About a year ago, Elena Brower handed me a book called The Reality of Being by Jeanne de Salzmann. Literally every sentence in this book captivated my attention. In particular, a section entitled The Watchman evoked a profound shift in the way that I perceive myself and my effort to live in the present moment.
“We do not see our state of sleep. In this state we think of working; we think, “I wish to be present.” But the effort to be present is something very different from thinking. It is an effort in the direction of consciousness. We must come to know whether we are conscious at a given moment...Its presence or absence can thus be proved by an inner act of observing.”
Often, in our effort to be present, we are starting with the premise that we are somehow not present to begin with. With this, we reinforce the idea that we are divided. We feel that we need to either stop thinking about one thing or start thinking about another in order to truly be present. Mme. de Salzmann suggests that this keeps us asleep. Thinking about where our attention should be in order to be present is too localized; too specific. Consciousness is too vast for this. The work of being fully present is observing the entirety of our consciousness at all times. This act of observing ourselves is they key to our presence.
“In order to observe ourselves we need an attention that is different from our ordinary attention. We undertake the struggle of the watchman. We seek to have a watchman in us who is stable. The one who watches is the one who is present...The watchman must take an impression of the inner state while trying to see everything at the same time and have a sense of the whole.”
I've come to experience this concept as being aware of myself in my physical body, like being in the driver's seat, while simultaneously seeing my situation from a “zoomed” out perspective, taking in more than just the visceral sensations of the moment. With this, I am conscious of both the intense urgency of a direct interaction with another person and the spacious container that is holding the experience within it. I am able to act with conscious awareness of the greater whole and see myself from more than one perspective. To me, this is truly being present.
I think that a little background knowledge on the tantric goddess named Bhuvaneshwari will make this idea easier to grasp. The tantric deities show us different qualities of our nature and how to use them as a way to navigate the world. Her name means “she who's body is the world” and she represents the faculty of our consciousness that holds our entire experience within it (the ability of consciousness to hold the entirety of our experience). She is consciousness' ability to be both all-encompassing and universal while simultaneously dividing into infinite grades (krama), flavors and vibrations that make up the world we experience more readily. She is all of it, all at the same time, and so are we.
We must realize that not only are we held in the container of the universe but that we hold the universe within us. We are creating the space for our experience and living out that very same experience simultaneously. Realizing this helps us recognize that we have the faculty to experience something in more than one way. Seeing, watching these parts of ourself help us to be fully present and fully conscious.
You can do this practice anywhere, any time, and in any position. Find a place where you can close your eyes. Center your awareness on your breath, becoming aware of your hips and your legs grounding towards the earth. After a few rounds of breath, once you feel connected to your body, start to become aware of where your body is in space. As if you were looking in on yourself from outside your body, start to see yourself sitting there. See your clothes, your hair, your whole demeanor. Now start to zoom out a bit until you can see where the room that you are in exists in the building. Where the building exists in the town or city. Zoom out. See the city and where it exists in the country. See the country within in the context of the earth. Zoom out. See the earth in the solar system. See the solar system in the galaxy.
Now pause, breath deep. Realize that you hold all of this within your own consciousness.
Start to zoom back in. See the earth within the galaxy, find your country on the earth. Your city in the country. Your building within the city. See your room within the building. Zoom all the way back in until you are watching yourself, like an onlooker, a watchman. Slowly bring your awareness back in to your body. Feel your legs, your muscles, your bones, your thoughts. Feel the sensations of your breath.