At times, everyone faces the darkness of the unknown. Practicing presence can help us connect to our personal power.
Once at the Rubin Museum, I was asked to talk about power. And not just power but a specific embodiment of power. The image that was to illuminate my talk featured the Fifth Dalai Lama of Tibet, who unified Tibet in the 16th Century, and was revered for his temporal and his spiritual wisdom and power. How could I relate to this? I decided that I could start by unifying myself.
The root meaning of integrity is to be whole or complete or unified. This wholeness appears as we remember to be present–emerging from the isolation of thinking, remembering that we have a body and sense perceptions and a heart and feelings. As we ground and open to our present moment experience, we can set an intention. Before you begin any project or task, allow yourself to be present, to remember or re-collect yourself–and then set an intention to be sincere. Notice that this is not striving but touching the earth of your life. Sincere comes from a Latin root that means clean, pure or genuine–not mixed with other stuff. The wisest intention is to be sincere, to go for the truth.
Intention comes from a Latin root that means stretch. Allow yourself to envision this not as projection but as making a journey, guided by the light of your own sincerity. To be sure, there was some stretching to be done to connect my living experience of the present moment to the Fifth Dalai Lama and to 16th century Tibet. I read about the unification of Tibet, and about the installation of the Dalai Lama. I learned about magical powers in Buddhism–about the qualities that were believed to lead to the ability to fly and to walk on water or through mountains and to appear in multiple places at once. And then I recalled that the Zen master Thich Nhat Hahn once said: the real miracle is to walk on the earth.
He meant the miracle of being fully aware of walking upon the earth, under the sun, alive in a mysterious universe. Personal power also has to do with unification, I realized. Awareness gains depth and dimension–becomes true presence–as we learn to be present in body heart, and mind. It is only when we are fully present, that we can truly see where we are and sense our connection to life. It is only then that we can see what is needed.
While I was preparing to teach at the Rubin Museum, I recalled a cartoon in the New Yorker. A raggedy young man stood with hands grasped around a sword in the stone. Merlin, great sorcerer and teacher, stands beside him. Many had tried and many failed to extract Excalibur, the magical blade that would empower a king and grant sovereignty to Britain. “Use thy core,” says Merlin.
According to Arthurian legend that sword was magical, and would be released from the stone only to one who was fit to rule. But it is also very possible that what made Arthur fit to unify his country was his use of his core–his willingness and ability to come from the center of his being. His special power may have been his unified presence. With that in mind, I crafted an exercise for cultivating wholeness, unified presence, that I called C.O.R.E. I knew this was a stretch, but a stretch in the sense of the root meaning of intention. The practice of C.O.R.E. –and of all spiritual practice–invites us to unfold, discovering that our true nature is mysterious and marvelous beyond measure.
“One’s own self is well hidden from one’s own self,” wrote Friedrich Nietzsche. “Of all mines of treasure, one’s own is the last to be dug up.”
“C” stands for concentrate. This does not mean mental strain or a narrowing of mental focus but settling down, bringing the attention home to the body, to our present moment experience. Concentration is allowing the attention itself to settle us and collect us. When we bring the mind to the body and the body to the mind, when we are more collected, our experience becomes more pliant and lighter. Bringing the attention to the breath can help in the concentration process.
“O” stands for open. When we sit down to be still and concentrated, we open to the life inside and outside us. It’s a wonderful paradox that when we grow still, when we bring our attention home to the breath and our present moment experience, we don’t shut out life. We open to it. We notice it and sense it. Opening is manifesting a wish or desire to live a greater life. Right here and right now.
“R” stands for recollect or remember. Sati, the ancient term for mindfulness in Buddhism means to remember the present moment. We gather our disparate parts—head, heart, and body. When these parts touch a new possibility appears. When we are recollected, we can investigate and understand our experience in a way we just can’t with thinking alone.
“E” stands for embrace. When we are more concentrated and grounded, more open and clear, we can accept what is happening. This doesn’t mean that we have to like it but we can be present with it, investigating what is happening or what we are feeling with loving awareness. Grounded and open, we observe that life is constantly entering us and leaving us–as air and food and impressions and information of all kinds. We remember that even when everything seems to be going awry, there is a force of love. This is not romantic attraction or attachment, but an energy and way of seeing that reminds us, always, that we are not separate from life. We are not strangers here, no matter how dark it seems. And we are meant to connect.