that "we are". 

    So there's a conundrum.  It also won't do to adopt a formulaic answer such as "I know, I'm no one", or "all this is just that", or "there's no such thing as free will / intention" according to such and so philosophy or tradition.  Maybe that would help one ignore the question, but won't resolve it.  And however such questions could be answered, the way they are answered also gives more insight into the basic question, without resolving them.

    With respect to that I want to recall some distinctions about the "mode" in which one answers a question.  In particular, there is "is" vs. "ought".  For example, "humans are vastly conscious, compassionate beings" is a kind of "ought" (or an occasional experience), while the contrary is often what "is".

    What is it for a question to be "real"?   Questions open the mind to possibilities.  Answers may also, but notice the frequent tacit urge to reach conclusions, to close down and finalize.  The western tradition puts much more emphasis on the latter.  Why?  Two answers might be (1) to build a solid foundation for even more questions, but to keep them "grounded" in the world, and (2) to reduce the amount of "reality" that must be handled cognitively at any one time.  The non-propositional, non-sequential ways of knowing called Intuition don't have the same cognitive constraints (but may have others).

    A Framework

    I'd like to propose a throwaway framework (or perspective) for collecting some ideas about Presence.  This one has a bit of an "existential" quality to it.

    • You have a "ground", in an mostly unknown and possibly unknowable "being" or world process.  It can be assumed (to exist), and maybe certain "practices" of consciousness can give one a felt sense or experience of greater access or experience of it.  Whether that has any ontological status (like consciousness itself) might be best left to the philosophers or metaphysicians.
    • As an "entity" you are thrown into a world of concrete particulars including aspects of "your self". You are an embodied being.  (Embodiment is another great topic for contemplation).
    • The boundaries of "you" and "the world" -- inside and outside -- are fluid and malleable.   There seems to be a "self-ness" that's vaguely there when you look for it but recedes when approached.   The same can be said about the apparent "objects" in the world -- they all have their qualities of "you-ness" and are positioned in "your" world in reference to your specific perspective, position, and ability to be aware of them. 
    • Your self/world has some experiential structures -- a center, a periphery or horizon, a direction of attention, a ground on which it rests, internal structures of the self, and so on.  Sometimes it "feels" more unified, and other times more chaotic.   You overlap with other "entities" (humans, for example) and are also affected by "individuals" such as specific places.
    • You are driven, or drive yourself (sometimes it is hard to tell) by many forces or "motivations" in different circumstances.  If you are interested in the philosophy of self or in spiritual perspectives you may have some organizing motivations of a general nature.  What are they?
    • You might have self-consciously adopted ideas of development, growth, realization, transcendence, etc. of "self".  If not, you might still have these in an implicit form (such as curiosity, hunger, attraction to "positive" and avoidance of "negative" experiences)
    • The ability to "be present" depends on two complementary principles or qualities -- Openness and Intention.  These are the yin and yang of experience.  Openness is the ability to be inclusive, flexible, and receptive (but not passive).  Intention is the ability to be selective and decisive (but not rigid).  Traditional schools of practice typically emphasize one these, as if it were categorically better than the other.  Either could be corrupted by an "egoic" or limited perspective (the "small self"), and either (I believe) can be "redeemed". 


    On motivation or intention (itself a big topic) I want to point out the familiar issues and questions about control, wu-wei, whether intention and motivation are somehow "corrupted" by something -- occasionally known as the "small self" -- and whether they can be "redeemed" or exist in a more expansive framework.  The quotes at the beginning of this article hint at this issue.   What's the difference between "manipulating" and "cultivating" (to use a distinction mentioned above)?

    Relative to this framework I want to define the concept of Help in a general way as anything that supports or assists you in maintaining or enlarging the boundaries of "self", or of discovering it's nature, of otherwise assisting with your motivations.  This could include ways of knowing the world, self-help practices, ideas, teachers, nature, relationships with other people, community (or sangha).  This also includes "giving" help to others, or being in mutually helping relationships.  One hint is that helping others seems to require insight into their interiority, based on insight into one's own interiority, which seems to be the result of long term study, practice, and self-observation.  Is this true?  Perhaps you know some "short cuts"?

    In addition to playing with with metaphysics (and phenomenology), I'd like to ask more suggestive, even poetic questions.  "Poetic" means they stir things up, maybe open imagination and possibilities, rather than doing the opposite. 

    • To what degree, and how, can you comprehend the totality of your life / world / self / experience?
    • Are you willing to be intimate with your own experience? 
    • Is it possible to love what is, and to fully accept it?  Including aspects of yourself and not-self?
    • Do you feel like the concrete particulars of your life -- each of them -- are a "block" to spiritual presence, or a place for its grounding?   If you have some spiritual practices or perspectives, are they relevant in a completely embodied way, in a broad variety of circumstances?
    • Do you sort things out a lot by preferences and ideals, like positive/negative experiences, or meaningful/meaningless, or worth/not-worth attention?   Name you own dualities here.  What purpose or motivation is served by these preferences?

    Catching It In The Act

    Given these considerations, necessarily stated in a general way, I want to suggest staying as specific and concrete as possible in looking at their operation in your actual daily life and in the present moment.

    • Do you feel more aware, present, whole, or intelligent at some times than at others?
    • What's the difference?  Can it be chosen or influenced?
    • What causes you to "lose" presence?  For example, emotional states or intellectual "distractions".
    • Examine a concrete particular in your own life relative to these questions. For example, the feeling of using your computer to do whatever you do with it.  Or what it is like to take a walk.  Or to dialogue with people.  Or to play the piano.


    • Do you "carry" Presence in some way as a concept relevant to your spiritual or philosophical practices?
    • Can you "cultivate" presence?  Or organize your experience in relationship to it?
    • What are your sources of "help"?


    Perhaps you will "take on" one or more of the above considerations (whichever works for you).  Better yet, find your own entry point(s) into this theme.  Then choose a specific area or aspect your own life that involves presence, and look into your experience.

    • What is there and what is your part of it.
    • What is happening, what changes are occurring, and perhaps "why"?
    • What (if anything) develops when you "go further (or deeper)" by bringing it your awareness and presence?
    • Report and /or share it with others.  Compare notes.  Learn from others.
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