Cultivating Embodied Presence
Cultivating Embodied Presence: Passing Through the Eye of the Needle
“Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle
than for a rich person to get into the kingdom of God.”
In their book Presence: An Exploration of Profound Change in People, Organizations, and Society, Peter Senge and his fellow authors reference the scriptural passage above, using it as a parable for entering into sacred space. This biblical verse was taken from the literal facts of life in Jerusalem in the times of Christ.
Stories have been told as far back as the 15th century about a gate used to enter into the walled city of ancient Jerusalem after the main gate was closed for the day. This gate was very narrow. A fully loaded camel had to have its baggage removed so it could pass through the gate and proceed to its desired destination.
From a mythological perspective, the ‘Eye of the Needle’ serves as a marker for a threshold crossing, providing a narrow gate-way into enlightened space. It requires those of us seeking entrance to the walled ‘treasure house of the soul’ to shed our ego baggage. By becoming humble enough and light enough to pass through the narrow gate, we can move towards an expansive and transcendent state of consciousness which lies beyond it.
In the practice of mindfulness meditation, our aim is to ‘let go’ of ego grasping and striving. We do this by paying attention to our breath – to the letting come that happens with each inhalation, and the letting go that takes place with each subsequent exhalation.
In a state of mindfulness, we practice being still as we watch our thoughts chase after themselves, one following another. We allow these thoughts to run their course, we let them come and then go like passing clouds, as with the coming and going of our breath. As we become still, we can even reflect upon more esoteric wonderings such as “Who am I between two thoughts”? Then we can practice letting go of even the question itself.
As we practice mindfulness, and by being more fully present in the moment as it happens, without our ego willing a particular outcome into being – we eventually may find ourselves resting into the restorative ground of ‘embodied presence’. This way of being present in our bodies can only be found by being fully immersed in the sensate awareness of that which is happening right here, right now – and nowhere else.
This type of presence has the distinctive feeling of being simultaneously contained within and opened up by a felt sense of immediacy. The diametrically opposed qualities of solidity and spaciousness create a coherency that gives richness, substance and gravity to our lived experience; it is what people who are artists, poets or mystics must practice in order to master their craft.
Being embodied and fully in the moment also carries the feeling of sacredness, of experiencing an aliveness that cannot be controlled by us. This in turn offers us potential encounters with mystery and enchantment – of having entered into meaningful participation with something that includes who we are, yet is much larger than our individual sense of self. As we experience pure ‘being-ness’ in the here and now moment, ineffable states of awareness come forth from somewhere within, a place where even our words turn back.
By surrendering over fully to our present moment experience of life as it is, by being fully engaged with our senses and not just our mental thinking, we somehow begin to pass through – without trying – into what the sages would call ‘eternity’.
We move beyond the mind’s tendency to be entangled by polarizing opposites found in a world immersed in duality. We become able to pass beyond our own internally habituated, conflicted and contradicted thinking and grasping – all that sets us apart from feeling joined with in a lived experience of fundamental connectedness.
As we ‘pass through’, we become enveloped by a feeling of awe, of rapture – of being completely absorbed by and immersed in the dynamic feeling of ‘presence’. We experience the mindful embodiment of our own finite existence – ‘being here’ -while also sensing the presence of something larger and intangible in our midst, which emanates a timelessness happening within the field of time.
In today’s modern life, Senge says, it can feel easier for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle than for us to feel this deep connectedness to that which is deeply meaningful, awe-inspiring, and enlivening.
The journey towards mystery and meaning is distinctly different from simple ego gratification or pleasure seeking. Ego pursuits can be quickly acquired or willfully determined and achieved, and these pursuits are as well readily available for purchase in our modern culture – a hollow substitute for entering the rich inner chambers of the heart and soul.
In the Western world, we have accumulated tremendous material wealth, and some of us have learned to hold on tightly to our money, our possessions, and our status in society. We grasp on to how others approve of us, give us recognition, or even envy us. We are enculturated to acquire and cling to the things of this world, and in the acquisitioning itself, we can create baggage for ourselves.
We carry ego baggage by striving to keep up with the expectations and demands of others in order to maintain their approval, recognition, and acceptance. Becoming weighed down by the load of our personal baggage keeps us from passing through the eye of the needle.
To pass through any kind of threshold that will shift us from our outward focused, accumulating way of acquiring things, and take us into an inner, more beholden state of being, we must practice the following:
Slow Down. Breathe Deeply. Feel Into Our Bodies. Stay. And Wait.
Wait Until Deeper Awareness Comes.
Recently, I was practicing a collective type of ‘presencing’ with our PsychoEnergetics Training group in Spain. We began yet another year of working, being, and sharing life together. By consistently and repeatedly doing so, we have built up over time the feeling of a shared, communal group energy.
