How presence alleviates stress and anxiety – Part 1

Photography: Jorge Royan, Argentina

Photography: Jorge Royan, Argentina

Presence is the fundamental knowing of our being – wordless, imageless, silent

As we may now have learnt elsewhere on this site, presence is our own knowledge of being. It’s not simply an image or self-referencing idea we hold about ourselves; it’s a knowing that presents silently and prior to self-conception. Neither is it dependent upon the sense bases of the body and mind. It’s what some call a priori knowledge; this is because it occurs prior to, and independently of, the representations of the mind and sensory system. It’s the silent knowledge and feeling of ‘I am-ness’ that has an immediacy and intimacy that makes us feel centred and at home.

Presence anchors us to peace and passivity regardless of our circumstances

So presence is a sanctuary; it’s a safe and comforting place that’s always accessible to us. It can’t make us forget the troubles and perils of the world of course, yet is a constant demonstration that those things are removed from the reality of what we are. We still must deal with whatever the world presents us with; though with presence, we’re able to introduce a far healthier perspective on the situation. And one of the wonderful things about presence is that, once developed, it’s available to us in virtually all situations. It’s a sanctuary we access within ourselves.

Presence balances the demands of the world with our emotional well-being

The emotional solace that the refuge of presence gifts us is today needed perhaps as much as ever. There’s an epidemic of stress and anxiety in society that, whilst we live in the safest of times, has never before been so prevalent. We seem to have made a bad deal in plumping for a consumerist culture over a society that’s at rest with itself in psychological and emotional terms. Many of us feel compelled to put cupidity and social status ahead of considerations regarding our mental well-being. And we gamble on coping with that trade off at our peril.

In the great rush towards betterment, we neglect our innermost needs

Many of us lose the bet; we become tense, agitated, short-tempered, impatient, fragile of health and at times irrationally angry. The common phrase is ‘stressed-out’; it’s a generalised anxiety disorder that has swept through society at an alarming pace. We try to keep it in check with booze or dope, with sex or entertainment; but much of the time we’re not able to administer these palliatives. And even when we can, we often compound the very problem we seek to alleviate. We’ve blown our wages; we’ve weakened our defences; we’ve alienated ourselves.

Presence ensures healthy responses to life’s events by providing perspective

Stress and anxiety are perfectly natural responses that our minds and bodies make in response to the sensing of threat. We can’t hope to eradicate them, which in any case would be unhelpful – they’re there to prime us for confronting perceived dangers, so to some extent assist us. What we can do is reduce the frequency of their occurrence, and lessen their effects to manageable proportions. So what we’re discussing here is a means of keeping things in perspective; it’s maintaining a healthily balanced response to whatever threats and challenges we may perceive.

We sometimes react too strongly to challenges, whilst knowing we’re doing so

An obvious question arises at this point – why do we sometimes lose perspective when faced with life’s challenges? What causes this over-reaction within us that for many may prove debilitating or paralysing? Instead of a helpful priming of the system which prepares us for meeting any challenge, we may instead become physically and psychologically incapacitated. The natural response of our mind and body has gone too far; it’s over-reacted and made matters worse. Rather than garnering a preparedness, we’re instead rendered ineffectual.

If we need help we ought seek it; though there’s much we can do for ourselves

Sometimes this is caused by an imbalance in our physiology which requires medical intervention. We may temporarily need drugs to stabilise the body’s chemistry until nature restores balance to our system. Or we may require a talking therapy, a means of reconditioning our patterns of cognition and response. For many of us though, there are simple and expedient measures that we can employ and which restore our former balance. In understanding why we lose perspective on life’s threats, we’re better able to choose appropriately any remedial measure.

Stress and anxiety are largely projections of an imagined self into the past or future

When we speak of perspective, we’re referencing a viewpoint of course. We’re establishing a temporal and spatial relationship in which a view forms about memories or projected events. With stress and anxiety, this view is automatically attributed to our ‘self’ – an imagined subject that projects itself in time and relates to certain situations. These judgemental views may correctly perceive dangers, but more often are pure fabrications – speculative projections about how things will pan out for the imaginary subject or ‘self’ should it contact its hypothesised scenario.

We project ourselves in time, assuming the worst and feeling the consequences

These projections are usually formed from insufficient evidence. If we’re prone to anxiety, we tend to make snap or irrational judgements based on partial or dubious fragments of data. We may assume the worst, and so set up harmful stresses within. These projections are one element of a two part problem, the second of which comes back to our notional selfhood. It’s the supposed ‘self’ which is set in opposition to the projection. The imagined subject of ‘me’ envisages an absorption into its own worrisome projections, which together compounds the problem.

In presence, we’re able to free the mind from its own self-concerned projections

Presence allows an untying of the knot; it disentangles projections from notions of selfhood. It doesn’t dissolve either any false projection or our notion of selfhood, but sees both in a healthy perspective. Here’s an analogy: It’s rather as if the compound problem were us viewing a completed jigsaw puzzle; we see the whole tightly fitted together and so ignore the component pieces. When we introduce presence, suddenly the various pieces separate to some degree; we become aware that the compound picture was to a large extent illusory – it was a fabrication.

The unpleasant feeling of anxiety feeds into our illusory and negative thoughts

When we’re anxious, we’re intent on focusing on this illusory picture. We become fixated upon it as well as on the danger we perceive it represents to our selfhood. What we’re doing here is creating yet more negative narrative to our fictionally created ‘self’. Instead of being centred in our being with a healthy perspective on externalities, we tighten our focus on particular aspects of the narrative script. And because this causes a physical reaction – nervous tension, shallow breath – the story becomes tangibly indisputable. We feel it, and so believe it.

