Now let’s take a closer, succinct look at what is meant by timeless presence and what its nature and experience is.
In this guide we will use the following terms as synonymous: timeless presence, natural presence, radical presence, and simply, presence.
Firstly, with timeless presence the biggest question practitioners have are:
What is it and how do I experience it?
The typical response is that timeless presence is ineffable, yet experientially knowable and we can realize and embody timeless presence because it is already our nature.
As such, teachings on timeless presence usually have two parts: what it is (unable to be reduced to words yet words are used anyways to be helpful) and practice instructions (how to experience it for ourselves).
In general, at first the instruction for experiencing timeless presence is simply to let go of the content of our experience, especially responding and reacting to, or do anything with that content. By letting go in this way, radical, natural presence is revealed in experience. We radically let go of anything arising in our experience and rest in what remains, presence.
However, it is not that the content of our experience prohibits or obscures our experience of timeless presence. It’s that our attention habitually collapses on and is swept away in the content of our experience such that we tend to not consciously notice or explicitly experience this natural presence.
The instructions then are simply to relax, to let go, and to let be, not to do anything in particularly since we already habitually get caught up in the doing (doing including internal activity of mind and emotions, not simply external action).
You’ll often find a relentless aim to point out presence in your experience so that you experience presence directly for yourself, rather than trying to describe what presence is. A poem by Ajahn Chah succinctly summarizes essential pointing out instructions:
"Do not try to become anything. Do not make yourself into anything. Do not be a meditator. Do not become enlightened. When you sit, let it be. When you walk, let it be. Grasp at nothing. Resist nothing." - Ajahn Chah
Ajahn Chah only provides practical instructions, not a description of the qualities of presence. In other words, here he doesn't say what you'll experience by following these instructions. The assumption is that if you radically follow them, you will experience it for yourself.
Here note the last two lines in particular: grasp at nothing, resist nothing. Experientially speaking, when you are present nakedly, neither grasping nor resisting at anything (in experience), what is left?
“Thoughts in the past are clear and empty and leave no traces behind. Thoughts in the future are fresh and unconditioned by anything. And in the present moment, when your mind remains in its own condition without constructing anything, Awareness in that moment is quite ordinary. And when you lookin into yourself in this way nakedly, Since there is only this pure observing, there will be found a lucid clarity without anyone being there who is the observer; Only a naked manifest awareness is present.” Self-Liberation through Seeing with Naked Awareness Padmasambhava
The instructions here are similar: as for thoughts, we are neither grasping nor resisting thoughts, yet thoughts arise and pass. No problem.
We practice by not trying to do anything in order to experience presence (here in this passage ‘without constructing anything’). When this is the case, what remains is presence, but a presence that is alive. While presence is not something, it is not nothingnesses, or passivity, or unconsciousness. Presence is lucid and clear.
The challenge here is that presence goes unnoticed in our experience not simply because our attention is wrapped up in the content of our experience, but also because we are continually trying to pin reality down, to have a final, stable place to stand in reality, whether that be an ultimate concept or a feeling that can be maintained indefinitely.
The energy in the attempt to pin reality down becomes an obstacle in experiencing timeless presence because in the end, reality can't be pinned down. Reality and timeless presence encompasses but is not reduced to in single experience or process. In timeless presence we realize this presence is beyond any content of our experience, and yet is not separate from what arises in our experience, and that what arises in our experience is not a problem in the end after all.
The ’Six Vajra Verses’ provides a pithy view and instruction:
“The nature of phenomena is non-dual, But each one, in its own state, is beyond The limits of the mind. There is no concept that can define The condition of ‘what is’ But vision nevertheless manifests: All is good. Everything has already been accomplished, And so, having overcome the sickness of effort, One finds oneself in the self-perfected state: This is contemplation.”
Now, if we want to go a step further and put descriptive words on presence, an experience which does not depend on causes, conditions, and words, some qualitative experiential words could be helpful in orienting oneself to presence: non-conceptual, radically open without limits, lucid, clear.
Here non-conceptual does not mean absence of thoughts. Thoughts can arise in presence, but presence itself is not a production of mind. Presence is clear and open such that anything can arise experientially in presence. Because presence is clear and lucid, what arises experientially in presence can be sensed and felt in presence, can be known in presence, but what arises it is not presence, nor is it separate from presence.
Much more could be said in an attempt to be practically helpful about what the experience of timeless presence is. But to summarize again, nothing can ultimately be said that will confer presence upon us. We experience and know ourselves, others, and the world through and as this presence, and to do so, we ultimately let go of making any effort at all to reveal presence nakedly in our experience.
Through timeless presence, we also increase the possibility to awaken to and work with the content of our experience, especially our suffering, the suffering of others, and the suffering of the world. As we said before, what arises in experience isn’t prohibitive to presence. We simply cultivate letting experience be, and when we do so, we more experience what’s arising more directly and intimately, and so, we feel it all more deeply. Ajahn Chah’s final line from the above poem summarizes this perfectly:
“If you haven't wept deeply, you haven't begun to meditate."
And so response arises within us and outwardly in life.