What an absurd statement. How can going slower get me anywhere faster? This sounds so backwards, upside down, and idiotic. Well, I suppose it depends on where you think “there” is, who you think “you” are…
Self Knowing is a statement of purpose on nearly all spiritual paths. It has been an aim of Yoga practitioners for centuries and has the paradoxical nature of being both a process and product. As a process, Self Knowing is as difficult as finding your way through a thorny labyrinth, on a crescent moon night, with crippled limbs. As a product, Self Knowing is as elusive as the eyeglasses on your head that you are sure are lost.
When someone tries to sell you Self Knowing as a product, it is as if they are selling you a watch which they stole off your wrist… Of course if you had forgotten that you owned a watch, this would seem like a really good deal!
So where are we going to find Self Knowing?
The destination is the present…
…And the slower you go, the faster you get there.
“Don’t we all live in the present?” Well, yes… and not really. Being in the present depends on attention. The “energy” which is subject to my will [very little!], follows my attention. When my attention is captured by thoughts, imagery, emotions, etc. that have nothing to do with what is currently arising, I cannot reliably claim to be present. Furthermore, Thinking “I live in the present” no more gets me into the present than thinking “a million dollars” puts the money in my bank account.
*** NOTE: Attention in this context is not the same as ‘attention span’ or any psychological definition of attention. Attention in this context is much more fundamental to being; the witnessing function in consciousness. In this context, attention is closer to what we might call soul, awareness, essential self, or any other irreducible language that holds the polarity to that which witnesses impressions.
So what is the pathway, or process for being in the present?
- The breath and the body. Both breath and the body are only and always present phenomenon.
Sensation and feeling in the present moment are the eternal resources which fuel the process of building our presence of being. Sensation and feeling, like the breath and body exist forever and always in the present. Struggles arise in the process when I do not like, cannot take, what I sense and feel; when I am in pain and averse to what is being sensed and felt. Likewise it is just as difficult to remain present in pleasure, or when I am sensing what I do like and all I want is for the feeling to keep going.
The struggle to remain present is as difficult as turning down a night out at your favorite restaurant club with the most famous and beautiful people, the richest and most delicious food, stunning and sexy dancing ladies (or men if that’s your bag) moving to the most energetic and thrilling music, any intoxicant of your choice, all for a simple night at home, alone, cooking for yourself with a few basic ingredients, and if you dance, you do it sober.
What to observe in the struggle for presence:
- Unnecessary thinking
- Inappropriate emotional reaction
- Unnecessary tension in the body
Unnecessary thinking – About 95% of all thinking is what could be called unnecessary; it is not serving a present purpose of: communication, solving a real problem, remembering to put attention on present sensation and feeling.
Inappropriate emotional reaction – This is a difficult one to describe… Mostly because the mere mention of it often triggers inappropriate emotional reactions! The list starts with (but is not limited to): guilt, shame, and blame. While these experiences seem to serve some purposes in politics and court systems, they have no particular use on a path of Self Knowing. As such they serve to keep our energy captured in an intellectual/emotional complex which consumes attention and keeps us in habituated states of fear and anger toward our self and others.
Unnecessary tension in the body – There are many types of unnecessary tension in the body: Any tension that is not contributing to the integrated and relaxed posture of the body. Any tension that is due to unconscious posturing: slumping, leaning, hanging in joints, etc.. Any tension that is patterned do to overuse, underuse, and habits of movement and action. Any tension that is arises from unnecessary thinking, and inappropriate emotional reactions.
How to observe in the struggle for presence:
[don’t believe this blindly, test and verify it for yourself]
- Without Judgement
- Without the need to change that which is observed
- With attention on bodily sensation
- With ruthless self honesty
Without Judgement – DO NOT CONFUSE judgment and discernment. One is useful, the other is not. Discernment is knowing the clear distinction between things. Judgement is based on preference, bias, personality, like, dislike, aversion, pleasure, pain, and basically boils down to criticism and fault finding. Judgement can never lead us to Self Knowing because the act of performing it holds up and reinforces our separate self identity and feeds off our experiences of fear and self hatred.
Without the need to change that which is observed – The compulsive need to change or attempt to fix that which I observe in myself can never bring me to Self Knowing because the impression that I need to change is based on judgement. This one is very difficult to tolerate because there is so much about life both inside and out that gives the impression of “wrongness”, and that I somehow need to be “fixed”.
With attention on bodily sensation – Bodily sensation is a gift! Without any added analysis, attention on sensation verifies that I am present. A key to experience the value of this is to see that attention is usually either captured and consumed by the intellectual/emotional complex or placed in a relaxed and settled way on bodily sensation. When attention is captured through unnecessary thinking, emotional reactions, and unnecessary tension in the body, I am not present. The aim of having attention on bodily sensation is not just on the parts of the body I currently have access to. The aim is to sense the entire body at once.
With ruthless self honesty – A key principle to work with in self honesty is: ‘a relaxed body is an honest body’. This facet of Self Knowing is aimed at unearthing all the layers of self deception, denial, and sabotage that are upheld by our separate self identity. In the words of one of the World’s most talented theoretical physicists, Richard Feynman: “The easiest person to for me to fool is myself”
The work to be present and live of a life of Self Knowledge is not easy. It demands a tremendous amount of focus, commitment, allowance, patience, wisdom, compassion, tolerance, and a willingness to work against all odds. When we see the demand clearly we might want to treat the path of Self Knowing like a “to do” list or a “race to the finish”. After many years of practice and listening to the account of those who have practiced twice as long or more and who carry for more wisdom than I, I say:
The slower you go, the faster you get there.
By: Brent Kuecker – Yogi. Musician. Educator.