Practicing the Presence of God
by Michael Maciel
How do we practice the presence of God in our ordinary moments-when we're food shopping, or doing the dishes, or during difficult times when we're having an argument with our spouse or problems at work? Of course, we know that all aspects of life, even the most mundane, have the sacred within them. But, we also know that nothing can replace the quiet moments of prayer and meditation that are so essential to our ability to remain spiritually centered. Is there a way to bring the reality of the sacred into even the most mundane experiences of our lives? Yes, there is.
We don't have to wait for an afterlife to know God, nor should we. Every moment contains the presence of God within it, and every action is an opportunity to make that presence known. Knowing God is living a spiritual life; trying to know God is not. We need to bring our consciousness of God into the here and now, so that we can act on it, and thereby make God a part of our soul's experience. Otherwise, the only thing we learn is how to try.
There are some negative attitudes that linger over from less enlightened times that we want to be aware of, because they can sometimes creep into our thinking and affect us without making themselves obvious. One of these attitudes is "all good things come in the hereafter -- feeling good in this life only incurs spiritual indebtedness. Suffer now, sacrifice now, be good now, so that later you can be with God". This attitude causes us to mistrust the world in a most profound way. Like an accuser, it stands behind us and keeps us from letting go fully to joy and happiness. Stop and think how many movies you've seen or books you have read that raise the main character to a state of happiness only to dash them against some horrible tragedy. It's a common literary device, but it comes from a deep-seated fear that pleasure in this life is always punished with pain.
Let's consider for a moment the universal aspects of our spiritual teachings. It's a mistake for anyone to say that their truth is the only truth, that all others are infidels or "lost". Universal means for everyone. You don't have to be Jewish, Hindu, Catholic, or anything to receive the truth. In the past, it was necessary for teachers to tightly focus their doctrines for the group they were working with, to help them develop an identity, a field within which a particular aspect of the teachings could be developed. There was no concept of a set of teachings that would apply to everyone, regardless of their ethnicity.
Jesus Christ broke this mold. You did not have to be a Jew to receive his teachings. Buddhism was similar in that you did not have to be born a Buddhist to become one, as you do in Hinduism and Judaism. Just as Christianity came out of Judaism, Buddhism came out of Hinduism. Judaism and Hinduism are called ethnic religions. Buddhism and Christianity are religions of "confession" and are therefore world religions. I believe that this is a shift in the Spiritual path. You no longer have to belong to a group to develop spiritually. This is an affirmation of the individual and a step toward a unified global consciousness.
When Jesus died on the cross, the veil of the temple was "rent in twain", joining the outer temple with the inner temple. This symbolizes the opening of the truth of the elite to the population at large. Note: it also symbolizes the rending of the veil of the Self, making God-realization in this life possible.
We are faced with another radical departure in that the world we live in is changing more rapidly than at any other time in history. Not only are we becoming a more global society, but the environment itself is vastly different. Humankind is exposed to many more toxins than ever before, both chemical and radioactive. In addition, our way of living creates much more stress than in the past. The pace of living is faster, the speeds we subject our bodies to are exponentially greater, artificial lighting and the rapid, subliminal movements of television and computer monitors all have their effect on our nervous system like never before. How do we practice the presence of God in this new environment?
In this early part of the 21st century, the consciousness of spiritual truth is more widespread than ever. But we should acknowledge that this is only possible because of the efforts of tens of thousands of renunciates and spiritual practitioners throughout the ages who were able to poke through the bubble of mass mind and open the door for the rest of us. Through their committed lives and the cloistering of their inner and outer awareness, they were able to set the patterns that would eventually raise the consciousness of the masses.
The opposite is also true. Normally we identify with our family, our occupation, our car, our socioeconomic class, and all things external. Because of the law of momentum, this identification has intensified over the centuries. We have become materialistic in the extreme. Like a static charge of electricity, as one side of the polarity is accentuated, so the other is strengthened in its potential until a breaking point is reached, and balance is restored. Something has to give. Unfortunately, if there is no understanding of this kind of psychic event, the result can be temporary or permanent madness.
Our materialism brings us to the point where our awareness of the power of this potential within us gets so strong that we cannot ignore it. We begin to declare our intention to know the truth, not in the sense of dogma, but in the sense of a deep longing and urgent desire to know. "Who am I? What is the true source of my life? Where do I come from, and where will I go when I die?" The intensified outer preoccupations of our modern lives are forcing this issue by virtue of their polarity to our inner reality. The more we focus our attention outwardly, the more insistent the inner potential becomes.
This enormous potential energy can be very useful if we use it to spiritualize our everyday lives. The energy wants to flow. We have the ability to direct that flow and to cause certain results to appear in our experience. Does this mean that we should immerse ourselves even more in materialism, so that we can build up more potential? No. As Jesus said, "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." As long as we are alive on the physical plane, materialism will predominate. We don't need to go looking for trouble -- trouble already abounds. But we can use the stored up energy as we need it, if we recognize it as useable energy.