We sat together once again in our mindful, meditative, agenda-less space. We all just kept staying with the feeling of our bodies, allowing for the gradual quieting in our minds. We waited together in complete silence, in the growing spaciousness and fullness of the present moment, where ‘no particular thing’ happens (what our panicky ego state would call ‘nothing happening!’).
The silence and immediacy of ‘being contained in open space’ always feels a bit tense and awkward, and even intolerable, at first. But true ‘presence’ only comes when we can pass through into an embodied and mindful state of being while keeping our attention rooted in present moment experience, and then simply staying with it, for the sake of staying with it.
Tolerating this staying with no thing in particular is the key to passing through the eye of the needle into the fullness of an embodied presence. We somehow go through a shift in consciousness, born from our present moment awareness, that we can’t simply will into existence – and are always surprised by where we end up. The Spanish poet Antonio Machado speaks to this process so clearly:
It seems that down there
In the depths
My boat has struck against a great thing…
Or has everything happened,
And I am standing now
In the new life?
As our group sat in the silence of our active waiting, somehow a collective coherence, like a building wave, began to upwell within us – and a felt sense of a ‘we’ came more strongly into being. There was more waiting…then a feeling of deepening ever more inward.
I began to somehow feel myself passing through the eye of the needle: a deep remembering surfaced, washing over me in waves. Distinct and vivid childhood memories arose in me. Encounters with significant people – grade school teachers, childhood friends long forgotten; moments that mattered dearly from my young life.
Songs and poems came to me, too. I could dive into any one of them, be completely absorbed in them and moved by them; then I would simply let these waves pass back out of my awareness.
From this place of embodied presence, Senge says we learn to see what is truly happening all around us, as we now are able to see from within the Source of all things. We begin to witness what is emerging from the Source, as well.
We are of the sea and in the sea, floating on wave upon wave of awareness. Here, we experience a deeper kind of intelligence, an awareness of one-ness, to which we are intrinsically connected. Perhaps this is our true inheritance as awakened human beings.
This flow of presence inevitably uplifts the vessels of those who are able to bear witness to a rising tide of contained energy, and the flow becomes strengthened when a collective body of people can be present in this fashion together.
Those who can witness and observe like this say that what happens cannot be understood with the rational mind, because something that appears to be impossible to the rational mind begins to take place – which again is like the passing of a camel through the eye of a needle.
Back in our training group’s meditation space, I rode the wave of one more particular memory. I was enraptured and fascinated yet again by how the psyche has the ability to spontaneously bring forth a clear, living memory from the depths of time – from a place that happened long ago in my youth.
I remembered my love of bicycle riding. As a 12-year-old boy I obtained a new bike with big 26-inch wheels. It was gold, with a basket attached in front. I had an immediate urge to make plans for a long, adventuresome bike ride. So I mapped out a route to a county park 10 miles away. I was deeply disappointed to find out that my friends did not have much interest in doing this kind of trek, so I set it aside.
As a result, I would often go out by myself for other extended rides, but I was reluctant to venture too far from the neighborhood by myself. Then one summer’s day, to my surprise and delight, two of my good friends decided that since there was nothing better to do that day, we should finally take that bike ride to the county fairgrounds. I remember the bursting excitement I had for adventure, for going far out into the world, places only accessible by family car rides on infrequent occasions that required adult company.
There we were, lunches packed, pedaling our way alongside passing automobile traffic, pedaling up steep hills, dodging potholes and passing pedestrians. Arriving completely spent from our efforts to get to the park, we shared in the joy of being in it together. We were somehow larger and freer now, filled by the pride of our accomplishment.
But what lingered on for me, what I was remembering in a deeper way during our training group meditation, was the feeling of being absorbed in the wonder of shared immersion, caught up in something so simple but so worthwhile because we were together, and the sheer joy of that sense of togetherness.
Shifting my awareness back into the quiet stillness of the group’s meditative quiet, I felt like one of 50 boats silently bobbing on the sea. I was in awe, resting in a deep quiet space, and profoundly appreciative of what just came forth. I also felt the contentment and joy being embodied alongside others.
Something was coming forth from passing through into the fullness of the present moment, into the simplicity of sitting with one another, of just being together, of staying both immersed and afloat in the water.
It then struck me that beyond these types of meditation spaces, we typically only tend to do this kind of sitting with another if one of us is quite ill, perhaps hospitalized and in need of intensive care, or dying. It seems we typically only become worthy of this kind of presence through the profound vulnerability of a life-threatening circumstance.
But to have this shared being-ness, simply for the sake of having it – sheer wonder and joy! Like a camel passing through the eye of a needle.
– Michael Mervosh