PRESENCE IN GOD
STAGE 1: ASPIRE
Let go of everything so that you can rest in God. Resting in God is most productive.
Voice of Shafeen
A mystic had just left a forest and had reached the outskirts of a village. He noticed a man wildly running from the village and coming towards him. As the man came close, he yelled, “The stone, the stone, please give me the stone.” The mystic questioned, “What stone?” The man answered: “Last night, the Lord came to me in a dream. He told me that if I went outside the village at dusk, I would find a mystic who would give me a precious stone that would make me rich forever.” The mystic rummaged in his sack and pulled out a huge diamond. “He probably meant this one. I found it yesterday in a ruin in the forest. It’s yours if you so desire.” The man took the stone home and tossed and turned all night assessing the riches that he had inherited. At the break of the next morning, he returned to the same spot and found the mystic. Holding out the stone, he requested the mystic:
“Give me, instead, the wealth inside of you that allows you to give away this stone.”
Today, we live in a materialistic world. In it, everyone is chasing the next best thing. For some, it’s the next home, the next car, the next promotion. For others, it’s the next iPhone, the next tablet, the next video game. As we invest our thoughts, our lives, deeper and deeper, in this material-chasing world, we either feel more and more overwhelmed or more and more empty. We may feel overwhelmed, trying to protect what we have gained so that we don’t lose it. We may feel empty because no matter how much we gain, we never feel complete, whole, fulfilled, and happy. Every new toy becomes old, and the toy chasing never ends. In such an environment, we need the wealth that the mystic has, the wealth that allows him to give up the chase, to give away the toys, and let go of the material. The mystic has eternal fulfillment because he’s present in the spiritual rather than in the material, in the eternal rather than in the temporal.
In this journey of “Presence in God,” we strive to find presence in the background upon which all of life unfolds: God. God is the creator of all of life; hence, he’s a point of existence and awareness that’s above and yet within all of life. When we connect with his presence in our inner being, we are able to see our physical life as a mere punctuation mark in the larger spiritual life. Thereafter, all the problems, all the difficulties of life, seem very small and distant. We experience detachment from our physical life. Accordingly, the best definition of God in this journey is GOD as the Guru Of Detachment.
PRESENCE IN GOD
STAGE 2: PREPARE
Let go of all desires to control your life and the lives of others. Letting go starts the process of letting God.
Voice of Man
… A village girl became an unwed mother. After intense interrogation, she revealed who the father was: the Zen Master living at the outskirts of the village. The villagers trooped into the Master’s house. They rudely disturbed his meditation, denounced him as a hypocrite, and told him to keep the baby. All the Master said was, “Very well. Very well.” He picked up the baby and made arrangements with the woman next door to look after it at his expense. His name, of course, was ruined, and his disciples all abandoned him. When this had gone on for a year, the village girl could bear it no longer and confessed that she had lied. The father was the boy next door. The villagers went back to the Master. They bowed profoundly to him, begged for his forgiveness, and requested to take the baby back.
All the Master said, as he handed back the child was, “Very well. Very well.”
Dear God, it was as if I was in pieces, and this story made me whole again. I finally found the way to complete fulfillment. Time ticked for that Zen Master the same way it ticked for me. But, the way the Master engaged with his life was different from mine. He didn’t let himself be carried away, become numb or distributed, by life’s problems and sufferings. Instead, he remained whole, in the peace within, and brought that peace to everything he encountered. I realized that it was in my own hands as well, to live from that peace, and bring that peace to life.
Dear God, I have been running after life rather than letting life flow to me and flow through me. I have been striving to make life perfect, and in that struggle for perfection, have forgotten to live. I realize now that to live is to just be, just be within, in the now, in the here. It’s to accept whatever life gives you, whether it is a flower or a thorn. In the end, what the senses feel, what the eyes see, and the ears hear are just scenery and sound. It’s my mind that has the power to interpret that moment into a flower or a thorn. When my mind is grounded within, in my inner being, in the inner peace, then I can interpret a flower as a flower and a thorn as a flower also.
Dear God, being in the now is about being present in the only aspect of me, which is truly real, which lives and breathes my life every minute, which continues to exist beyond death: YOU.
PRESENCE IN GOD
STAGE 3: ARRIVE
Feel the infinite power of God pulsating through your being. Put all trust in that power, for it pulsates through all of life.
