It was a blessing to have the opportunity to speak with Rev. Paul John Roach on his Unity Online Radio World Spirituality Show this week.
Paul has a thorough understanding of many of the subject areas I cover in my teachings. He also has a very broad knowledge of spiritual teachings from many religions and philosophies, which all made for a really interesting and progressive discussion.
Here are some of the items we discussed:
- Integrating teachings from different religions and philosophies
- The six characteristics of Presence
- We don’t exist!
- Two modes of the mind
- The Process
- The ego
- Hindrances to being present
- My new book “Being Present”
We enjoyed the show so much that we’re planning to broadcast another discussion at some point in the future!
Here’s a recording of the show…
Become more present, by listening to my guided “Presence Meditation” – now available for free on Insight Timer for iPhone and Android. It’s a great app! Once it’s installed, search “Darren Cockburn” or “Presence Meditation” to access the audio.
Erica Longdon / Darren Cockburn – Book Interview – July 12th 2018
It was my pleasure to be interviewed by Erica Longdon on 12Radio.
We discussed the new book, Being Present, focusing on addictions, sleep, the different components of spiritual practice, and how people relate to religion. I also shared plenty of helpful mindfulness tips and advice.
Here’s the audio from the interview…
Psychologically speaking, consciousness refers to awareness. When we are conscious, we are aware of our experience. Both within and outside of us. This includes bodily sensations, things coming in through the senses, feelings and thoughts. We then have mindfulness, which is consciousness plus acceptance. When we are mindful we accept what we are conscious of. Regardless of whether we find it pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. Through accepting what we are conscious of, we align ourselves with what is.
We transcend psychological consciousness by moving towards spiritual consciousness. Beyond awareness, and beyond mindfulness. Spiritual consciousness is enabled when we are both mindful, and also allowing ourselves to connect with something transcendental. Spiritual consciousness goes beyond what we can understand scientifically. I call spiritual consciousness mindfulness+. Mindfulness is awareness and acceptance of our experience, within the present moment. The plus is the transcendental connection or spiritual consciousness element.
It’s impossible to be spiritually conscious without mindfulness. When we’re unmindful, we are lost in our thoughts and emotions. This blocks the transcendental stream that we are connected with, channelling through our thoughts, and influencing our communication and physical action. When we are spiritually conscious, we take the whole into account. All of our actions, whether they be thoughts, communication, or physical action, are skilful. They are based on love rather than egoic control.
We must be mindful to be spiritually conscious. We must also be spiritually receptive. This is something else that is impossible to explain or prove scientifically. Spiritual receptivity requires belief and faith in a higher power. You have to be open to there being something beyond your form-based existence and the stuff that you can explain and observe.
Why are we conscious? As human beings, we need to be aware, in order to operate. Even if we are unskilful, the basic functioning of a human being requires awareness. Why are we spiritually conscious? Because to varying degrees, we serve the higher power that created us. Being spiritually conscious also means that we contribute towards spiritual evolution. Again, serving the higher power whose wish it is for us to evolve.
Around seven years ago, I was walking on a beach, prior to a solitary meditation retreat in the mountains of Spain. My mind was taken over by a melody and the words of a new song. I sung it into my phone as I was walking along. A few weeks later, I recorded it in the UK from the back of my car, at a time when I had my guitar with me.
Every year that passes, I’m able to relate more to the song’s words, and the vibrations. My ego has held it captive for all this time! I now feel it’s right to let it free. It’s called “Find Your Way Home”…. I hope you enjoy it…..
Meditating is a wonderful way of lowering anxiety and creating a lovely inner-calmness. It helps you become more concentrated. Here’s a simple technique you can use to treat yourself to a ten-minute session.
Find somewhere quiet to sit. On a chair or cushion. Make sure you’re comfortable. Ideally, your back, neck, and head should be aligned. Sit up straight if you can. Your meditation posture needs to be both relaxed and alert. Close your eyes to remove visual stimuli and make concentration easier.
Invite your thoughts to settle. Guide your attention to the breath. Examine its different characteristics, including the length, frequency, texture and sound as it constantly changes. From the point where the air enters your nostrils or mouth, down into the depths of your lungs. You’re not trying to control the breath – you’re simply allowing it to flow naturally. Give the breath your full attention, accepting whatever forms it takes.
It’s likely that your awareness will tune in to other objects that are presented to you, including bodily sensations, sounds, odours, feelings and thoughts. You may also be aware of subtle lights and colours – even with your eyes closed. The mind may create images, movies, sounds and discussions. This is natural – it happens to me frequently and I’ve been meditating for over twenty years. Accept each experience, either pleasant or unpleasant, without judging it and then bring your attention back to the breath. Being aware and accepting of these other objects instead of getting lost in them means you are present.
If you are struggling with concentration you can insert a count on the out breath. Breathe in, breathe out, count one, breathe in, breathe out, count two and so on up to ten, and then return to one. It’s fine if you lose your place. Simply return to the first count and start again. This counting technique gives the mind something simple to do, which prevents it from wandering off elsewhere.
Look for progress, not perfection. Be kind to yourself! There will be ups and downs to your meditation practice dependent upon how you’re feeling at the time. The most important thing is the practice itself. If you practice regularly, you’ll soon enjoy more inner calmness, less anxiety and better concentration.
