I think of living as a craft. At least, I harbor the desire to become a master craftsman. The lengths I have gone to achieve some degree of mastery or a sense of being able to stay present with whatever comes along have varied. I used to call it managing. There was a time when I would be grasping for anything in my view that seemed like it would help me manage life. More recently, in the past 10 years or so, I have settled on a single view that feels right and comfortable and feels less and less like managing. More like witnessing.
Mastery might also be a euphemism for artistry. Many of us do achieve a degree of artistry in our chosen domains, while to many of us toil without promise of any such satisfaction. Mastery of being, a sense of personal capacity in any domain, equanimity and satisfaction in the modern world, is something else; it is elusive and complex.
Mastery is also a substitute for other words such as happiness or spiritual fulfillment. As many recognize, a serious and pervasive spiritual crisis is underway in the world. So many seem to be looking for mastery, seeking whatever seems to awaken empowerment, confidence and meaning. Yet amidst widespread signs of the collapse of traditional institutions, disempowerment and disconnection from the means of establishing meaningful lives, there is also a groundswell of progress, evidenced by the many ways in which we see creative community, caring, a reawakening of the sacred in everyday life and collective actions that are modeling a different world.
As Charles Eisenstein has said, what we are witnessing across the globe is the emergence into mass consciousness of the “long-buried esoteric core of mainstream religion,” the awareness of our common nature as humans and a re-imagining how we can create a livable future.
Likewise, Tom Atlee says:
We are coming to a place where the road ends. From here on out, we will be making the road as we walk it, in ways we’ve never had to do before. We now have the job of forging our own evolutionary destiny, and being prime agents of the process of evolution here on Earth.
Creating a livable future is going to require a correct view and a willingness to explore the meaning of mastery or witnessing. We are also beset throughout our waking hours with continuous distractions competing for our attention, all of which makes mastery elusive, precarious and complex. But for the moment, let’s say that under the best of circumstances, we are able to move with change without losing a sense of focus, purpose and presence. I’ve struggled often with the question of whether focus and purpose (a future orientation) conflict somehow with the idea of presence…or awareness, as I’ve been using it here. But it is now clear that presence in action is what we seek–or presence in interaction; not allowing ourselves to be derailed by the distractions.
I seek to engage with confidence, developing the capacity and awareness to make decisions both deliberatively and instinctively; possessing a discriminating awareness that filters automatic and counterproductive responses; being tied neither to my so-called limitations nor to my strengths (i.e. the thinking, ego-driven brain); knowing when to act independently and when to seek guidance; acting with integrity in a generous, moral and compassionate way, including being comfortable with the complexity and uncertainty.
That’s a tall order. But this is the requirement of the historical moment, that we allow ourselves to sink into the reality of our personal truth, enduring the burn through falsehood, obsessive future-orientation and self-delusion. Spiritual fulfillment implies an ease that opens a path forward through whatever emotional, practical or intellectual challenges may arise. Mastery is an adept dance through all of these considerations, fueling a spontaneous view and energizing an improvisational presence in every situation—the ability to “make the road as we walk it.”
There are so many paths to fulfillment, many of them skewed by overreliance on dictum, dogma or attachment to persons, conveying a comforting but ultimately false sense of determinism—that events are going to unfold according to some grand plan that is beyond our influence or control. Answers are never easy. Attempting to “arrive” at answers is probably not the most productive approach anyway. What do you do when you get there?
A sense of presence is a key feature of the mobile and creative condition I am describing: an uncompromising, undistracted, unaffected and immutable truth of being in this moment. Presence is what we are in every moment anyway, beyond all the critical assessment and dressing up provided by the thinking mind. We are a boundary and an inter-being. We are individuals and also actors in an impossibly vast and inter-dependent system undergoing constant change, encompassing everything we know at every level, a constantly evolving, synergistic emergence.
Presence requires a sense of the insubstantial, mutable and fluid nature of being; a sense of living a distinctive, material, yet also ultimately illusory identity; an individual history and experience, to be sure, yet also one in which we habitually and destructively identify with the separate and constructed self.
Presence is not a state of doing; call it non-doing. It is not connected to time or place because as soon as we relate our “selves” to time and place, we are committed to the ineffable puzzle of causation. Normally, we swim in a matrix of reference points: identity, gender, social roles, networks, occupation, temperament; all the conditioning that establishes our doing– and which also limits our being. That can be comforting and reassuring. Yet authentic presence, stripped of those familiar reference points, becomes a moment out of time. It is not changing. It is the realization of a truth that does not require constant meddling or fixing.
True presence has a timeless evenness to it, no past and no future, no attributes or conditions. It is the embodiment of the unchanging nature of change. Presence is so deeply rooted in the moment as to be unmovable. At the same time, there is nothing whatsoever to be moved and no one to do the moving. Fully realized, there is no way to modify or alter such awareness. It is the complete perfection, the state of being at the heart of all shifting belief and every form of self-reification.
The modern world, the day-to-day material context, engages our neurological propensity to divide our attention into endless evaluations and decisions at an unconscious and at a conscious level, continuously recapitulating our immersion in time. We create that world as it creates us. The world of connectivity, community, culture and information processing also increasingly includes sensory overload, the material effects of rising population density, financial insecurity, moral divergence, religious fundamentalism, ecological degradation, income disparity, political alienation, the powerlessness of the many, economic and tribal rootlessness, the ruthlessness of the few; all amount to a progressive loss of meaning. All of this infects and weakens our existential optimism and sense of possibility like a virus that is becoming increasingly difficult to cure.
Turning toward presence is what we are called to do now. That quality of witnessing, or presence, providing an enduring sense of fulfillment, may be a nebulous ideal. Perhaps it implies a more personal, silently crafted and ultimately solitary version of some utopian future, whereas the imperative we face is to decide who we are going to be and what we will ultimately make of our world in this moment.