Instead of searching along the ‘horizontal’ dimension, open along the ‘vertical’ dimension
By Ed Hirsch
Presence can be defined as what is “Always Already” the case — i.e., that which is the Prior Condition, or the Condition of conditions. This is not a matter of playing with words, but actually more a matter of trying to get words to point back to That which is Prior to words. And That is the Prior Presence.
If we are trying to get a foundation, a fundamental stance, we won’t really find it in some claim about the stature of some religious figure or in some doctrine we are told to believe. The true foundation is That which is Prior to the search from the very start. That is, the problem is in the search itself, which conceals (or reveals, if we let it) the prior assumption that things aren’t OK, that we are separate from Truth, Reality, God, or whatever we seek. That very seeking sets it up as a goal of seeking, making it into an object of the search.
This is not to make the search wrong, for, if we are going to make Truth or the like into an object “out there,” we might as well make it into a goal of seeking. And, in the midst of intelligent seeking, we might discover the truth that the Goal is Always Already present. After all, if it weren’t so, it wouldn’t be Reality or Truth but only something that appeared as an effect of a cause (namely, our seeking).
Remember, this is a matter of fundamentals. Ordinary seeking and problem solving is fine, where we find something missing or uncomfortable, say, and we make efforts to change it to make things more workable or comfortable. Now when the sense of a problem or conflict becomes more of a dilemma, and then a contradiction or paradox, where the very sense of arriving at a solution becomes hopeless, we might come to the point of surrender, complete emptying and opening. Here, the mind might relax its dualistic grip on reality as subject and object, problem and solution, action and reaction. Then it might open to where the Always Already Presence, Condition, or Reality makes Itself known and obvious.
It might take some extreme condition to get one to the point where one is willing to give up, to surrender. But once the point is made, it can become something like second nature, the obvious. Then what we could call the Practice of Presence is a matter of sustaining that basic recognition of the Always Already, the Prior. That is recognized as the Universal Ground, prior to subject and object, of the perceiver and the perceived. It is Grace, not as something given so much as something revealed as the Obvious.
This sense of the Always Already, the Prior Presence, is a stance that one brings to any condition, as a recognition of its Prior Condition. It is also a recognition of one’s own Prior Condition. It is the basic sense of “All is well,” because it is based on the sense of “All is One.”
Instead of searching along the “horizontal” dimension for a change of conditions, one can open along the “vertical” dimension and discover, or recognize, or remember, what is Always Already the Condition of the present moment, of the present condition, one’s Essential Happiness.
In terms of practice, one can be reminded of the Prior Condition by what is already happening in one’s natural state, such as bodily sensing, breathing, or hearing. Instead of focusing on the object of perception, open into the sensing, breathing, or hearing itself. This can bring some natural opening to the effortless.
It can be like pausing, in the midst of a search, to be still and discover that what is fundamentally being sought is already present. One can relax. In fact, the very anxiety, uneasiness, or reactivity maintained a certain tension that kept one in a dualistic mode of subject and object, problem and solution. When one relaxes, one finds oneself relaxing even more deeply into what brings a more essential relaxation, a sense of being “At Ease.” Just being still and taking a deep, slow breath can return one to This, Here, Now.
Ed Hirsch facilitates small weekly gatherings in presence, making use of an embodied system of guided practices. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Send 600- to 700-word articles on all aspects of inner peace to Richard Carey (email@example.com).