Stages of Release and Presence

Let’s now narrow our focus to stages of awakening in release and presence. Here we are talking about realization, insights, and capacities that we find in classical, contemplative traditions of awakening. This is contrast to developmental stages we will explore in the responsive aspect of awakening in life, as well as the practice and experience of inhabiting.

For this section, we’ll focus primarily on the experience of presence, although there are many experiences and capacities one could explore in classical awakening such as concentration or absorption states. However, presence is seen as necessary for all awakening practices and experience, and so it is of primary focus.

Note there are also practices in awakening that are incredibly important and act as an experiential bridge between timeless presence and responsive inhabiting in life, like the Four Immeasurables of equanimity, loving-kindness, compassion, and joy. For the moment, we will place our focus of attention on presence since it will serve as a foundation and catalyst for practices and capacities like the Four Immeasurables.

Start with the end: presence.

Before we lay out a few ways of looking at stages of awakening presence, the approach of Awakening in Life decidedly starts with the assumption that you do not need to go through particularly stages of awakening to experience presence (though we will still make use of stages).

As such, in Awakening in Life we start with presence, we practice in presence, and we end in presence.

We start with the practical assumption that we can be radically present in this moment and we attempt to do just that. Ultimately, even in a stage progression, we will eventually have to completely let go of any idea that we create or attain the experience of presence. Refer to the section on presence for a deeper exploration of why this is the case.

If your experience is that you’re having difficult resting as presence, we have three options:

1. Return to what is arising in experience, notice, and rest.

2. Work with what is arising in your experience.

3. Work backwards through a practical stage progression to find what is most helpful in your practice right now to support abiding in presence.

Regardless of our capacity to naturally embody and rest as presence, by starting with presence and then working with what arises in our experience, we cultivate a way of practicing that is more intimate and applicable to our unique path in life. We can more effectively choose practices that will be effective and appropriate for where we are.

Alternatively, automatically picking a practice following a prescribed stage model of awakening might or might not be relevant for what we need to rest more fully in presence. Because of this, by first starting with presence, working with what arises in our experience, we can then work backwards in a stage model to help point us to practices that might be uniquely useful right now.

As a simple example, we might find that we are incredibly distracted, that we have brief moments of presence, and then our attention is swept away in thought. Here, as an organic response to that experience, we might choose to cultivate a practice of settling, calm abiding, or concentration. In fact we can combine our starting point of presence and concentration in one practice. We can practice concentration, and the completely let go of that practice and rest in presence, and continue alternating like that.

Let’s take a look at just a few stage models of awakening that we could make use of: