[Findhorn Press, 224 pages]
Being Present: Cultivate a Peaceful Mind through Spiritual Practice is a thoughtful book about how we can use various practices to eliminate suffering that’s caused by our egos, and achieve a quiet and skillful state of mind.
The author, Darren Cockburn, in addition to being a business consultant, has more than 20 years of experience with meditation and mindfulness practices, during which he’s been guided by a range of different religions and teachings. Cockburn has coached hundreds of people in the use of these practices as a way to cultivate presence of mind and peaceful contentedness.
In Being Present, he relates that suffering is caused by our thoughts, which too often are focused on a craving to change events of the past or influence events of the future. By following a regular spiritual practice, as outlined by Cockburn, we can gain freedom from this circular thought process—and therefore, freedom from suffering—so we can simply be Present.
What is presence?
Cockburn summarizes the main characteristics of Presence as:
- A quiet mind without distracting thoughts
- Connection and unconditional love (both given and received)
- Creativity born of wisdom
- Appreciation for the beauty that surrounds us
- Freedom from fear in the form of regret for the past or anxiety about the future
The main challenge, when it comes to cultivating Presence, is that the ego is the driving force behind many of our thoughts, feelings and actions.
In Being Present, Cockburn explains that Presence ultimately can’t be taught; it must be experienced. To experience it, we must lessen the resistance that the ego has to the present moment, as it thrives only within the past and future.
Spiritual guidance can only take us partway
Spiritual guides can give us tips and direction, but they can’t make the journey for us. Yet, with this help from our spiritual guides—combined with time spent in nature, meditation and simplified living conditions—we can develop Awareness and Acceptance and pursue Appropriate Action.
According to the author, the ego is the greatest hindrance to Presence, due to “Sensory Desire, Ill Will, Sloth & Torpor, Restlessness & Worry, and Doubt.” However, focusing our minds on the positive opposites of these five hindrances can clear a path for us towards Presence. We can then move from seeking pleasure to attaining contentment, without experiencing feelings of lack or craving.
Part of this practice, Cockburn explains, is to thoughtfully avoid things or people that cause the ego to continue on its dysfunctional path. This must be done with skill and consideration, instead of being led by emotion.
Identifying with possessions, roles and other material things can impede us in lessening the ego’s negative impact on our ability to be Present. Judging or trying to suppress the ego won’t help, either. But if we simply experience and observe life’s impermanence, the ego’s power will diminish, as in this way, we’ll no longer be feeding it.
The two sides to each of us
Cockburn believes that each one of us has two sides to our identity: the absolute self and the relative self. Our absolute self knows what we need, but the ego tries to overpower this wisdom with what it wants. Often, the constant onslaught of ego-driven thinking leads to addiction and actions of harm towards ourselves and others.
Self-care and objective observation of the tricks the ego plays can help us lessen its power over our lives, and the author insightfully summarizes this idea in the excerpt below:
There are two types of self. The first is our absolute self or true self, which is formless Presence. The second is our relative self, which is our form-based self as a person, including our body, name, roles, thoughts and personal history. The ego does not understand the absolute self and will never accept the relative self. If the ego were to understand the absolute self, it would realize it is no longer required and cease to exist. The ego keeps itself alive through its ignorance of the true self and dissatisfaction of the relative self through craving for things to be fixed or different to how they are now. The ego will always want us to gain something, lose something or grasp onto something.
In Being Present, Cockburn also includes optional learning activities that can teach the reader how to incorporate insights from his lifetime of spiritual learning into their regular spiritual practice. He also cautions the reader that the emotions, thoughts and suffering caused by the ego aren’t to be viewed as either good or bad. Instead, we should focus on learning from the situations the Ego puts us in. In these situations, it’s necessary that we learn to be aware and accepting, and to take action when appropriate.
A good reminder to practice mindfulness
This book is a gentle read and is very helpful in reminding us to practice mindfulness and Presence on a daily basis. While a full Awakening is achieved by few, we can all progress and benefit on our own spiritual paths through thoughtful and regular effort.