Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Practicing the Presence of God

Practicing the presence of God means to be mindful of God’s presence moment to moment throughout your waking hours. There is no end to the ways this can be practiced and experienced — after all, is God not Infinite?

Swami Kriyananda, founder of Ananda and my spiritual teacher, notes that practicing the presence is not necessarily to be IN that Presence. We should keep in mind that the purpose of our practices is to go beyond practice into the actual experience. This is a distinction we should note from the beginning. All spiritual practices, all techniques, all sadhana, cease when God comes to us!

To winnow Infinity down to manageable proportions, however, we might divide this vital and transforming sadhana into the three components: each in relation to our basic nature of perception, feeling, and action. In the yogic tradition, these aspects find expression as three “paths” to God: gyana yoga, bhakti yoga, and karma yoga. It is common, though not as expansive as it could be, to view these as separate paths to God. But in fact and in truth, they are aspects of our very own nature and as such each should be refined. One cannot each God-realization solely through just one of these aspects for our “human” nature itself is One.

To perceive God’s presence moment-to-moment means to withdraw, even a little bit, into the watchful state in the midst of your activities. Watch yourself, first, and then perceive your higher Self (rather than your egoic self) as the Watcher. That Watcher, then, is the Godhead who IS your very Self and who watches You. As you enter more fully into the reality of this state you will be filled with joy and energy!

To feel God’s presence moment-to-moment means to awaken the heart’s natural feeling, bit by bit, in the midst of your activities. First, contact this calm feeling in your heart, and then transform that feeling into devotion to God, offering everything you say, think, and do at the feet of the Infinite Lord. (God, here, can take the name and form of any saint or deity or abstraction you hold dear or find inspiring.) As you enter into this practice more deeply you will begin to feel God’s presence everywhere: in everyone you interact with and at the heart of everything you do.

To express God’s presence moment-moment-moment in your actions is to feel God’s power flowing through you as you conduct your activities. First feel that power as you move, talk, feel, and think; then feel it as God’s power; next, feel that God is Doer and you are His instrument; and lastly, and in its most elevated state, God becomes both the Doer AND the Instrument!

Each of these practices merges into the same, but ever-new, ever-changing, ever-expanding state of Oneness. One can say it’s blissful, or joyful, or loving, or peaceful, calm, powerful and on and on for in God there is no end, only endlessness.

Each of these practices, moreover, depends on some aspect of the other. To be watchful takes will power and energy. These in turn depend on the heart’s desire and motivation. Devotion itself requires and IS energy. It takes concentration and perception to hold steady the image of the Lord one seeks to unit with. To become an instrument of God’s power requires positive intention and will power motivated by love for God.

Within this simple framework you will find for yourself an infinity of ways to explore God’s presence. The most famous and traditional technique of practicing the presence is known in Sanskrit as japa. It consists of silent, mental repetition of such words as God’s name (again, God has an Infinity of names and loves them all), a mantra, a prayer, an affirmation, or chant (which of course has melody in addition to words, or melody without words but with perceptive or devotional association). Prayer beads or rosary is one means of counting when counting, well, counts (is prescribed for the practice or mantra).

The drawback to any form of repetition is its becoming mechanical and merely subconscious. This in turn is somewhat held in check for the fact that it takes a great deal of concentration to maintain the practice of japa.

Swami Kriyananda has said that his japa is the mantra “Aum, Guru!” Some of things I find helpful include developing the habit of redirecting my (ceaseless) thought processes (“self-talk”) from a monologue into a dialogue: talking to God in the form of my guru, Paramhansa Yogananda. Another is the habit of withdrawing from thoughts into inner silence, feeling God’s presence devotionally, energetically, or as stillness.
You can assign yourself a different spiritual quality each day or week. Create or find an affirmation. I like to use Swami Kriyananda’s Affirmations for Self-Healing (a book with fifty-two affirmations and prayer qualities with brief commentary). Paramhansa Yogananda’s booklet, Scientific Healing Affirmations, is popular and full of inspiring and powerful affirmations. Yogananda’s book, Whispers from Eternity, is a collection of prayer-demands which are filled with vibrant, God-infused images and phrases. So, too, is the small book, Metaphysical Meditations.

Hopefully those reading this already have a daily meditation practice. This is the foundation for the self-awareness, concentration, and devotional attitude necessary to extend your meditation into the hours of the day by practicing the presence of God in every moment.

Blessings to you,