We’re living in the digital device era. The speed at which digital device usage has spread is phenomenal. Many of us are spending hours each day using digital devices – usually looking at screens.
When you use digital devices consciously, you’ll be at peace with them, and enjoy the benefits they have to offer. You’ll also use them skilfully, with kindness, interacting harmoniously with the world.
Here are a few pointers I’d like to offer you. If you take these on boards you can turn your hours of digital device usage into an opportunity for mindfulness practice…
- Only access content and enable notifications that are really needed. When you’re accessing content that you really need, you’ll be better placed to stay mindful. If you access content that you don’t need, it’s highly likely that you’ll get lost in thoughts emotions. Consciously decide what content you are going to access on your device. Also, take responsibility for notifications. Only configure notifications and real time updates if you feel they are really needed. Otherwise, let go of the distractions, and choose when to access things. The more notifications you react to, the less you will be in control of your state of mind when you access their content.
- Avoid content that you know triggers negative reactions. If there is certain content that you know is going to push your buttons, triggering you to become lost in your thoughts and emotions, then avoid it. Otherwise, you are casuing yourself harm. You wouldn’t put your hand in a fire. In the same way, don’t compromise your energy or alignment by exposing yourself to difficult content. This may mean avoiding certain web sites, TV shows or social media streams. Social media can be particularly challenging for people in this respect. If content from somebody or an organization is causing you to react negatively, then mute or remove the feed. It is sometimes kinder to mute feeds from people you find difficult rather than disconnecting from them altogether. It keeps the communication open with the option of re-engaging later when it’s more appropriate.
If possible, ensure that you have good quality digital devices. Especially if you spend a lot of time on them. For example, it’s going to be much easier to stay mindful if you’re working on a laptop that’s fast and easy to use. Rather than one that is sluggish and complex. When technology seems to be working against you, it’s even more challenging to stay mindful.
- Configure your devices and make them easier to use. There’s a correlation between simplicity and being mindful. There’s lots you can do including remove unwanted apps and icons, and freeing up space to help make the device go faster. Even detail such as configuring menus and shortcuts that suit your usage will make life simpler. If you don’t know how, then ask somebody technical for support. A friend or store assistance might be able to help.
- Keep some awareness on your breath or bodily sensations. This is a de facto technique used to become mindful or retain mindfulness. You can do this when using your devices.
- Be aware of thoughts and feelings. If you’re able to, observe your thoughts and feelings whilst using the device. This will keep you aware and present. If you catch your thoughts turning negative, or you experience unpleasant feelings, stop using the device for a moment. Review what you’re experiencing or communicating and check it’s the right thing. For your information, meditation is a good way of training yourself to become more aware of thoughts and feelings if you find this difficult.
- Monitor internal resistance. If you catch yourself resisting something as you use your device, then something needs to change. You either need to bring acceptance to whatever content you’re involved in or move away from the content altogether. When you’re aligned, your device usage will be peaceful or enjoyable.
- Be aware of the space between you and the screen. For devices with screens, which are most of them, there’s a space between your eyes and the screen. Be aware of that space at the same time as you’re looking at the screen. Awareness of space helps you stay mindful.
- Take breaks from using your device. Briefly look away from your screen every couple of minutes. Look at something else in your environment. Something natural like a plant or the sky if possible. Every twenty minutes or so, have a break to do something physical. Even if it’s a quick stand up or stretch. This will refresh you and keep you alert. It’s far more challenging to stay mindful when you’re tired.
- Regularly change the device environment. Change your background or screen saver on a regular basis. Or rearrange things in a different and more optimal way. This will keep your digital experience fresh. Changes in what we see and experience can help us to stay mindful.
- Be kind to your body during device usage. When the body is comfortable it’s far easier to stay mindful. Also, stay safe. Devices should only be used when it’s safe to do so. High risks activities like texting whilst driving or crossing a busy road should be avoided. People end up getting prosecuted, injured or losing their lives in the process. Many people use devices unsafely and believe they are free from the consequences. There are always consequences in being unsafe. Even if the mind doesn’t understand that device usage is risky, the body will always respond by creating stress. When you are using your device in a dangerous situation it’s highly likely that you are not mindful at the time. This means that your usage will be unskillful and harmful. It really does make sense to use your devices only when it is safe to do so.
- Communicate selectively, truthfully, and skilfully during usage. Skilful communication and mindfulness go hand-in-hand. If you’re communicating skilfully, you’re mindful. And when you’re mindful, you will communicate skilfully.
Stop! – Check – Use
For mobile phones and other addictive devices!
Create a habit of stopping yourself every time you “want” to use your device: Stop!
Then take a second or two to ask yourself if you really “need” to use it: Check.
This technique enables you to make a conscious decision as to whether you should then Use the device or Let Go of using it at that moment in time.
It’s a really quick technique to apply. After applying it a few times, over a few days, you’ll create a habit. It will become second nature to Stop! – Check – Use
My mindfulness teachings are featured in BODIES OF BEING – page 17 – Powerful conscious media! Read 11:11 Magazine FREE NOW! http://bit.ly/1111June2018
The Bhagavad Gita, a popular Hindu and yoga scripture, has a lot to say about activities that need to be done – ‘the what’. In addition, it provides guidance on how we should do them – ‘the how’. The teachings describe a practice called karma yoga, which is undertaking activities unselfishly, without being attached to the results.
