"I love the unfolding Almaas! His clarity never diminishes, yet each book brings an increasing simplicity and gentleness. As I worked with this latest material, I felt like I was receiving a transmission of pure compassion. His strong, true voice reminds us that beyond the endless self-improvement projects and idealized mystical states with which the spiritual path is strewn lies the simple but exquisite taste of our own being."—Cynthia Bourgeault, author of Mystical Hope, The Wisdom Way of Knowing, and Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening
The Unfolding Now: Realizing Your True Nature through the Practice of Presenceby A. H. Almaas
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The keys to self-knowledge and deep contentment are right here before us in this very moment—if we can simply learn to live with open awareness. In The Unfolding Now, A. H. Almaas presents a marvelously effective practice for developing the transformative quality of presence. Through a particular method of self-observation and contemplative/i>
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The keys to self-knowledge and deep contentment are right here before us in this very moment—if we can simply learn to live with open awareness. In The Unfolding Now, A. H. Almaas presents a marvelously effective practice for developing the transformative quality of presence. Through a particular method of self-observation and contemplative exploration that he calls inquiry, we learn to live in the relaxed condition of simply "being ourselves," without interference from feelings of inadequacy, drivenness toward goals, struggling to figure things out, and rejecting experiences we don't want. Almaas explores the many obstacles that keep us from being present—including defensiveness, ignorance, desire, aggression, and self-hatred—and shows us how to welcome with curiosity and compassion whatever we are experiencing.
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Read an Excerpt
From Chapter 2: Learning to Be Real
Learning to be real is a full-time job. It doesn’t work to just practice it at certain times. But to make that kind of commitment, you have to love and appreciate reality. You have to want to be real at any cost. You have to love being real—even if you don’t like what you’re feeling or who you think you are in any particular moment. That kind of love is the most powerful motive—the real inspiration—for our inner work. If your longing for reality is lukewarm or if it comes and goes, where will the passion and inner support come from to sustain yourself as you learn to be real? The more you are in touch with your love of being real, the more you will be inspired . . . and the more you will be fired up to do the work.
But what does it mean to be real?
You can’t be real if you are not yourself. You cannot be something other than what you are and be real. Observe and you will discover that most of the time, you are not real because you are not yourself. So what are you then? Who are you being? What are you doing? Most of us are being and acting out an image of ourselves—an idea, a picture, a concept. If, in this moment, you are an image of who you truly are, you can only be distant from yourself.
And most of us are even further away from our real self than that, because we are an image of something other than what we are—for example, an image of our body or an image of how we were as a child. And the unrealness becomes greater still when we are being an image or picture of someone else altogether, such as of one of our parents.
So what is the practice of being real? It is the same as the practice of being oneself. To be real means, “I am not an idea of myself. I am not pretending to be myself. I am not being in reaction to something or someone or their image of me. I am being what I actually am.” But it is not as though one can just stop being unreal and start being oneself. After all, who knows what that actually means? How are you going to try to be yourself? It is not as though you have many selves on a shelf, and you can take the real one down and put it on.
The good news is that no matter how distant you are from yourself, something in your experience in any given moment expresses who you really are. You can wander far from your realness—you can even become disconnected from it—but who is it that is far away or is disconnected? It’s still you. Whatever your experience, wherever you are, whatever you are perceiving, is connected to what and who you really are.
If you reflect a bit, you will notice that you are always experiencing something. There is always an impression, always an awareness, of something happening in the moment. Right now, a number of things are happening, and you are aware of them. As you are reading this sentence, for example, you are seeing, comprehending, and perhaps also thinking, feeling, sensing the pressure of your body on a chair, or hearing sounds around you.
So we are always someplace in the experiential field. That place is always changing, but we are always someplace in the field of myriad possibilities. There’s nothing esoteric in that; it is merely what we are experiencing every moment. You can recognize from your own life that the only time you are not experiencing anything is when you are in deep, dreamless sleep. So the moment there is consciousness, there is experience. This applies whether the experience is special (according to your value system) or quite ordinary. Think about what’s going on while you’re having breakfast. You are moving your arms, you are chewing, you are experiencing tastes and flavors in your mouth and movement and textures in your hand, and perhaps you are having a sense of appreciation or revulsion or boredom. Thoughts, feelings, imaginings—all of these are happening.
So, something is always going on! And whatever that something is, is related to who you are in the sense that it is more reflective of who you are than of who someone else is. If you are sitting in meditation, your experience is more a reflection of who you are than a reflection of who President Bush is, for instance. So if you are going to find yourself, you don’t go look into George Bush’s experience, you go look into your own experience.
What does this fact mean for our practice? To learn to be ourselves, we have to start with what we have—and what we always have is our experience in the moment. If we allow ourselves to be in our experience in the moment—to feel it, to see it, to taste it, to hear it, to smell it, to be aware of it—it becomes possible for us to find out what we are and to be who we are.
To be ourselves, or to be real, basically means that we are being our true self, or we are being the realness of who we are. You may have heard it said, “My True Nature means the true or the self-existing nature of who I am.” That can sound esoteric, but it just means that your True Nature is not false, not fabricated, not created by anybody; it is what you truly are. It is the real you.
Being who we are requires first finding out where we are. And although being aware of where we are does not necessarily mean we are being ourselves yet, it’s a start. That’s because it contains an element or flavor of our true self. And that flavor, or that element, is what we call “truth.” So wherever we are, whatever our experience happens to be, is related to our True Nature in some way. It may be distant or disconnected, or it may be a reaction, a reflection, or a substitute. But it still is somehow related to who we truly are.
