Wisdom: Relying on Presence Instead of Conditioning
In the Sacred Conduct series, there was an invitation to look more closely at what motivates us to act in any given situation. Our main tool in this realm was to turn each moment of uncertainty into a question.
This section - Inquiry & the Awakening of Intuitive Guidance - is a full-on dive into the mechanism of asking questions and receiving answers directly from presence – directly from the source of wisdom itself.
You could say that this ability to instantaneously see what is needed – what is most appropriate to the specific situation you find yourself in – is the active side of presence. It is the aspect of awareness that cuts through, that sees clearly, that has unfathomable insight into how to surf the river of our experience with a skill-level that the relative mind can never achieve.
The discovery that presence can decide and act within even the most mundane life situations is one of the main keys to integration and embodiment. Why? Because before that, there is a split. On one side, you have the experience of deep presence and stillness which is often touched in meditation or in retreat. On the other, you have the neurosis of daily life, and the hard truth is that even very experienced meditators can function just as much from basic survival conditioning as anyone else. We long to heal this split – to close the gap between the depths of meditation and the quality of our mundane experience.
The Central Dilemma: “I got it, I lost it.”
One feature of deep presence is the complete absence of a separate, small “me.” We discover that what we are is a living field – a vastness that cannot be named. A mystery.
But as we come out of that rarefied, concentrated space, the “me” re-appears! We return to our lives, to our relationships, to our work and the sense is that some kind of intimacy with true nature is lost. We are trying to stay present, but the conditioned habits are very, very strong.
This is “I got it, I lost it.”
It is probably the central dilemma serious practitioners face. There are all sorts of pointers for working with it that we will introduce. The pointer for this week is: if we don’t want to be taken over constantly by the conditioned mind, then we have to stop using it to run our life and make all of our decisions.
This seems so obvious on the face of it, but to really live it means that we have to re-wire how we respond to almost every input we receive from the world and other people.
Practice Instructions: Presence Decides; You Listen
Fortunately, the essence of this re-wiring is simple.
The first and most basic step is to turn each moment of the day where there is a potential decision to be made into a question – into an inquiry.
Instead of letting one of the dozens of conditioned voices in our heads take us down some kind of unconscious auto-pilot rabbit-hole, we develop the habit of formulating questions that open up new pathways for speech and action. “Oh, I’ll show that asshole” becomes “how should I respond to what he just did?”
Even if you ignore the rest of the instructions, you will notice effects on your mind and behavior from just this simple practice. Put simply, the conditioned mind “tells.” Wisdom mind “asks.” If you change the ratio of those, you get better results. Inquiry also has a way of creating natural pauses and opportunities for grounding. For this reason, we call it the “daily life radar”. We ask questions so action stays fresh, stays inspired – so we don’t get lost in the momentum of doing and accomplishing.
The tool of inquiry is designed to awaken us to the absolutely torrential flow of guidance and information that is available when we listen to our true nature. The ego basically cannot trust, so its story (rooted in its perceptual habits) is that we are alone, fending for ourselves with absolutely no support.
The reality is that the habit of constantly going to the ego for answers to everything blocks deeper forms of communication and assistance. Fortunately, restoring these deeper communication links is not difficult. You just have to practice it in order to re-familiarize yourself with the feeling of it. Here is how we are going to do that:
First gear in working with the intuitive-wisdom function is always simple yes/no questions about non-triggering decisions.
Should I have tea? Should I park there? Do I want to go to lunch with her? Am I too tired to call my mom?
It should become a daily practice to refer these questions to presence.
The advantage of the yes/no frame is that the answer can bypass the mind and come completely through the felt-sense. The yes expands and relaxes. The no slightly contracts. Simple.
As we progress with the practice, our main task becomes distinguishing what we call “thoughts of clarity” from conditioned thinking. As we sit with our various inquiries throughout the day, we begin to notice that there is a certain kind of internal answer that has a different flavor from other thoughts/internal talk. Specifically…
It is clear.
It doesn’t engage in unnecessary conceptual elaboration.
It is not making an argument or taking a position.
It is often focusing you down to the next step, not speculating on outcomes.
It does not leave any conditioned or emotional residue in the body-mind.
The quality of the inner voice is “different” in some way from normal, conditioned thinking.
Just like with awareness practice, we’re using a high-repetition, low-strain style of practice. If you try to listen for the wisdom-function thousands of times in a relaxed, unpressured way, you will succeed. Like everything worth doing, it is subtle at first. Just keep at it.
In addition to listening for answers, some of you will also “see” them in the form of images. These images can arise in waking, dreaming, and particularly in the state between waking and sleep. You can draw these or write them down.
Remember that all the basics of awareness practice apply to inquiry – particularly pausing to really ground the body. This creates the conditions for clarity to emerge.