Another name for karma yoga is ‘selfless service’. This means more than just serving other people. If you’re watering a plant for the sake of the plant without any personal expectation from the results of the action, that’s karma yoga. When you remove an insect from your house with the intention of allowing it to survive, without expecting anything for yourself, that’s karma yoga. Any kind action, regardless of size, where you’re unattached to the results, is karma yoga.
Karma yoga is always aligned with the needs of the cosmos. There’s a clue that points to this, in the name ‘selfless service’. There’s no self! When you’re practicing karma yoga you’re free from selfish desire including the seeking of rewards. The action is free from the self, another name for the ego. Karma yoga can only be performed when you’re present. Free from selfish meddling of the ego. And when you’re free from the ego, your activities are non-competitive. The opposite to karma yoga is taking action that is selfish and completely driven by the ego with no altruistic motivation.
You can have an expectation in relation to an activity without being attached to the outcome. An expectation is a belief that something will happen. Occasionally, when my children were young, I’d offer them helpful advice on various matters, expecting them to do what I said. I know that this was a form of karma yoga on some occasions, because if they didn’t follow the advice, I’d remain peaceful. I had an expectation but was not attached to it. Occasionally, I’d become frustrated if they didn’t follow the advice I was giving them. When this happened, this was not karma yoga as I was personally attached to the result – hence the suffering. When you’re unattached from the results of your activities, you gain freedom from anxiety about how things might turn out. It’s liberating and makes activities far more enjoyable.
I particularly enjoy observing others practising karma yoga, even if they’ve never heard of the practice. You will often see people carrying out random acts of kindness without any selfish desire or expectation involved. Helping somebody less mobile across the road or removing a snail from the sidewalk and placing it somewhere safe. Even relatively small actions like that are a form of karma yoga when undertaken in the right way.
Some Hindu ashrams offer people opportunities for karma yoga practice. This often takes the form of work that contributes towards maintenance and general running of the ashram. It can include activities like cleaning, cooking, working on a reception, or performing administrative duties. In return, the karma yogis might be provided with food and accommodation for their services.
If your main reason for doing this is to tell people how spiritual you are, or to get some free accommodation in a place you find pleasurable, that’s not karma yoga. Even although it’s badged as ‘karma yoga’.
Whether these activities are true karma yoga is dependent upon the mindset of those doing it. True karma yoga is determined by intention, not by the type of activity you do. The reality is that there will often be a mixture of motives. People are operating somewhere on the continuum of the selfishness / altruism scale. Joining karma yoga programmes with selfish motives is still spiritually beneficial.
One of the reasons that karma yoga has the name it does, is that it’s neutralises existing karma, and doesn’t create any new karma. I’m referring here to karma in the negative sense. By practising karma yoga, suffering associated with unskilful actions from the past surfaces, providing the opportunity for you to accept and release it. You’re giving the universe the opportunity to offer corrections for your wrongdoings in the form of suffering. I’ve experienced this a lot myself. I’ll be doing something for somebody without any expectations or wanting anything in return. It might be helping a friend move house or going out to the shop to buy a gift. Occasionally, during the activity, especially if it’s a simple activity, I’ll experience emotional pain from the past and unpleasant thoughts.
People carrying less negative karma find it easier to be truly generous. They aren’t prone to suffer as much during the act of generosity. In fact, they usually enjoy undertaking generous activities. The more karma somebody carries, the larger their ego, making them more likely to act with selfish intentions. Karma yoga by its nature is a form of generosity. Generosity is a component of kindness. So you can see the link between karma yoga and kindness.
The Gita claims that through practising karma yoga you’ll be provided with everything you need. Believing this allays the fear of becoming diminished or losing out through serving others. This type of fear can show itself in the form of scarcity mentality. Or a fear that you’ll get depressed through practising karma yoga as you won’t be experiencing enough pleasure.
The teaching about being provided with everything you need can be validated. In order to serve others effectively, you also need to look after yourself and ensure your own needs are met. The two are inseparable. It doesn’t matter whether what you need is delivered mysteriously by some higher power, or through your own thoughts and actions. You take responsibility for getting your own needs met for the indirect benefit of others.
Over time, your wants reduce as your service to others increases. Wants are optional and egoic. You may want a new coat when you already have a coat that’s sufficient for your needs. The ego says “go on, treat yourself to that new coat, you deserve it”. Needs are different to wants. Needs are required to maintain your health and wellbeing. You need a coat to stay warm. I must say that this example is for illustrative purposes. There may well be times when you do genuinely need to buy a new coat!
True kindness contains no attachment to the fruits of your actions. You simply act with positive intentions and trust that nature takes good care of what happens subsequently.
It was an honour to be interviewed on the Fire It UP with CJ Radio Show this week. I didn’t realise talking about spiritual teachings could be so much fun! Haha Take a look at the video…there’s some great tips in there…
- How can you be more present throughout your day from waking to sleeping?
- Why is it important to be aware, accept, and engage in appropriate action?
- How do you know if you are resisting and not accepting “what is”?
- How can being present connect you with the flow of life and it’s divine wisdom, love, and beauty?
