by Peter Fenner
During the Intrinsic Freedom course many people have a clear and thorough experience of presence. Participants enjoy a state of presence that is self-maintaining and which doesn’t need any further cultivation. Presence is experienced as a natural and complete way of being that cannot be enhanced or destroyed. We could say it is an experience in which “nothing is missing” if we under- stand this as shorthand for an experience which goes beyond any thought, concern or consideration for being either complete or incomplete.
However, some time later, after the Course, it is possible for people to feel that they have lost the experience of presence-or at least that the experience has become diluted. This feeling can produce a need or desire to “do something” in order to recover the experience they are losing. The need to do, feel or think something is produced in the hope that the action taken will displace or dissolve the feeling of loss. We interpret this feeling of loss as the recrystallization of the belief “that I should be somewhere different from where I am.” When this belief starts to resolidify we begin to search for a discipline or practice which will assist us in recovering the experience of being fully and simply at home with who we are.
We believe that we shouldn’t be experiencing what we are
The re-emergence of a gap between where we are and where we would like to be is natural and can be anticipated. It stems from a confusion in what we believe. The gap is ultimately insignificant, since the thought that “something is missing” is simply a thought-form that occurs with more or less frequency and intensity, in the same way that clouds in the sky are thick and dense on some days and spare or absent on others. However, we can listen to the thought that something is missing as a description of how things really are. We earnestly believe that we shouldn’t be experiencing our current thoughts, feelings and perceptions.
From our point of view the particular actions we take are not a real source for rediscovering the experience of presence. Consequently, we don’t advocate or recommend any specific behavioral changes. We leave it to you to produce any behavioral or environmental changes that support you. Depending on your past conditioning you will be inclined to give yourself a break, find some time and space outside of work and family commitments, sit quietly appreciating your experience, medi- tating, and so on. From our own side we have created the possibility for graduates of Intrinsic Free- dom to review the course whenever they wish, as an appropriate response to the recrytallization of the belief that “something is missing.” You may also be motivated to use a method you have learnt from the Course to bring coherence to your thoughts or slow them down in order to displace an unpleasant feeling. For example, you might decide to be quiet and simply “be with” the experience that something is wrong.
Running from presence
In attempting to recover an experience of intrinsic freedom we need to be aware that any prac- tice we engage in will consolidate the belief that something is missing for as long as we believe that we need to engage in our chosen practice. The very action of trying to get rid of an impediment or obstruction to being present validates the belief that the impediment exists. The harder we work at removing it, the more solid and real the impediment becomes. This process also conditions and reinforces a belief that presence is an experience that can be lost and found. To this extent then, our practice can condition and further prolong the pain and suffering that it is designed to remove. An effective practice therefore needs to naturally evolve beyond itself, without retarding or disturbing any movement towards an experience of unconditioned presence.
The discipline of neither giving into nor resisting our needs and desires is one such practice. When we sense a need or desire to do or say something, we don’t automatically do whatever it is that we need to do. But in modulating our need we also watch our tendency to resist or hold back from fulfilling our needs. We don’t constrain our behavior, or hem ourselves in, by stoically resisting the energy of our desires. In this way we neither contract in the face of powerful desires nor give them unbridled expression. Through this practice we achieve a natural balance between dependence and independence, speech and silence, action and stillness, giving and receiving.
Another practice which naturally opens out into an experience of uncontrived presence is the discipline of neither hanging onto nor letting go of our experiences.
Our practice is already fulfilled
At a certain point during these practices we can discover that we aren’t in fact doing anything different than what we could otherwise have been doing. Where previously we experienced practice as a discipline-as the performance of an exercise we can do, as opposed to not do-now we experience that there is no practice that is distinct from living. The feeling that practice consists of doing some- thing special, is replaced by the realization that we are only ever doing what we are already doing. By becoming aware of our deeply embedded and transparent beliefs about needing to practice we no longer need to do specific things in order to be present. Instead, we become aware simply by becoming aware. The doing or not doing of some particular activity ceases to influence our ex- panded awareness. We become present in a way that is deep and solid yet very light and spacious at the same time.
Likewise, the practice of neither giving into nor resisting our desires matures into an awareness in which “giving into and resisting desires” are experienced as assessments we make about what we should and shouldn’t be doing. We experience the impossibility of giving into a desire as distinct from being present to the thoughts and feelings that are manifesting at any point in time. Similarly, if we had been engaged in the practice of neither letting go of, nor hanging onto, our experience, we see that we are already unable to let go of our experience or hang onto it. We experi- ence the impossibility of holding onto our pleasures and letting go of our painful experiences. There is nothing else we could be doing. We discover that we are already doing what we are trying to do.
We have accomplished the purpose of our practice without needing to practice.
Totally different from giving up a practice
This experience shouldn’t be confused with giving up a practice. It is totally different from ceasing to practice as a deliberate decision or as a reaction to the challenge of becoming more aware. The point we are describing is a transition that occurs in the midst of practice when we discover that we aren’t doing anything different from what we would otherwise have been doing. In the midst of practice we experience the total impossibility of practicing a discipline in contrast to not practicing a discipline. Stopping becomes indistinguishable from continuing. At this point it is impossible to stop, but equally we aren’t doing anything that would tell us that we are continuing. We could just as validly say that everything is our practice or that there is no such thing. You could say we are prac- ticing no practice.
Within this new disclosive space our experience is complete and fulfilled as it is. This space does not preclude engaging in a discipline except that here our practice a isn’t designed to displace what we are already experiencing. When we begin a practice we are not changing what we are doing with the intention of finding something better or more effective to do. We continue doing what we are doing simply because this IS what we are doing. If this includes wondering whether what we are doing is the right or best thing to be doing we do this-just because this is what we are doing. This represents an important watershed for at this point nothing we think, feel or do can dis- place the experience of presence.