Personal Authenticity and Presence

“He [man] is a machine, everything with him happens. He cannot stop the flow of his thoughts, he cannot control his imagination, his emotion, his attention. He lives in a subjective world of ‘I love,’ ‘I do not love,’ ‘I like,’ ‘I do not like,’ ‘I want,’ ‘I do not want,’ that is, of what he thinks he likes, of what he thinks he does not like, of what he thinks he wants, of what he thinks he does not want. He does not see the real world. The real world is hidden from him by the wall of imagination. He lives in sleep. He is asleep.”

~ P. D. Ouspensky (1878-1947)
Russian esoteric philosopher known for his writings on the esoteric teachings of G. I. Gurdjieff
in In Search of the Miraculous


We commonly understand personal authenticity to mean being oneself. While this is so, we can understand what it means to be one’s Self in different ways. The practice of presence points to what may be a deeper experience of authenticity.

The human condition is the context which frames an understanding of the import of presence. In brief, you and I are asleep – metaphorically – to our deeper nature from which authenticity originates.

Everyday a myriad of stimuli drown our awareness: innumerable thoughts, feelings, sensations, outer events and interactions. One thought, feeling, or sensation leads by association to another and another and another ad infinitum keeping the hamster wheel of inner imagination and self-talk turning ceaselessly.

Because you happen to associate one thought with another, is this “being yourself” or is this simply a mechanical byproduct of an electrical charge surfing your brain’s synaptic connections along a pathway of neurons forged by your past experience?

Were associative thinking not enough, typically we respond to many of these stimuli with reactivity. For example, your partner says something which “pushes your button”, and you react angrily. But, is your angry reaction “being yourself”? Or is it simply conditioning? Perhaps your mother had the same tone of voice when she talked down to you when you were a child.

Were you to doubt the extent of our entrancement by associative thinking and reactivity, I challenge you to conduct an experiment. For just one day, or if only for one hour, pay close attention to your thoughts and feelings. Note how many, if not all of them, result from reactivity and association. Quite likely your attention will have wandered (by associative thinking) from attending to your experiment within less than five minutes.

Sure, if we wish, we may live a life of ceaseless association and reactivity, and fool ourselves into thinking we are being ourselves. Yet living ensnared in ceaseless inner imagination and reactivity is a life of mechanicalness, entrancement, hypnosis, metaphorical sleep.

What we sleep to is the experience of the Self, Being, our True Nature from which spontaneous, unconditioned, authentic expression of being one’s Self originates. To awaken from such sleep, we need to find a way to interrupt our ceaseless imaginings so as to allow the light of Being to pierce through the din of stimuli which fog our awareness.

One such method is the practice of presence which has been known to contemplative traditions around the world by different names such as: conscious attention, self-remembering, mindfulness, bare awareness, awareness of awareness, etc. Presence is the state of being consciously aware of ourselves while we also go about the business of our daily lives. We are present to our lives while we go about living them.

Presence is to our daily living what concentration is to meditation. Just as concentration interrupts the monkey mind of associative thinking thereby allowing the possibility of our awareness opening to a deeper experience of Being, so does the practice of presence interrupt the monkey mind we experience throughout our day, thereby allowing the experience of Being to enter our daily living.

Practiced over a lifetime, presence increasingly stabilizes our awareness in the experience of Being whose spontaneous expression is itself authenticity.

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