The Heart of Presence Meditation

I call this practice the Heart of Presence Meditation. It is so named because it works to bring us to a new viewing platform from which we can begin to develop the visionary capacity that sees not through fragmentation or scatteredness, but through unitive wholeness. And it gets there through the intentional and methodical uncovering of an active presence. That is how Jesus and the other Wisdom masters view life and the world. This does not cancel out our ordinary way of seeing, but rather it grounds the mind into the heart and allows us to see from unitive wholeness. This, then, is what it means that the transformed heart is an organ of spiritual seeing and alignment; the heart can see the coherent patterns of wholeness. But in order to move in this direction, we must invite the heart to move beyond its better known capacity as merely the seat of the emotional life of our ordinary self. For here, its capacities of vibrational and empathic resonance primarily encircle the tighter orbit of the ordinary self. And here they are consumed in the reactivity, the self-defense, and the self-promotion of our smaller identity.  

But when we can ground the mind in the heart, a whole new way of seeing begins to open up for us. We can begin to see in and from unitive wholeness. This means more fully appreciating that we are an integral part of the whole. No longer separate, isolated, and apart, and no longer always looking out from the inside to the world that appears to be on the outside and separate—we now can begin to see ourselves as deeply and integrally connected to the whole.

It is from this place of deeper seeing that we can begin to more accurately discern both the meaning and the purpose of our human lives. It is no longer simply about self-preservation and self-enhancement in a dog-eat-dog world; now we can more clearly and more accurately see our place within the whole. And our life purpose can now be seen as how we might serve the greater human collective rather than competing with, or defending ourselves against, the rest of the world.

How is that we can develop this deeper way of seeing? Through the practice of presence; and this is precisely what the Heart of Presence Meditation seeks to develop. It does this by combining several different categories of practice—specifically surrender, attention, and compassion—and utilizing them in concert and complementarity with each other to increase the level of Being and bring us to greater presence. This is precisely what may contribute to our awakening.  But note well: this awakening is not for our own personal fulfillment. Rather, this awakening is expressly aimed at helping us fulfill our contributory work to the greater human collective. Asleep, we battle for our own individual, separate selves. Awake, we see so much more clearly our integral connection with the whole and are then able to find our unique and authentic ways of serving the collective.

Consider the following diagram. It seeks to represent the overlapping categories of Wisdom practice. It depicts the reality that these categories, when practiced in conjunction with each other lead us to active presence. This is the capacity—when attention is freed from the smaller, tighter circle of identified personality—to see reality as it truly is. This gives the us the capability first to see our neighbor in order that, then, that we might see our neighbors as ourselves. (It can be useful to sit with this diagram for a time—not to try to figure it out—but to allow it to give its Wisdom over to you.)

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There are seven parts or movements to this meditation. Each is set to a specific piece of music. The movements of the combined practice have been demarcated and differentiated from each other by the seven separate songs. The pieces of music in this way can help us keep track of the directional flow of the meditation. But these songs have not been chosen to sentimentally or emotionally support the movements of the practice. Rather, they have been selected for the vibrational and resonant character that each brings to its corresponding movement in these spiritual practices. Thus, each piece of music supports its related practice through an evocative felt vibrational sense, rather than through any mental idea or emotional suggestibility.

Let me give you an overview of the seven constitutive and complimentary practices.

1. First, it is so important that we utilize the power and the capacity of our embodiment in this compound practice. Thus, we start off placing ourselves directly and intentionally in our bodies. We also give our bodies voice and prepare ourselves to receive the body’s wisdom. This is the intention of the first movement of the meditation. During this first song, “Blue Aubade” by Slow Meadow, we give permission to our body to express itself as it desires. Perhaps a slow, deliberate, and expressive series of movements might desire to find expression in you.

And rather than be anxious about our exterior appearance, we intentionally work to remove any self-judgment or self-criticism and simply allow the body’s own authentic expression to lead. This part is probably best done standing, but it could be done from a seated position or, I suppose, even lying down. When it is done in a group, I always encourage participants to close their eyes to obviate any embarrassment or any sense of performance that might arise. If you are doing it at home, open or close your eyes as you feel comfortable. When the song concludes, you may sit on a cushion or a chair to continue the flow of the combined practices.

2.  The second song, “Last Sunrise in the Wasteland” by At the End of Times, Nothing has a more pulsating rhythmic movement that lends itself to the physical awareness of the breath—which is our focus of attention here. Not only does attention to breath bring us further and deeper into our embodiment, but it also brings, through sensation, the awareness of our connection with all of life through the exchange that happens with and through the breath. Here is the very physical reciprocal flow of life that pulses through us, bringing vitality and life itself. Thus, our work here is simply conscious breathing. Our attention, then, is on the sensations of our breathing at the nostrils, in the upper chest, or in the belly. Without necessarily trying to change or improve our breath, we simply breathe more consciously. When attention waders, we gently but firmly bring it back to the breath.

3.  The third song is “Only the Winds” by Olafur Arnalds. Here we intentionally soften the heart through the conscious generation of gratitude. But this practice is more than an appreciative accounting for all of the things we possess. Rather, it is an intentional recognition of our “place in the family of things.” This deeper sense of gratitude can be done in the following way: Looking back, we can think of those who have given or even sacrificed themselves in order to bring us to this present moment. This is a conscious awareness of those who have helped to pay the cost of our arising. We might think of parents, teachers, and others who were willing to sacrifice something to contribute to our being. Then, looking forward, we can consider those for whom we might direct the self-donation of our own lives. Who are those for whom you would sacrifice something of significance, or maybe even life itself…?  But rather than any kind of reverie through story, we work to anchor these considerations through sensation in the heart. What sensations do these awarenesses bring…?