This is not what has been taught in the churches. The churches teach us that all earthly activity is inimical to the salvation of our souls, and that the best we can hope to do is mitigate the damage through appropriate acts of self-denial. Even the word salvation implies that to be in the earth plane is to be lost. Any desire to accomplish something significant in the world is seen as empty and delusional in a spiritual sense. Why try to perfect something that is doomed to destruction in the Final Hour?
The point here is to make the claim that we can practice the presence of God here in the world. This place is not a holding tank where we await the Judge's final disposition. Good behavior does not mean sit down and shut up. The world does not have to be a vale of tears. It is the cynicism and resignation perpetuated by the churches in their unrelenting condemnation of physical life that makes unending sorrow possible. Why try to save something that is hopelessly corrupt? They forget that "God so loved the world(!) that He sent His only begotten Son..."
The Consciousness of Prohibition
We are not less spiritual for living our lives. We do not get more spiritual when we die. Spirituality only exists in us, where we are, and when we are. It makes no sense to wait to die before we can be alive. I like the joke about the hot tub. A person stands before St. Peter at the Pearly Gates, and St. Peter asks him, "Did you own a hot tub?" The person replies, "Why, no. I'm not that kind of person!" St. Peter is astonished and says, "You mean to tell me that you where living on Earth, the most beautiful planet in the solar system, and you didn't own a hot tub?!" The guy had to go back, because he had obviously missed one of the main points of the whole experience. He had let his propensity to judge others get in the way of one of life's simple pleasures.
For this man, and others like him, the word "hot tub" has a strong, hedonistic connotation to it. It is the apotheosis of self-indulgence, or so some religious people tend to think. The reason they think this is that they believe that any form of self-gratification is wrong.
They see the fulfillment of needs and desires in this world only as a necessary evil. Gratuitous pleasure can only cause suffering in the long run. But in the case of the hot tub, "[evil] is in the eye of the beholder." Why is it that so many people connote hot tub with orgy? There are many more of us who simply adore hot water, and -- we're not afraid to admit it.
Most New Agers will boast that they are free from this consciousness of prohibition, and when it comes to hot tubs, most of us are. The point here is that we have to recognize how pervasive this kind of thinking is. There are two ways that the consciousness of prohibition affects the way we see the world and ourselves.
Firstly, the consciousness of prohibition focuses almost entirely on physical pleasure. And though we may be able to overcome that kind of prejudice, it can blind us to the more subtle, though no less erroneous, prohibitions of the spirit. For instance, we may believe that there is nothing wrong with sitting in a hot tub, but we may balk at taking personal time away from our earthly duties in order to develop spiritually. Because the emphasis is on the physical, freedom from the consciousness of prohibition only reaches as far as the physical-it does not extend into the spiritual. We can sacrifice our inheritance for a bowl of mush, the way Esau did, and not even know it.
Secondly, though we can believe that there is nothing wrong with physical pleasure, it does nothing to show us what is right with pleasure. Pleasure might be okay, but it is still of the earth and therefore unspiritual. St. Peter's astonishment at how anyone could live out their life on Earth and not own a hot tub illustrates an entirely new approach to pleasure -- the consciousness of opportunity! Again, hot tub does not mean orgy. However, there is some truth to the lyrics, "Take you a glass of water -- make it against the law. See how good the water tastes when you can't have any 't all." Prohibition creates excitement, a kind of hide and seek. (Maybe that was its original intention, and we just forgot that it was a game).
Recently, psychologists conducted a study where young, heterosexual men and women, all strangers to each other, were paired off across from each other at a table, ostensibly to test their ability to guess which card their partner was holding -- a kind of ESP test. Unbeknownst to the other participants, one of the couples was instructed to secretly play footsy under the table. In the next phase of the test, all of the participants were told openly to do the same, so that everyone knew what everyone else was doing. Then, unexpectedly, each person was asked to rate their partner according to how attracted they were to them. The "secret" partners all found each other very attractive, whereas the openly flirtatious couples had normal responses. The testers concluded that secrecy enhances attraction. Instead of ESP, they were studying why men and women have extra-marital affairs.
This consciousness of prohibition, the "thou shalt nots" that are firmly established in the background of our psyches, is the very thing that causes us to be attracted to the illicit, making us peccable, or prone to error. As St. Paul said, "There was no sin before there was law."
Does this mean that we should eliminate law? Of course not. But it does show that we have become obsessed with it. The consciousness of prohibition keeps the physical and the spiritual separate! It's not that we shouldn't have prohibitions -- it's just that we have placed so much emphasis on them that the other side of the scales has been almost totally neglected, namely creativity and possibility. Don't tell me what I can't do; tell me what I can do! Don't tell me that I have to behave; teach me how to express myself -- fully! The spirit in me wants to soar. Its intentions are good! Societal prohibitions have become perverted, because we use them to hide behind.
If the consciousness of prohibition were not so entrenched in us, the world would be much saner. The desire to express is legitimate -- it is the Holy Spirit, the personality of God in action. But when it's thwarted, it "comes out sideways", usually causing great harm to everyone involved. To practice the presence of God in the world, we must first address this subversive quality of our nature that has its foot on the throat of our spiritual vitality, to loose the demons and expose them for what they really are -- illusions!