Voice of God
A faithful man once lived in a place that was overwhelmed by a flood. He climbed to the top of his house and prayed to God to save him. A boat came by, and the driver wanted to help the man. “No, go ahead,” he said, “I’m waiting for God.” A rescue ship came by, and the captain asked him to come aboard. The man replied, “No, go ahead, I’m waiting for God.” Finally a helicopter came by, and the pilot asked him to grab a rope and climb up. “No, go ahead, I’m waiting for God,” repeated the faithful man. The flood overtook the man, and he died. In the spiritual realm, the man went up to God and asked him: “I believed in you all my life. Yet, when I needed you the most, you didn’t come to my help?” God replied:
“I sent a boat first, but you denied it. I sent a rescue ship, next, and you refused it. Finally I sent a helicopter, and even that you rejected.
What else could I have done for you, my son?”
All of life is pulsating in my being. Hence, all of life is a platform from which you can access me and I can reach out to you. But some are only looking for me to show up in a specific form. They call on me, but when I make myself apparent to them, they look past me as if they are looking and waiting for something or someone else. They have separated me from the rest of life. They miss seeing me even when I am in front of them. They believe I live in a far place, away from their daily life and existence. On the contrary, every day, every moment, I walk with you, watch over you, and take care of you, like a mother watching over her child. I protect you, help and support you, like that mother. When you face difficulties, I am there to comfort you. When you feel troubled, I send you my wisdom and signs to know that all will be well, that this too shall pass. But, it’s only a rare few who see me ever present.
PRESENCE IN GOD
STAGE 4: EXPERIENCE
Experience God looking out at all of life through your being-ness. In that moment, you cease to exist with only God as present.
Voice of Gautama Buddha
(Gautama the Awakened One)
… It was the morning of my thirty-fifth birthday. The spirit evoked in me the thought that today was the day that I had been waiting for my entire life. I searched for an external sign that would make this apparent to me. The sign appeared as I was meditating under a banyan tree. A rich lady carrying milk rice pudding in an expensive bowl approached me. She bowed respectfully and offered in my hands the pudding. She told me her story.
Her name was Sujata. She had prayed for a good husband and a son to the god of that tree. She had promised an offering if her wishes would come true. Today, both her wishes had come true, and she was fulfilling her promise. I blessed her for her offering and went to a nearby river to wash up and eat the pudding. It was a gift of love, and it rejuvenated me completely.
As I returned to the forest, I wondered where I could sit and meditate on this auspicious day. Suddenly, I ran into a grass cutter. He insisted that I take some of his sweet scented grass to use as a seat for my meditation. This was a second sign from my inner being. After six years of seeking, the universe was finally paving the way for my enlightenment. I took the grass and continued my search for a good place to meditate.
I felt my entire being halt in front of a tree. The tree radiated a glow I had never seen on any other tree before.
I knew immediately that this was the place where I would find enlightenment. This was also the third sign.
I placed the soft scented grass under the tree and sat down to meditate. Nourished by the milk rice pudding, nurtured by the padding of the soft grass under me, shaded under the leaves and branches of the blessed tree, and encouraged and empowered by the signs that I had been given, I decided to meditate until complete enlightenment was found. I slowly let go of all attachments to my temporal self and being. I ascended slowly into deeper and deeper states of inner bliss and transcendence. I knew that the goal of my life was about to be accomplished. The temporary state of presence and stillness that I often experienced would become permanent. My life would be still in every way. I would live completely from and in my eternal nature, my awakened inner being.
PRESENCE IN GOD
STAGE 5: RELIVE
O God, I rest in you completely free from all bonds. Make this state of rest in you the center of all activity in my life.
Voice of Shafeen
… Though life was extremely difficult, physically, mentally, and emotionally, I always felt a sense of peace and stability underlying my life. The source of that peace was the hour between 4:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. that I spent in meditation at our place of worship. This hour was intended for all attendees to individually search for divine light within themselves while physically residing in complete darkness and silence. I used that hour to connect deeper with my inner being, with my Lord, and the peace that emanated from him. This hour sustained me through the rest of the twenty-three hours every day.
There were days when I would be standing giving my duty as a Uniformed Volunteer. I would feel so tired that I thought I would fall at any moment. In those moments, I felt a presence—undeniable, irrefutable, and full of strength—which carried me through that moment and every moment. I knew it was the Lord, sustaining me on the outside and sustaining me on the inside, through the presence that I established in him every morning in that hour of meditation.