Presence keeps a check on the mind’s capacity to imagine the worst for us

This is similar to what happens when we watch a scary movie. We identify with the drama that unfolds on the screen and that identification – the projection of our ‘self’ into the drama – brings on physical symptoms. We have to keep reminding ourselves that it’s just a movie; we have to seek confirmation that we’re sitting in an armchair and that Jack Nicholson isn’t really coming after us with an axe. The mind has incredible imaginative capacities; it creates worlds within worlds. In presence we come back to the real world, the actual situation.

Coming home to presence is a wonderful safeguard for the mind

I we want to alleviate stress and anxiety, and if we feel sure that medical or therapeutic measures aren’t called for, then developing presence can help enormously. It’s a simple skill that’s very easy to adopt as a regular and on-going measure. We do it already, or rather it does it to us; we just tend to ignore it as being of any use. We’d rather grasp outwardly through the senses than come home to our knowledge of being. To silently know that ‘I am’ appears to serve no purpose; it produces nothing; it doesn’t get us anywhere. It simply reminds us we are home.

Presence expands the mind to work creatively, free of stifling self-concerns

And yet the home we inhabit in presence can still be a productive place; we don’t become incarcerated in some sterile dungeon of self-absorption. Neither need we cease pursuing any objectives or restrict our ability to meet our responsibilities, to perform our duties. What’s more, when we do these things in presence, we free ourselves from a great deal of the stresses and anxieties they’d formerly produced within us. We step outside the claustrophobic narrative of selfhood and in so doing become more flexible and accepting of any challenges we face.

In developing presence we gain access to the sanctuary of our harmless being

The ability to come back to presence in any situation means we have a sanctuary, a refuge that we carry around with us. It can never desert us because presence shows us what we are and always were when free from make-believe. Our being can never escape presence because our being is presence. It’s only the imaginary subject of selfhood that blinds us to what we are and creates the illusion of separation. Rather than adopt this as some novel philosophical paradigm, something merely to speculate curiously upon, why not test these words in direct experience?

Continue reading in Part 2

19 thoughts on “How presence alleviates stress and anxiety – Part 1

  1. This was great!! Going on to part two. I hadn’t seen this title on the blog before. You write with so much clarity of thought and precision of speech. Thank you for a much needed respite from anxieties.

    • I am genuinely touched Ellen, that you have worked through this article and appear to have taken something from it; that is exceptionally gratifying for me if it is indeed the case. It’s a longer piece than I write for my thrice-monthly posts, and I realise it’s rather more than people look for there.

      As I want to have a few resources available on this site that may help people realise a level of contentedness that had so far escaped them, or that wasn’t being realised through their other practices, then I have these fixed pages of content, some of which are more detailed than the blog posts.

      Each of these pages may be printed if that is of any help – just click the ‘more’ button and the ‘print’ icon will appear.

      With much gratitude and respect to you Ellen.

      Hariod. ❤

  2. Now why didn’t I think of that? I will print out your posts I want to ponder/read because reading on the computer seems to be shotgun for some unknown reason.

    Much gratitude and respect to YOU! xx Ellen.

  3. It has taken me almost a life time to get to a point where I can appreciate, understand and relate to your words on ‘How presence alleviates stress and anxiety – Part 1’.

    I have spent most of my life being ‘stressed out’ and it has taken the last five years to work through why! Being presence is a task I take on daily and really enjoy doing – I am better, for me, and better, for others, by doing so.

    Thank you for helping me understand this process more fully – I find it spiritually enriching.

    Warm regards.

    Karen Robinson.

    • Dear Karen,

      Thank you so much for reading this rather lengthy article, and also for responding so graciously with a heartfelt and honest response; I truly appreciate it.

      I am of course aware of your situation through visiting your site and learning about your project, which is a noble one indeed. What you say here therefore is entirely understood and it is both pleasing and humbling to hear that you have made such tremendous progress with your inner work, and that this in turn has enriched your connections more widely.

      Thank you once again dear Karen, and may you have tranquillity and creativity flourish daily in your life.

      Hariod.

    • Just a quickie, Hariod, ’cause up in our barn in the country and iffy internet. BUT, I am listening to Mooji a lot. He has already helped me SO much to see what is what, and to cope with things. I am immensely grateful to you for putting that YouTube video of him up in a comment. More soon. xx Ellen oo

    • It is so for most of us I think, and the pandemic of confirmed stress-related conditions more than suggests as much. We turn to drugs, both legal medications and other kinds, seldom realising that other, safer measures are readily at hand. These do indeed take practice, but then so does riding a bike. After a while, the whole naturalises, and we pedal on contentedly.

      Thank you very much for reading this rather lengthy piece; I appreciate it.

      With all best wishes,

      Hariod.

  4. Hariod, what I mean is that it’s only in the present moment that we cannot cannot have any worries of the past or the future. It’s only the present that matters – the past is gone and the future, who knows?

    • Yes, Dilip, I understood well what you meant my friend, and was raising something of a philosophical point with you. The so-called past and future only ever reveal themselves in the present. The same is true with thoughts of past of future, and all thoughts occur in real-time, which is the present. It is quite impossible ever to be outside of the present moment. I understand how the expression is used in popular psychology, though it is essentially misleading and inaccurately formulated. As a consequence, some come to behave as if their minds were at times inhabiting the past, or inhabiting the future, in some incomprehensible sense. When I use the term ‘presence’ in my writings, I am talking about self-awareness – not awareness of any self, but awareness of one’s current actuality as a body/mind system within whatever circumstance one finds oneself in. It really is a constant state of knowingness as regards one’s existence, but has nothing to do with time, which itself can never be experienced of itself. Do you see the point I am making, Dilip?

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