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are an ancient set of scriptures describing yoga practice and philosophy. In the first of the three portions, there’s some useful advice on how to determine the truth. My understanding is that Patanjali explains that for something to be confirmed as truthful, it must either be as a result of (i) direct perception (ii) inference or (iii) believing a trusted source.
Direct perception is when we know that something is obviously true because we directly perceive it. If we see a field in front of us we know there is a field there. If we feel the wind blowing against our face, we know it is windy. Direct perception is very much based on acknowledging facts. This is the best way of understanding the truth because it’s so direct. However, it is limited by what we can directly perceive, which is why we also need to deploy the next two methods.
Inference involves using evidence and reasoning to confirm the truth. For example, if your alarm sounds in the morning you can infer that it’s time to wake up. If you look out of your window and see puddles everywhere outside you can infer that it’s been raining. With this method, you need to be very careful not to jump to conclusions too early. If somebody only spotted puddles on their drive, it may be the neighbors water sprinkler created them rather than rain. If one person told you something about another, that may not necessarily be true. Inferences that lead to the truth must be straightforward to understand. In complex situations there are sometimes too many opportunities for a mistake to be made. What you accept as the truth is actually false.
The third way of determining the truth is through believing a trusted source. In the Yoga Sutras, the focus here is on going to a guru or authoritative set of scriptures for spiritual truths. This method of understanding the truth can be applied wider than just spirituality. If you had a good friend that you trusted deeply, and they told you about something they observed, you assume that to be the case. If you take your bicycle for repair to a specialist you trust, and they tell you it needs a new chain, you will believe them. This third method for determining the truth is similar to inference, in that it can be easily misused and lead to delusion. People can believe that somebody is a trusted source when they may be speaking falsely. A popular TV show with a longstanding reputation for truthful communication may prove to be false and therefore untrusted. Some sources are true sometimes and not others. Being Present will help you determine which is which. Consistently true sources, which is what Patanjali refers to, be them books, people, or any other type of source are extremely rare.
I encourage you to use these three methods (i) direct perception (ii) inference and (iii) believing a trusted source. Challenge yourself. Are you believing and speaking the truth?
Over the years I’ve practised a number of Buddhist meditation techniques, including Mindfulness of Breathing, Loving Kindness and Anapanasati on a daily basis. Whilst learning about Eckhart Tolle’s teachings, I developed a meditation technique to directly cultivate Presence. Tolle acknowledges and respects planned meditation whilst not insisting upon it for progress. He encourages people to integrate meditation into their daily lives. I already had a consistent daily meditation practice established which I had faith in, so decided to continue with that and use it as another opportunity to integrate Tolle’s teachings. This led to the creation of Presence Meditation.
After trying a range of different options, I found the approach I will be describing here to be the most effective way of training myself to become Present through meditation.
Being in any stage of Presence Meditation is beneficial and we can move from one stage to the next at our leisure. We should be kind to ourselves as we practise and move naturally through the stages at our own pace. To begin with, this technique can be practised formally as part of planned meditation. As we gain experience, we may find ourself following the same process outside of meditation.
Guided audio walkthrough of the meditation is available for download here.
Listen to my guided “Presence Meditation” – now available for free on Insight Timer for iPhone and Android. It’s a great app! Once it’s installed, search “Darren Cockburn” or “Presence Meditation” to access the audio.
It’s recommended that you read this article in full prior to using the audio walkthrough. The audio walkthrough is available to get you started Presence Meditation. Ultimately, the aim is to take responsibility for moving yourself through the stages and let go of the audio.
For further information on setting up your own meditation practice please refer to Being Present.
Settle into your posture and gently close your eyes to begin the first stage. Closing your eyes will remove visual stimuli and make concentration easier. The first stage involves bringing awareness to your thoughts. The reason that we start here is that our thoughts are usually active prior to meditation and act as the main blocker to accessing concentration. This technique differentiates itself from many others that start with the breath as the focus point. Starting with awareness of thoughts allows us to accept them and has a natural settling effect before concentrating on another meditation object such as the breath. If we skip straight to the breath without accepting our thoughts beforehand, this may be viewed by the mind as a form of resistance, control or escape. So meet your thoughts where they are with awareness and a kind acceptance and move forward from there.
If your mind is completely still to begin with then you can move directly to Stage Two. Otherwise, take some time to observe your thoughts. What is your mind doing? Is it telling stories, showing pictures or playing movies? Observing the mind in this way naturally quietens it. Observing your thoughts is similar to watching a movie at the cinema. You can watch the movie and be curious about it whilst knowing at the same time that you are not actually in the movie, because your distance from the screen gives you perspective. You can stay in this stage, observing the mind for as long as is required to quieten it. It is important not to be driven to quieten the mind, as this will create more thought. Simply observe what the mind is doing and allow it to quieten naturally. By doing this you are being the awareness that is observing the thoughts rather than getting lost in them or adding to them. You see that your awareness, which is who you really are, is separate from your thoughts, enabling perspective and freedom.
As the mind quietens and creates larger gaps between thought, you will naturally become aware of other things, including your feelings, body and breath. Once this happens and you can become aware of three full breaths without getting lost in thought, you are ready to move on to the next stage. One full breath is an in breath followed by an out breath. It is fine if you stay in the first stage, bringing awareness and acceptance of your thoughts for the whole time. Starting the meditation and sticking with it for the time you had planned is primary and moving through stages is secondary.
