My friend John Heney has referred to our normal experience of the world as an “isolating personal performance.” This seems to me a telling phrase, one I can certainly relate to from personal experience.
In this essay, I want to take this experience of isolating performance and place it beside the experience of Presence or non-performance and offer some ideas about moving from one to the other. Along the way this I’ll show the relevance of this to our moment, to climate change and adapting to a future we may not be able to “fix.”
Warning: 1. Along the way there will be bad cartoons. 2. When I say that “we experience … [this or that],” I’m referring to the usual mindset, the everyday sleep the spiritual literature speaks to. That’s not all we are, of course. The everyday sleep IS the personal performance.
The purpose of the performance of an isolated self is to maintain or improve our right to belong well in the human community. The social norm is to want very much be on the good side of the status measurements that indicate worth: rich-poor, succeeding-failing, enough-not enough, blame-forgiveness, high-low, valuable-not valuable . . . Most of us, most of the time are involved with this.
So when we experience stress and difficulty, which we inevitably do, the natural thing to do is to look to that solitary self to understand what went wrong. Most therapy and most healing modalities presuppose this solitary self. It’s been with us throughout evolutionary history; it’s what we know. Yet the solitary self has a limited understanding of what’s going on. It sleeps or it wouldn’t experience itself as solitary and separate the way it does.
In a crude characterization a caveman might raise his eyebrows at, the world of the solitary self looks like this:
The normal sleep of everyday life is one of continual judgement and evaluation, trying to find a good place relative to others. The wider context isn’t in awareness.
Where is the wider context, you ask? Where is the deep love we know in all this?
It hasn’t gone anywhere. It’s all around. We’re inside it and we intuit it and sometimes experience it. But what’s in the foreground of normal awareness is our relationship to others, high and low. Compared to the immediacy of this normal perception, talk of love comes across as an abstraction, secondary.
The reality may be that we’re bathing in the greater reality, held by it continually. But we usually don’t see it. We’re spellbound by the drama of the world. There may indeed be a “divine comedy,” but usually we see something closer to the Jerry Springer show.
If we manage to move past or forget about the judgemental and evaluative mind, what’s already there shows up.
A second cave man drawing might show it like this:
We’re immersed in a greater whole, represented by the yellow. We’re touching everything through it since the wholeness is undivided. High and low, big and small don’t matter much.
Underneath and around the dramas where we protect our fragile self-sense and try and get by, we’re connected to others and made of the same stuff as them.
We’re each in exactly the same relationship to the whole as everybody else. This is the great leveler. The commonality sits underneath our seeming world of differences, the one in which the norm is to perform to prove our right to belong. When we’re noticing this greater whole, others appear not as other but as expressions of the same thing we are. Status and judgement are not very relevant or interesting. Uniqueness is valued because it gives us scope for creative partnerships.
”What is greatest in human beings is what makes them equal to everyone else. Everything else that deviates higher or lower from what is common to all human beings makes us less. If we know this we can develop a deep respect for every human being.”
(Bert Hellinger observed this, while/ after reading the Taoist source book,
Tao te Ching.)
The world of struggle for higher and lower status is easy to see when we look out at the entire world. It’s less visible to us at the local level but the same dynamic applies there.
If we’re able to move past it and see each other inside a larger whole, a different dynamic comes into view. The individual characteristics and experiences of others, represented below by the letters, are seen as values that each person in “the field’ has access to.
When the individuality of each person is genuinely welcomed, then the qualities of each become available to the others in the field. This sense of collective intelligence can be very palpable. It’s not a rare or difficult experience.
We’re in a different relationship to the whole and everything changes. Rather than holding on to some truth, what is is emerging in the moment.
This wholeness has many names and none. “The Tao that can be named is not the eternal Tao.” Presence is a word for it that resonates with me but whatever we call it, the thing the word refers to isn’t a word. It’s what is and a direct experience of what is. Presence isn’t inert and doing nothing. It’s full of energy. It is energy. It’s effortlessly doing, wu wei, as some ancient Chinese called it.
To be an effective change agent, we’ll do well to be aligned with Presence, by whatever name. Otherwise we’ll project the game of opposites onto our enemies and their problems will become ours. Presence tends to integrate problems.
Another person’s difference is another way to experience how the wholeness is expressing. The possibilities for collaboration are literally infinite. Every person can combine with every other in any way. Basically, everything comes clear in Presence.
By definition the direct experience of this “beyond the opposites” noticing is neither hard not easy because . . . it’s beyond the opposites. The opposites are inside it. It’s a spontaneous manifestation like happiness or laughter and it’s not further away than them or more foreign than them.
But like them it can’t be ”accomplished” directly or by intention.
Presencing Practice, because of its simplicity, helps bypass some of the ways we get in the way and subscribers are welcome to join in a practice session. (Click on Groups above.)