4. This then brings us to the center piece of this Heart of Presence Meditation. Here, having consciously brought ourselves into a more pervasive sense of our own embodiment and then having softened the heart and made it more porous through the spaciousness of this deeper expression of gratitude, we now focus on the heart’s interior. Through awareness through sensation, we will now very intentionally bring our attention down into the heart. Rather than viewing the heart from the head, we will actually work to take our attention right down into the heart’s interior in order to see from the heart. This may take some effort, so don’t get discouraged. Here, a clenching in concerted effort will be far less useful than a more relaxed and effortless effort. Remember, this is a practice rather than an easily learned technique, and it is found more readily by surrender than by concerted effort.

The piece of music utilized here is “Mysterium” by Hammock. We will allow its vibrational resonance to lead us to this movement of taking our attention down into the interior of our heart. This perspective leads to an understanding through felt sense that it is here, in the interior of the heart, that divine energy from its unitive source wells up and emerges and breaks into manifested form. It is here that the unitive wholeness desires to divide into structures and form and become manifest in the specificity that is you and the specificity that is me. In this way the transformed heart—even though only a part of the whole—becomes something like a hologram of the wholeness of the divine heart. Here unitive wholeness divides and breaks into manifest form, and you and I—when we can authentically express the fullness of our being—become instantiations of divine love in the uniqueness of our individual lives. The whole, then, is fully expressed in each of the parts. This happens when we fully and authentically express the fullness of our being.

But all this is not just something we can choose to believe in. This is a living reality that can be experienced through felt sense. But it requires that our attention move down into the heart. Remember, again, that this is a practice. Be patient with yourself. It is not about climbing up to some higher level of technique or achievement. It is more about surrendering yourself more fully to what your body and being already know to be true.

Additionally, in my experience using this practice form with groups I have found that some practitioners more easily experience a downward flow into the heart’s interior from “above” rather than an upward emergence in the heart’s interior from “below.” Because this practice takes us beyond space and time, the direction is less important than its sensate qualities. Use whatever feels right to you.

5.  Now more consciously aware through a felt sense of the divine energy that both inhabits and defines us, we can extend our inspired compassionate concern to those around us. During the song “Melodrames telegraphies” (in B major 7th, part 2) by Brian McBride this process begins with a directed intention of increasingly wider circles that radiate the love outward from our transformed hearts. This section of the practice models the Buddhist meditation of loving kindness. But here—instead of praying to the divine, “May they be filled with lovingkindness,” as divine instantiations ourselves we may pray even more directly, “May you be filled with loving kindness.” The direct expression is grounded in our felt sense of being a divine instantiation. I will lead you in this segment of the meditation.

I will be using this form of expression: May you be filled with loving kindness. May you be free from inner and outer danger. May you be whole in body, mind, and spirit. May you be content and at peace.

6. This directed compassion continues and deepens through the next segment that is accompanied by “Thunder Rising” by The American Dollar. Here we employ a variation of the Buddhist practice of Tonglen. Using the reciprocal sensate and physical exchange of the breath, we intentionally breathe in all that is dark and difficult, and we breathe out love, compassion, and blessing. Here we may focus on a particular individual or on humanity in general. We allow ourselves to draw in through the breath that which is broken and in anguish, trusting that this can be touched by a transformed heart (or even by a heart that desires to be transformed). And then through the power of our own intention, we breathe out wholeness and healing. Thus, we take our rightful place in tikkun olam, the reparation and repair of the world. But this is not done through story or any kind of heroic self-narrative. This is simply the very human purpose into which we all have been born. Indeed, it is the expression and manifestation of this divine compassion—generating love through a transformed heart—that makes us fully human. When we can generate tender love and generous forgiveness out of the challenging constrictions of life on this planet, something of essential meaning and importance is gifted to the greater universe. And we have contributed our part to the greater cosmic unfolding.

7. At this point in the meditation our work is very nearly complete. All that needs to be done during this last piece of music, “Structures from Silence” by Steven Roach, is to fall more deeply in the surrender and relinquishment of the Silence. This Silence is more than quiet or the lack of noise. It is the subtle material essence that enshrouds the deep realities we have just encountered and navigated. Its mystery is best met with a profound willingness, trust, and letting go. Centering Prayer fits perfectly in this final segment of the meditation. We simply let go of thoughts as they arise, and we willingly entrust ourselves to this Great Mystery, having touched and experienced our integral part of it.

But this surrender does not empty us in the sense of depletion. It is a letting go of the clutchings of the smaller self—the graspings that keep us shut and taut like a closed fist. The emptiness here is paradoxically at one and the same time an overflowing fullness. It works with our compassionate capacities by enhancing rather than diminishing or erasing them.

Whether you may utilize this mediation daily, weekly, or even just periodically—I am very grateful to have you join me and others who are engaged in this practice. Together, our work contributes to a cumulative value that may beneficially promote the unfolding of the divine purpose and the enhancement of the Kingdom.

Are you ready in this small but significant way to bring your “Yes” to the question of your existence…? Together, then, let’s begin...

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Song List

  1. Blue Aubade by Slow Meadow            .
  2. Last Sunrise in the Wasteland by At the End of Times, Nothing
  3. Only the Winds by Olafur Arnals
  4. Mysterium by Hammock        
  5. Melodrames telegraphies (In B major 7th, Part 2) by Brian McBride
  6. Thunder Rising by The American Dollar        .
  7. Structures from Silence by Steven Roach