Sense of self and presence

Exploration of the self is a theme across the contributors’ chapters and is an abiding theme in all traditions that employ meditation practice, since it focuses us directly on the experience of self. Sitting in meditation is frequently accompanied by unfiltered encounters with our self. Here I am sitting in meditation; there is little other stimulation; there is the experience of a “me”; it is fleeting and sometimes unsettling; it shifts and changes; sometimes the self seems to evaporate altogether in the breadth of the present moment as thought dies away and awareness of nowness fills consciousness. And this undermines the illusion of a stable, constant self-concept—our experience of our self as a clear and constant presence behind moment-to-moment experience. Meditation is a means of investigating self, “I-ness,” existence, and being. By paying attention repeatedly to the present moment and our subjective experience of it, we become infused with awareness of the present (we develop “presence”) such that it is more and more the flavor of our moments. This living awareness of nowness then becomes a way of being, changing our experience of self—our practice (in the second sense of practice that Carmody describes as a calling). Our practice is no longer confined to a cushion but is deliberately strengthened with the consequent gradual changes in the hue of our moment-to-moment experience. Thus, our meditation practice is both an investigation into the experience of being (in the present moment) but also enables direct experience of I-ness via new and sustained awakenings.

What these practices produce over time, according to many practitioners and researchers, is greater peace, a sense of more profound meaning, more and deeper joy, and a sense of gratitude and privilege in life (see the discussion in Chapter 1 for references to this literature). Freed from the narratives of ruminative preoccupation, they suggest, we experience more immediately and directly the moments of our existence and have the available capacity to see the trees, to be with those we love, to appreciate the benevolence life has conferred on us, and to marvel at the fact of our universe, our planet, and the riches of loving relationships.

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