Whilst observing your thoughts, you may notice your ego at work. Chapter Five in Being Present covers the ego in detail, which will help you understand more about what it is and how it operates. A common method used by the ego to reinforce itself is to create persistent thought patterns relating to things we identify with. This takes many forms, including craving, aversion, re-living the past, worry and mental story telling. If you observe your thoughts and emotions, you will find common themes that are repeated on a regular basis. These are parts of your ego. Bringing awareness to them within and outside of meditation helps to gain perspective. Let go and return to the present moment. Any thoughts that arise from the present moment will be creative and helpful. The repetitive thought patterns created by the ego are unhelpful and not who you are. Who you are is the awareness that is observing them. So when you do catch the ego operating, this means you have regained a connection with your true essence and can mentally label it “there is the ego”. That is all that is required. The ego is not good or bad so judgements are unnecessary and unhelpful. Simply, label the ego, accept it is creating thoughts and then allow the thought patterns to pass, returning to the meditation technique.
Once you are aware of three full breaths, you may enter the second stage. In this stage, you direct all your attention to the breath. Examine its different characteristics, including the length, frequency, texture and sound as it constantly changes. You have the whole of the breath to work with from the point where the air enters your nostrils or mouth down into the depths of your lungs. You are not trying to control the breath in any way. Simply allow it to flow naturally and operate through the body’s intelligence without any conscious intervention from the mind. Your job is to give the breath your full attention, accepting whatever forms it takes.
Once you anchor to the breath in this way, it is inevitable that your awareness is going to tune in to other objects that are presented to you, including other bodily sensations, sounds, odours, feelings and thoughts. You may also be aware of subtle lights and colours even with your eyes closed. The mind may create images, movies, sounds and discussions. Being aware of these other objects instead of getting lost in them means you are Present. From here, you have two actions to take. Accept the experience without judging it and then bring your attention back to the breath.
It is human nature to become lost in thought during meditation. You may experience a feeling that triggers a thought, which leads to a story, and before you know it you have lost touch with the present moment. This happens to people (including experienced meditators) many times during meditation. Once you realize you are lost in thought, which might be several seconds or minutes into the thought stream, you can congratulate yourself because at that point you have regained your awareness. If this continues to happen, you should return to Stage One, observing the thoughts before returning to Stage Two after holding your attention for three full breaths. Never give yourself a hard time about being lost in thought within or outside of meditation. Having a continuously peaceful and concentrated mind is the vision, which can take years or even lifetimes to achieve. You should be looking for progress, not perfection. There will be ups and downs to your practice inside and outside of meditation. If you or your friends observe general progress in your level of Presence over the last few months or years, you are heading in the right direction. The most important thing is the practice itself. Stay focused on the practice and the results will take care of themselves.
When starting out, it can help to insert a count on the out breath or in breath. For example, breathe in, breathe out, count one, breathe in, breathe out, count two and so on up to ten and then return to one. It is fine if you lose your place. Simply return to the first count and start again. This counting technique gives the mind something very simple to do, which prevents it from wandering off elsewhere. Another option practised in some forms of traditional Buddhist meditation is to mentally label each breath “long breath” or “short breath”. Again, this gives the mind a simple task and stops it wandering off.
This is the second stage of Presence Meditation. It is essentially a mindfulness practice cultivating awareness, acceptance and concentration. Through using the technique in the second stage, you will be anchored to the breath and at the same time acknowledge and let go of everything else that arises within your awareness. This second stage can be practised exclusively or you can move to the third stage at any time. There is no pressure to move to the third stage. Transition between stages can be invited and should never be forced.
The third stage signifies an exclusive connection with and the deepening of Presence. There are various ways into the third stage. A technique I find helpful is to direct your attention to the space or stillness in-between and around your experience. This can be used inside and outside of planned meditation. Direct your awareness in-between thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, odours and sounds by letting them pass through your awareness. If you examine your experience closely enough, you will observe gaps and space within and around every form object that enters your awareness. This is analogous to clouds coming and going against a backdrop of the sky. You become aware and acknowledge the clouds as they pass and then return your attention to the sky. A natural consequence of this practice is that you will start to notice fewer clouds and more sky.
Connecting with the space in-between all these form objects uncovers emptiness, which is not empty. It is empty because there is no form there, just space, and at the same time it is knowable implying it is not empty. This paradox of emptiness and non-emptiness co-existing can also be described as nothing and something co-existing. If you are aware of this paradox, you are aware of the true essence that manifests all form. This essence creates and contains your form-based identity along with everybody and everything else, which is why it feels so expansive and transcendental. You may still be aware of the breath and other experiences at this point but will no longer be focused on them as meditation objects. Instead, you will be the Presence for the experiences to manifest and play within.
The emptiness you find through looking within and around form is your awareness and connecting with this allows you to become Present. By form, I am referring to bodily sensations, things coming in through the senses, feelings and thoughts. You move away from being associated with thoughts and become the awareness or emptiness that holds and observes them. Awareness and emptiness are one and the same. When connected with emptiness, you are aware of your own awareness. When you are aware of your own awareness, you are connected with emptiness. This awareness or emptiness does not belong to you as everybody and everything shares it. Everybody and everything in the world of form need the emptiness to exist. The emptiness, which is universal and infinite, is the creator, container and connector for all form objects at every level. Physical objects, thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations all coexist within it.
