In an effort to bridge the practices of release and response, we can consider the stage progression below. In this model there is a bias in starting with release, building a foundation from which we can cultivate response in the world. This is mainly due to the fact that all of us are responding in life every day just by being alive, but usually a path of release is a conscious choice at some point in our life. And so, this model begins with release as a starting point to represent how many practitioners see release, rather than saying this is how experience should unfold.
The first three stages below are the same as the Four Stages of Presence.
The practice at this stage is overcoming gross level distraction such that our mind becomes more serviceable in practice, as well as allowing conscious room to emerge to work with our experience. Practices include simply sitting and allowing experience to settle on its own until a degree of ease emerges, or focusing the mind on an object and cultivating concentration of attention.
At this stage we practice non-doing but noticing when we are making efforts to create something in practice, releasing that movement of effort, and resting in the quality of just being.
At this stage resting in the experience of simply being becomes more stabilized and we focus on being present as thoughts, sensations, and phenomena arise. We are practicing being present in stillness even as experience moves and arises. This stage is called ‘listen’, or alternatively ‘receive’, to indicate there is presence and awareness that is open to what is arises.
We cultivate radical curiosity in the form of asking questions that are meant to spontaneously elicit responses in experience, but without expectation of what should arise (or not arise).
This is the first stage in this progression where we willfully engage the content of experience in practice for its own purpose, but we are doing so via the invitation of an embodied, meaningful question.
The question could focus on deeper release and presence (but here done with intimacy in experience), or the question could be focused on specific situations in life. However this practice of inquiry is done more effectively on the foundation of settling and through receptive open awareness.
We now embody and enact responses in life, whether that response is doing something or nothing at all. However, this way of responding emerges organically out of deep, pervasive presence and spaciousness (a place of no expectations or agenda), out of inquiring through radical curiosity, and from a place of intimate, engaged care and interest for life. Through this foundation, we can both commit to response as the it arises, we don’t need to choose to respond, and we are open to the dynamic, changing nature of reality so we stay open to new learning and responses.
Trust is essentially a deeper embodied embrace of the preceding stages. We have a trust that we are as fully present as we could be, we feel directly our care and consideration to what arises in life, we are moved by what we sense in our experience, and we respond as appropriately as we can.
A deep trust emerges in life that we can be present, especially in difficulty and pain. At the same time, we let go more and more of perfection and idealism, understanding experientially and directly that life is imperfect, changing, and not fully predictable.
A deep trust means we also remain engaged in life, not seeking to escape or solely transcend it.
A deep letting go emerges and is experienced as resilience, courage, and fearlessness. Note: this does not mean we do not experience fear or pain, we simply have a different relationship to it, one that we feel we can meet with more presence, curiosity, and capacity to respond.
The above five stages can be seen as cycles of experience, in the span of a few moments or longer periods. Depending on what is arising in life, we might have a natural, embodied response to take a step back, let go, release, so we can open our presence to more fully experience what is happening. And from there we wonder and question with radical curiosity, let response move us, and to fearlessly stay present with what the impact of our response and life changing more. We can repeat these and deepen these stages over and over.