There were days when I had tests for which I didn’t have any time to study. I remember a multiple choice test for a statistics class in which there were twenty questions that required computation. As a High School Valedictorian and a College graduate with Honors, the possibility of failing a test was an extremely foreign situation. For the first time in my life, that possibility seemed very real. I turned to the Lord within and said:
“Dear God, I don’t know the answers to any of these questions. You take care of this test.” Thereafter, I went question by question and marked, randomly, A, B, B, D, C, A…
A few days later, when I received the test back, I had gotten two questions wrong and a 90 percentile on the test. Though I was immensely grateful, a part of me completely expected the result. I knew that the Lord would take care of this test.
At the place of worship, at 5:00 a.m., it was my duty to announce the end of meditation every day through the recitation of a prayer. The prayer was the cue for all lights in the prayer hall to be opened. There was a hidden clock that always showed the time so I knew when I was supposed to end the meditation. However, there were many days when I was so tired that I fell asleep while meditating. Yet, not once in the period of that year did I miss doing that duty. On more than one occasion, at 4:59 a.m., my eyes would open. My Lord residing in me was awake, while I was asleep, keeping an eye on the clock. He would wake me up before the prayer was due.
PRESENCE IN GOD
STAGE 6: CONVERSE
My child, there’s no better peace than in my essential being. Rest in my peace and find your eternal self.
Voices of Man and God
Man: O God, I see myself oscillating always between the presence that you have described, and the worry, the chaos, the frustration, the blame, the past, the future, and everything else that takes my attention away from that presence, from the now. Is it your expectation that we remain in the now 24/7? Is that even possible?
God: My expectation is that you do your best to be in my presence, and through that presence, live your life. You worry about time. Time is negligible. You worry about your performance against some sort of a standard. There’s no standard. It’s a matter of committing oneself and allowing oneself to enter the grace of God and letting that grace shine forward in one’s life. If you try to control this process, you go about it the wrong way. You are trying to break the lock to enter a door that’s already open. Remember, the first step is to let go, to let go of the notion of controlling your life. It’s only from this place that you can enter my presence. Once within, that presence will flow into your life, not just in a passive manner, but as thought, word and deed. I’ll act through you. You’ll act from a place of peace, of rest, of light.
You see this when you look at monks who have been practicing peace and awareness for a long time. They may look like they are sweeping the floor but in each motion of the hand, it’s as if an entire world is being created. You can feel the presence in their being even in such a simple act. When you operate from that rest, you embody the same presence. Then, even in the most physically crazy circumstances, you’ll be on autopilot. You’ll absorb nothing of physical worries or frustrations. As you live your life completely free, you’ll have a smile on your face, and you’ll bring smiles upon the faces of others. This is what I expect from you.
Of course, you won’t get there overnight. Of course, this will be a process that will unfold with practice. And of course, you’ll falter and lose it. But you’ll also find it again. Eventually, you’ll become an emissary of my peace. Don’t worry about perfection; don’t worry about performance. Just focus on giving yourself to the process and practicing it as best as you can. In order to assess your presence in the now, use the current moment as a comparison.
Ask the question, “Am I in the now, now?” Having asked that question, and knowing the answer, make a shift towards the now if you aren’t there.
The more you do this, the more you will sustain this feeling, this way of being, longer and longer. As your presence muscle becomes stronger, this will come naturally to you. You’ll become the master and facilitator of your life, of your way of being, every second, every minute, every moment.
PRESENCE IN GOD
STAGE 7: REALIZE
I now complete the tasks of my life with clear presence in God. I rest in his hands as he does my work.
Voice of Reader
As I return back to my day to day life, I reflect on the following questions to apply lessons from this journey:
- What new insights did I receive through this journey about life and about God?
- What changes will I make in my daily life as a result of these new insights?
- How will these changes help me live a more fulfilled and meaningful life?
Adapted from Anthony De Mello, S. J., “The Diamond,” in The Song of the Bird, 2nd ed. (Anand, India: Gujarat Sahitya Prakash, 1982), 182-183.
Adapted from Anthony De Mello, “Very Well, Very Well,” in The Song of the Bird, 2nd ed. (Anand, India: Gujarat Sahitya Prakash, 1982), 116-117.
Adapted from “What more do you expect?,” johnabisaab.com, February 7, 2015, accessed August 10, 2015, http://johnabisaab.com/2015/02/07/what-more-do-you-expect/.
See Robert A. Mitchell, The Buddha: His Life Retold (New York, NY: Paragon House, 1989), 37-40, and Sherab Kohn, A Life of the Buddha, Rev. ed. (Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications, 2009), 27-29, to read more about “The Quest For Enlightenment” of the Buddha.