Using the method described above is helpful for those who are at the early stages in their practice as it is methodological. Another method is to bring awareness to your own awareness, if this is accessible to you. This option provides more direct access to those who are more experienced in becoming Present. Both methods lead you to the same place.
The third stage cannot be accessed through force and manifests naturally through surrendering fully to the present moment. Inviting yourself to become exclusively Present may also take you there. What you connect with in the third stage cannot be described using language. It can only be known. Words that I find helpful to point towards it are Presence, stillness, spaciousness, peace, awareness, love, the unconditioned, formlessness and emptiness. You may choose to use different words.
I find this third stage of meditation a beautiful and pleasurable experience. When you have become exclusively Present, you are aware of the fact that you are connected with something far more expansive than your limited ego-based self. Actually, the real truth is that you are not connected to it, because you are it. You cannot be connected to something that you already are. You cannot be connected to your awareness when you are your awareness. It may feel as though you are connected to something new when in fact it has been there all along but was covered up with a vale of thought. The essence of you does not fit into the usual categories that are included in mindfulness practice, such as bodily sensations, form entering through the senses, feelings or thoughts. This is what you experience, but it is not you. What you connect with in the third stage, is a very different realm to your usual form-based existence as it is formless.
I cannot offer a guaranteed technique that you can use to enter the third stage in the same way that I cannot explain how to become Present outside of planned meditation. I have offered some suggestions and in the end it is something you must know for yourself. Different people use different methods at different times to become exclusively Present. Paradoxically, the method that we use to become Present is manifested through Presence. Therefore, presence is enabling a connection with itself.
You can dwell in the third stage of Presence Meditation for any length of time from one second to several minutes. Once you are in the third stage, if you remain there and surrender to it, you can deepen your experience infinitely. At first, despite its pureness and beauty, it can be difficult to remain in the third stage. The ego has no place in the third stage and will do its best to pull you back into thoughts and stories that reinforce your false sense of self. In fact, the ego is so afraid and threatened of you being Present and radiating your true essence that it will generate feelings of fear to pull you back into thought. This explains why some people feel they are afraid of the third stage and exit meditation feeling very sensitive. It is not the people who are afraid, but their egos. There is also no concept of time in the third stage. Being exclusively Present is out of time and provides freedom from time.
During meditation, you may traverse all three stages in both directions as shown in the illustration below. You may mentally label the stage you are in for stages one and two. Stage three cannot be mentally labelled, as there will be no conscious thought. At any given time, you will either be lost in thought (which we can label Stage 0), Stage One (observing thought), Stage Two (anchored to an object such as the breath) or Stage Three (exclusively Present).
Our ability to be kind is dependent upon our past conditioning along with our ability to be Present.
Whatever your level of kindness, the good news is that you can cultivate more of it. Deeds of kindness work best when they’re created spontaneously. When this happens, our actions come from a place of love and are likely to feel pure to the recipient. Another option is to sit down and consciously think about how you can be kind to people, then plan activities to do so. This second approach is really being led by the ego and is likely to feel impure to recipients. It can also be used as a way of manipulating people. You cannot plan to be kind. However, you can plan to cultivate kindness…
I’ve had to work hard at cultivating kindness. It’s not been a quick or easy process for me and I still have much work to do. This is for a variety of reasons including an inflated ego and past conditioning. These days, I’m more often described as kind, and I put that down to the work I’ve done to cultivate kindness through spiritual practice. There are five ways of cultivating kindness that have worked for me over the years and I’d like to share them with you:
- Practice loving kindness meditation– also known as Metta Bhavana. This is a formal meditation practice that involves bringing to mind yourself, people to whom you can express kindness easily, people you have problems with, strangers, and everybody else in the world. As you do this, you use your imagination to send them love and kindness. This meditation trains the subconscious mind to create kind thoughts. This then leads to spontaneous kindness being generated outside of meditation. Having tried it for years and met many other people who have done the same, I can categorically state that this meditation practice does work. There are plenty of books, courses, apps and Internet resources that can help train you in this meditation.
- Do only what needs to be done– by following this guideline, we end up needing to do less for ourselves. We let go of spending time doing stuff that isn’t helpful spiritually speaking. The time that is freed up from this practice can then be used for the kind service of others. As I’m sure you will appreciate, when you’re too busy, it can be virtually impossible to bring awareness or consideration to other people or things.
- Be around kind people– Kindness is propagated by people. Everything else being equal, if you are around people kinder than yourself, your kindness will increase. If you hang out with people that are generally speaking, more selfish than you, there is a fair chance that the kindness you do have will be diminished. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t hang out with people more selfish than you. That can be an act of kindness in itself as the chances are that they will become kinder in your presence. To cultivate kindness, your close friends need to be kind. Groups of people that you frequently mix with, generally speaking, should be kind. This may include people at your place of work and social groups you engage with.
- Work on Being Present – When Present, you’re aware and accepting of yourself, others and situations. In this mode, loving kindness will flow naturally. You will be connected to an infinite source of intelligence that will guide you towards kindness. You can learn more about Being Present in my book.
