Why, you might ask, is daily work necessary in order to be who I am? Well, for a lot of people it’s enough to go to church or celebrate Sabbath once a week. But is one spiritual encounter is enough to keep you connected to a larger reality the rest of the week? For most people it isn’t. Returning repeatedly to contact our innermost being reminds us of aims we may have temporarily forgotten. It’s how we can maintain ourselves within the bandwidth of a connection that fades when we become too busy or preoccupied.
What exactly is this daily work for presence and what are some of the paths that I’ve been on that envisage it?
¨Gurdjieff would speak of the work of “remembering yourself,” the practice of finding a harmonious relationship among your three parts—your head, your body and your feelings– and the study of your personality as differentiated from what is essential in you. The aim: to develop your real “I”, the master within.
T’ai Chi Ch’uan invites you to surrender unnecessary physical tension and mental “gaining” attitudes as you practice a series of flowing movements in an exact, gentle and steady way, as if you were pulling a delicate thread of silk slowly from a cocoon without breaking it. The aim: to develop your sense of balance, calmness of mind; rejuvenation.
Psychiatrist C. G. Jung would urge you to become aware of the dark side of your nature, the shadow side that you unconsciously refuse to contemplate, in order to find integration with the larger Self, and your place in the larger context of society. The aim: your individuation as a unique human
F. M. Alexander would suggest that you study your reactions and your body in movement following his non-judgmental method, to learn how to stop interfering with the primary neuro-physical organization you were born with. The aim: to return to the natural poise and ease which were your rightful inheritance as a small child.
And Thomas Merton, Adin Steinsaltz, Rumi, Sri Anirvan, Shunryu Suzuki and other dedicated spiritual leaders point the way to a harvest of joy by opening yourself to the daily availability of the divine through prayer and meditation.
All of these people and paths speak in different ways about the importance of daily practice of presence. You could say they lead to a more authentic sense of Self and (using Gurdjieffian terminology) all of them foster the development of being, as opposed to most of the other influences in our lives, which feed personality.
Gurdjieffians, Jungians and Alexander teachers often refer to their method as “the Work.” The first two have even called the efforts they make “inner work.” Gurdjieffians speak about relaxation as a key to inner freedom, while T’ai Chi masters would agree with Alexander, who feared that the word relaxation might evoke collapse and advocated the term release.
Gurdjieffians affirm the need to increase our capacity for attention and find harmony among the energies of head, heart and body. As we attempt to do this we see that our lives and energy are eternally subject to the push-pull play of universal forces, which act on us entirely beyond our control. Taoism concurs with this view. T’ai Chi sinks the power of thought or attention into the abdomen where our intrinsic or vital energy rests, then invites us to follow it as it circulates through the slowly moving body. Taoists say that daily repetition of such an effort leads to true balance between the active masculine force, yang, and the passive feminine force, yin.
Jungians also celebrate the “marriage” of masculine and feminine. They speak of the fragmentation with which we live in spite of our need for wholeness, telling us that nothing should be rejected. Indeed, it is most important that we find a way to embrace the parts of ourselves we’ve hidden even from ourselves, through shame or disapproval, because it is there that our energy is imprisoned.
One might say that inner and outer poise best expresses the goal of the Alexander Technique, except that Alexander himself highly disapproved of words like goal, aim or target, preferring the term direction. He reasoned that work today will make yesterday’s goal tomorrow’s actuality, so a word suggesting movement was better than one that represents a static end result. And Gurdjieff would agree: “If nothing changes today, tomorrow will be like today,” affirms the master teacher.
Key information on all of these paths is available in my first book, The Practice of Presence, and you can find reviews and more information on my other website http://www.practiceofpresence.com.