In the early stages of our practice, we often don’t know what this relationship is. But we can begin by looking at our experience and finding where we are: I am sitting here, bored . . . or, I’m hungry and impatient as I am driving around trying to find a restaurant that’s open . . . or, I am lying in bed feeling guilty about what I just said to my husband . . . or, I am sitting in front of my computer, fidgety, worried about my stocks . . . or, I am trying to relax and I can’t stop thinking . . . or, I am meditating and I am feeling empty and anxious. Looking closely, you discover that each one of these is somehow related to who you truly are.
The key is: If you can find a way to understand how your present experience is related to your True Nature, then you are closer to accessing that True Nature—and that access is called truth. So how can you do that? At first, even when you have some sense about where you are, you don’t understand all that is happening in a given situation. Most of our experience is half conscious and not comprehended. When you are more fully intimate with your experience and have some real understanding of it, you then can say that you are seeing the truth of your experience. But what is the truth of our experience, and why is there such a thing?
Truth is always an expression of our True Nature, which is the ultimate truth. To understand your experience, you need to see how it is related to your True Nature, how it is connected to who and what you really are. That is why every time you understand your experience and see the truth, you feel a little more real, you feel nearer to your True Nature—because you are beginning to see how the experience is related to who you really are.
Let’s say I am spending time doing a hobby I usually enjoy. After a while, I recognize that I am feeling bored. If I attempt to dispel my boredom, I will be resisting where I am. Because I want to be more real, I choose to stay with my experience even if it is unpleasant. (We will see more about this as we go along.) When I explore my boredom, I realize I’m bored because I am feeling a kind of emptiness, a kind of meaninglessness. I am seeing the truth of my experience, which is the reality of my feeling boredom, which I experience as a meaningless emptiness. I see the truth and that makes me feel a little more real. But I don’t yet understand in my mind how it is related to my True Nature.
But if I think about it a little bit, I can see that where I am and how I am feeling are connected to my True Nature. The fact that I am feeling a meaningless emptiness reflects the fact that I have a True Nature and that I am distant from it. This is because True Nature has implicit in it a sense of significance. If I had no True Nature, there would be no way to feel a meaningless emptiness. Why is that? Usually, I take meaninglessness to indicate a loss of some external source of meaning that I have been accustomed to. However, if I pay attention to the experience of meaninglessness itself, I can recognize that it actually feels like a loss of contact with my own sense of significance. In other words, I implicitly know what meaning feels like in my soul and that feeling is missing.
So as we inquire into where we are, experience the truth, and follow the thread of truth, that thread eventually will connect us with the truth of what we are. That is why truth brings more reality. Truth and reality are related; they are two sides of the same thing. The more we see the truth of where we are in the moment, the more we recognize something about the relationship between where we are and what we are. That recognition makes the distance between them shorter, and we feel more real. And that is why when we are real, we tend to see more of the truth of the situation; it works both ways.
Being Aware of Where You Are
If we are interested in being real, we naturally become interested in being as clear as possible about what is happening, and we want to experience it as intimately and fully as possible—we want to be totally in touch with it. If I am feeling anxiety, for instance, or fear, or terror, I am aware of it. Well, what does that mean? I don’t mean looking at it from far away through a telescope: “Oh, there is fear over there.” No, it’s about feeling what the terror is like, what the anxiety is like, what the anger is like, what the love is like, what the pain in my knee is like.
Being aware means immediacy. It means that the tentacles of my soul are wrapping themselves around the feeling, penetrating it and all its parts, feeling it from inside and outside—because my awareness extends everywhere. If I am not fully aware of the situation, how am I going to find out the truth about it? And if I am not interested in paying attention to what is happening now, what does it mean when I say that I love being myself?
When you love somebody, you want to find out everything about them, don’t you? When you love something, what do you want to do with it? You want to know it. Love always translates into awareness, into knowing. If you love somebody, you want to see them, you want to know them, you want to be as completely familiar with them as possible. If you are really interested in being yourself, that interest begins with the awareness of where you are at this very moment. Being who you are can only arise from the love of being where you are.
It now becomes clear that being where you are is central to the practice of being real. And this is not separate from the practice of self-inquiry, for it is self-inquiry that will ultimately allow us to simply be by bringing us into more intimate contact with what we are being. Self-inquiry consists of two basic elements:
1. Observing your experience until you become clear about where you are. That is, becoming aware at any moment of what you are actually experiencing. Just remember: Since you are always someplace, it is always possible to recognize where you are.
2. Beginning to ask, “What is making this happen?” The moment you ask this question, the inquiry begins to expand our experience of where we are. Since you are not able to immediately comprehend most of your experience, it is natural that you will want to know, “What is making me feel this way?” in any given situation. As you ask what is happening, as you become interested in understanding more about where you are, you will begin to see some truth about your experience. And that understanding will eventually lead you to grasp the relationship between your True Nature and where you are.
Seeing something that we call truth—something that gives meaning or coherence to what is happening—gives us an overall picture we can comprehend. It’s not only a mental explanation but a felt sense of it being experientially meaningful to us. It makes sense to our heart, to our soul. As this meaning is revealed, we have the experience of insight in our heart, we discover some truth, something we can then know in our mind. And if we continue being where we are and exploring from where we are, the discovery of the truth becomes a process, a deepening thread.
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