- Take opportunities to be kind– There will be many times when acts of kindness enter your consciousness. It may be giving some food to a beggar on the street, or randomly texting a friend to wish them well. If you’re present, you will know instantly whether these opportunities should be acted upon, and most of the time they should. If you are conscious of an opportunity for kindness and know it should be acted on then just do it!
Your mind is always in one of two modes. You are either lost in thought or Present. Being lost in thought may also mean you are lost in your emotions. During these times you are disconnected from the infinite intelligence that is your birthright. Instead, the ego is in control and you become unskillful. When your thoughts get carried away with themselves and do things without your awareness they create impressions in your mind that cause problems. Being lost in thought is as fruitless, stressful, and tiring, as swimming against an infinitely powerful current.
When you are lost in thought the mind is unstable and you are trapped. Trapped in your ego or the prison of your own mind. Action from this state of mind is very limiting and restrictive. It is like a mobile phone without a data connection. It can only act based upon what it knows from its past experience without getting a live data feed from an infinite source. The only way that you can be in alignment with what the universe needs is through the present moment. It is only from there that you can think, communicate and act intelligently serving whatever the need is at the time. Enabling you to access true intelligence and positive direction.
We are trying to move away from being lost in thought, and towards being present, which I also call Mindfulness+. These Two Modes of the Mind are shown in the diagram below along with their characteristics.
The Two Modes of the Mind
When you are present, your thoughts, communication and actions are automatically aligned and love-based. This connection allows your mind to consider everyone and everything else. This is what makes it possible to act with love and kindness. When the mind is in this stable state you are liberated. You are free from the prison of your own ego, uncontrolled thoughts and emotions. You are at one with everything that has been, everything that is now, and everything that is to come.
I must point out to you at this stage that it is OK to think! We need to think in order to do things and operate within the world. Thinking that manifests out of a state of Presence is skillful and helpful. There is awareness around the thoughts. Most of the time you do not need to think. Even when you are talking, you do not need to think.
There needs to be stillness and spaciousness within the mind. I’m sure that you would have experienced this for yourself. You can recall times when you were very present and your mind was still and quiet. This can happen naturally when we experience love and beauty. Some people experience this when they are out in nature or keeping the body still during meditation. It can be experienced in very challenging situations when we are under pressure. The mind becomes extremely still enabling us to say or do something that is just what’s required at the time. This is how people do remarkable things, make incredible decisions and take action that literally transforms people and situations. Often our egos resurface after the event and we might say to ourselves “that was impressive”.
You can observe these two modes of the mind in yourself and others including influential people in the media. You can observe them and ask yourself if they are present or lost in thought. When they are lost in thought you know that what they say or do is unskillful and will cause harm. Often, the more influence a person has, the bigger their impact based on their mode of the mind at the time. You never know for sure what mode somebody is in. You can only guess. However, it is a good observation game to play and raises your awareness of the two modes of the mind. Ultimately, the best person to observe in this practice is yourself. Human beings that are not enlightened, which is most of us, will always have times when they are lost in thought and unskillful. It is the human condition.
It can be helpful to ask yourself “am I present?”. When you ask yourself this question you automatically become present. In fact, you have to be present to even ask the question in the first place. If you have friends that understand about being present then you can ask each other. Especially at times when one notices the other is lost in thought or unskillful. Similar questions are “are you here?”, “are you with us?” or “was you present when you did that”. Certain group activities lend themselves to being more present. I run spiritual study groups where we practice being present together whilst studying and communicating. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out the kind of activities that cause you to be present and those that cause you to be lost in thought. Engage in more activities where you can be present and less activities where you are lost in thought.
Bringing awareness to something real like the energy in your hands or another part of the body is a good tactic to regain presence. Use your senses by looking around, listening, smelling, tasting or touching. When you do this, you become present. You may want to take a moment now to stop reading and reflect on what it’s like to be lost in thought. When was the last time this happened to you and how did it negatively impact things? Then take another moment to reflect on what it’s like to be present. When was the last time this happened to you and how did it positively impact things?
To summarize, the mind is either lost in thought or present. You need to be present and we can all do that more of the time. It is achievable. Maybe just for small periods to begin with. We keep practicing and over time we see quite how far we have come. We look back a few months or years and are wowed by how much progress we can make!
A relationship exists between simplicity and Presence. Simplifying our life helps us to cultivate Presence and Presence equips us to manage complexity. If we believe things are too complex, we must work to simplify them.
Extract from Being Present
I visited London book fair last week to learn all about publishing and get some tips for authors.
Whilst I was there I met with the lovely people at Findhorn Press & Inner Traditions (my publisher) and they agreed to work with me on a new spiritual book I am writing and very excited about called “The Process”.
Have you ever asked yourself why things happen? Why you are here on earth and what role you play in it all? How to navigate through life harmoniously and peacefully?
In this book I will be exploring and answering these intriguing questions using a synthesis of sacred spiritual teachings from Buddhism, Eckhart Tolle, Yoga philosophy and my own personal insights.
To make the book the best it can be I need people to collaborate with, which is where I am hoping you come in. I invite you to review all or parts of the book and provide me with feedback over the next few months.
Would you be able to help with this? If so, then please contact me and I will explain more….
