Living in Divine Presence
The ability to live with a clear and direct awareness of Divine Presence is available to everyone, not just to prophets and mystics. Developing this ability lies at the heart of all the great spiritual traditions of the world, including the western traditions.
Jewish and Christian scriptures are filled with people who awakened to this direct awareness of God – people such as Enoch, Jacob, Job, Moses, Paul, and most famously, Jesus, all of whom then proceeded to share this gift of spiritual enlightenment with the world. Jesus famously prayed that all people would develop this ability to directly experience and live in the divine Presence of God:
“I pray that they all shall be one,
just as you, my Father, are in me, and I am in you,
so that they also shall be one in us.“ John 17:21
Christians tend to refer to this nondual unity consciousness as God, although Christian thinkers like Paul Tillich often use the term Infinite Being, as in the ultimate Ground of Being. Regardless of the term used, it is clear that this Divine Reality transcends religious boundaries and definitions.
AWAKENING TO DIVINE PRESENCE
Our true spiritual transformation begins when we awaken to this immanent Presence of God, the Ground of Being, the ground of all being. This is the heart of Jesus’ message: that God is everywhere equally present and that our task is to wake up to this dimension of pure Being. This mysterious dimension is beyond all space and time and is omnipresent – equally present within all people and all things, always.
We talk in terms of “waking up” to the Presence of God because it is very much like waking up from a dream. While in the dream, we believe our dream experience to be real. Likewise, while in the physical world, we believe it to be real. There is, however, a much deeper, truer, realer spiritual Reality that underlies everything that we experience in physical reality. But until we wake up from the dream of physical reality, we don’t even know it’s there. As Jesus put it: “Until you are born again, you cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). In other words, until you wake up, you cannot know Ultimate Reality.
The unique contribution of Jesus’ message is that spiritual awakening requires the eternal, universal Christ, who serves as the bridge between heaven and earth. “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father (Infinite Being) except through Me” (John 14:6). “I am in the Father and the Father is in Me” (John 14:11). Christ wakes us up to God – the Christ that existed since before the beginning of time (before the creation of the physical world). Christ is the immortal One that was as present for the Old Testament patriarchs as for the New Testament disciples.
OPENING THE APERTURE OF OUR AWARENESS
The experience of God, then – the awareness of Divine Presence, of Ultimate Being – is the ground of our own being: our Essential Self. It is who we truly are. In Buddhism, it’s called our Buddha Nature. [include here names from other traditions of this level of being]
For most, if not all, of our lives, though, our focus has been on our surface, finite self – that part of us that believes ourselves to be separate from the Oneness of Divine Reality. We don’t normally consider our oneness; rather, we think in terms of there being a “me inside my skin” and “others out there.” Consequently, we miss the ground of our being – the Oneness out of which all in creation arises.
But if, for a moment, we open the aperture of our awareness beyond our sense of separateness – beyond our preoccupation with our ego self – then we awaken to the underlying Presence of the Divine. We become aware that we are filled with God, immersed in God.
We can’t get to this level of the Divine – of Being – through our separated, dualistic ego selves. We have to get past our thinking, our emotions, our desiring. Trying to get to the contemplative dimension of our being through the thinking mind is like trying to get on the internet through an antique typewriter – a machine that obviously doesn’t have the operating system required to connect with the internet. Likewise, our everyday thinking mind does not have the operating system necessary to reach our deep contemplative mind.
UPGRADE YOUR OPERATING SYSTEM!
In order to connect with the dimension of Divine Presence, we need to install a whole new operating system – a reconfiguration of our attention – one that is not constantly reaching out to grab onto the next thought, image, sensation or other object of experience. Rather, we need an operating system that works by pulling our attention back in, beneath and beyond all thinking and feeling, to a diffuse, objectless awareness – a very high, shimmering, vibrant intensity in our heart center.
It is, after all, within our spiritual heart of hearts that we are able to access a different kind of knowing – a nondual, intuitive knowing that is grounded in Divine Love. It requires that we sink out of the ego mind of the head into the spiritual mind of the heart. As St. Paul put it, we must “let the same mind be in us that was in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5).
It has nothing to do with our human emotions or affections; it has to do with bringing the energy of the mind into a synchronous coherence with the heart. This is the new, upgraded operating system that we need in order to enter into the nondual contemplative dimension, which in Christianity is referred to as the Kingdom of God.
This upgraded operating system is automatically installed through our practice of contemplative prayer, as we gather and hold the energy of our attention in the heart. This becomes the new seat of our identity and of our perception. We become a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). This is the hugely powerful recurring theme that runs through the mystical, nondual tradition of Christianity.
HOW DO WE MOVE FROM THE HEAD TO THE HEART?
Very basically and simply, we let go; we loosen our grip on trying to control things; we relax the constriction of our body, emotions, and thoughts by taking a step back from whatever we’re experiencing. We move back into the spacious ground of being – of pure awareness – that is beneath and beyond all experience.
This is the practice of kenosis – of emptying ourselves, of escaping the tyranny of our ego, of sinking back into the radiant Sun at the innermost core of our being, where we are at one with God in Love. This is sometimes referred to as recollecting ourselves; in other words, we collect all the energy that has become scattered and squandered by our ego reactions, and we gather it into a focus in our heart center. We rest there in the Presence of God, a vibrational and intimate divine Presence that can never be known by the ordinary mind of the head.
When we sit in meditation, in this dimension of gathered attentional energy in our heart of hearts, we can open to an immediate, core, felt-sense of warm tenderness and compassion and love. This is the nature of consciousness – of pure awareness, unbound by the objects of experience that try to claim us and pull us back into our ego mind. This is the treasure of being in the heart. This is the essence of Christian contemplation.
Cynthia Bourgeault suggests that it is high time that we “turn again to the core texts of our [Christian] tradition and look at them through the eyes of the heart and see what treasures may be there in our Christianity that we haven’t glimpsed before because we were trying to see them with the wrong pair of eyes.”
 Bourgeault, Cynthia, The Power of Contemplative Prayer: Christian Nonduality and Attention of the Heart, a talk organized by WCCM and Contemplative Outreach on November 8, 2016, at St. James Priory in Bristol, England.