Thanks in advance, Darren
Watkins Bookstore London: Being Present book talk and signing – 21st June 2018
I am pleased to announce that I will be giving a talk and signing copies of my new book ‘Being Present‘ at Watkins Bookstore in London on Thursday 21st June at 6,30pm.
Established over 100 years ago, Watkins is one of the world’s oldest and leading independent bookshops specialising in esoterica.
All talks are free and take place in the bookshop itself at 19 Cecil Court, London WC2N 4EZ. You can catch up on all the recent Watkins talks by spiritual authors on their youtube channel and web site.
Audio and slide show of Darren’s workshop at the British Wheel of Yoga Well Being Festival at Warwick University on 24th March 2017.
The talk synthesises the following topics:
- Darren’s personal journey
- The Goal of Yoga / Yoga Sutras
- Meditation including hindrances
- Two modes of the mind
- Definition of spiritual practice
- The four A’s model
Darren’s book “Being Present” is available to order from Amazon.
Connect with Darren:
I recently returned from an annual skiing holiday with my son. We’ve been going skiing for many years now and have a wonderful time. Nature, mountain air, lots of food and physical exercise leaving our bodies feeling nourished and stronger.
The spiritual aspect to the holiday is always both challenging and revealing. If you have a spiritual practice these regular events provide an effective gauge informing you of how you are progressing. With annual holidays taking place around the same time it can be informative to look back and compare how present, mindful or skilful you have been in comparison to the previous year.
This year I completely let go of my daily planned meditation practice and physical yoga practice. I continued study albeit on an ad-hoc basis, which was focused on the yoga sutras. It felt like the planned meditation I usually do was interspersed into the day. Little moments of gazing at pine trees or simply sitting in the hotel doing nothing and just looking into space. It was beautiful.
Holidays are holidays and not holidays! We may get a break from our usual routine and environment, but we never get a break from spiritual practice. Holidays are part of spiritual practice. Even if we don’t know it! Each holiday is custom built to give us just what we need to help us evolve. It may feel positive providing chances to reflect, enjoy nature or enter into deep communication with loved ones or strangers that is all made possible with the extra space and different environments.
Holidays also come with challenges. These take many forms including challenges with difficult people, poor services, delays, ill health and things generally not going to plan. Sometimes the pleasure we’ve attached to in our mind before the holiday doesn’t manifest and we feel short changed! These challenges may temporary knock us off balance causing us to become lost in thought. Then we suffer, then we wake up and become present again. If we reflect and learn from our experience we benefit. If not, there may be similar lessons and more suffering to come. In extreme cases, there are also disasters – these are all part of The Plan.
We should be grateful for whatever happens on a holiday. For the positives and the obstacles that are there to train us and help us evolve. Keep in mind the next time you book a holiday that you are also booking a training programme or spiritual retreat! Ashrams, meditation centres and so on have their place and can be highly beneficial. I’d recommend you consider attending them from time-to-time. But never underestimate how much you gain from a “normal” holiday with friends or family. Holidays are precious and sacred.
The picture is of my son Joshua who is enjoying a good rest.
Practical guidance on mindfulness and being in the present moment.
Darren introduces the two modes of the mind: “Lost in thought” and “Being Present”. He explains how the goal of spiritual practice is to move from the former to the latter.
The practical Four A’s framework (Awareness, Acceptance, Appropriate Action) is then introduced showing the two paths that lead from the two modes of the mind.
More detail can be found in Darren’s book “Being Present” ISBN 1844097463.
Darren introduces the concept of mindfulness as described in his book Being Present. The subjects of awareness and acceptance are discussed along with a brief mindfulness meditation session to aid learning.
Introduction to meditation covering technique, teacher / teachings, posture, duration, location, energy, frequency and managing hindrances.
Is it possible to be happy all the time? No, absolutely not. Why is that? Simple…because happiness is based on conditions. You get something that you desire and you experience happiness. You move away from something that you dislike and that may make you happy too…for a while. Happiness comes and goes for all sorts of reasons.
What is available permanently for those who are able to access it is “peace”. There are different words to describe this including love, joy and presence. This comes from a source that is unconditioned. It does not need anything to happen inside or outside of you to be there. It is always there. Everybody has the gift to be able to connect with this.
Connecting with and cultivating the connection to peace is spiritual practice.
Darren answers a question from his Eckhart Tolle study group.
Darren answers a question from his Eckhart Tolle study group.
Darren answers a question from his Eckhart Tolle study group.
Darren answers a question from his Eckhart Tolle study group.
Darren Cockburn & Jennie Hastings discuss spiritual practice inside and outside of the ashram.
Our experience consists of thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and things coming in through the senses. Our experience can either be pleasant or unpleasant depending upon the conditions at the time.
A real benefit of being Present is that we transcend our experience. We can still have the experience, but we do not get lost in it. If its pleasant (like the taste of good food) we can enjoy it without attaching. If its unpleasant (like a feeling of frustration) we simply observe it peacefully which means the feeling passes sooner.
Once we realise that who we are is the awareness and not the actual experience we have complete freedom! Regardless of what happens to us. And the good news is that through being Present, a natural consequence is that our life experience will improve on the whole. This is because what we think, say and do is wise and keeps us on the right path. We become friendly with the universe and the universe becomes friendly with us in return 🙂