An amazing book called “The Presence Process: A Healing Journey Into Present Moment Awareness” by Michael Brown came in to my life. The author had an agonizing incurable neurological disease (Horton's syndrome) for ten years before he was able to cure himself through alternative medicine. He studied alternative medicine with native Americans and other healers in America and Mexico. The outcome of his nine-year odyssey is the healing Presence Process described in his book. This powerful meditation workbook is designed to change the quality of our life experience.
As a Licensed Professional Counselor and an ordained Interfaith Minister I was stunned by the depth of Michael's spiritual and psychological insights and immediately made a commitment to do the course. To integrate this healing process Michael recommends we meditate fifteen minutes twice daily for ten weeks on one of ten Presence Activating Statements. It's been fifteen years since I did formal meditation. I'd forgotten the clarity and peace it brings. I'm grateful Michael motivated me to meditate again.
He says the meditation helps us to detach from our experiences and remember who we are is the silent, still, invisible quality of our own Inner Presence or “Observer.” The process enables us to see how our appearance, behavior and individual life circumstances (what we show the outer world) is in essence our ego. The ego's desire to seek approval and acknowledgment from others is so strong most of us posses little will of our own.
The daily consciously connected breathing meditation exercises allow us to lay the foundation for the rebirth of our personal will and teaches present moment awareness. The ten meditation lessons are: living in the moment, acknowledging our reflections in the world, responding consciously to all experiences, restoring our inner balance with compassionate attention, compassionately embracing our innocence, neutralizing our negative emotional charge, feeling safe in our body, being responsible for our own peace of mind, being spontaneously joyful and appreciating ourselves.
The first week I began lightening up and not taking life so seriously. I felt an amazing amount of new energy and found myself really enjoying the world, my relationship with my husband and friends. Even Dixie, our golden retriever, appeared more enthusiastic and loving. Life was fun and I laughed a lot. I thought, “Wow this program is going to be a breeze!” Little did I know the challenges ahead.
During week two it came to me how much I have lived my life as a victor (competing) and a victim (complaining). How they are two sides of the same coin and how I boomerang from one to the other. My victor constantly compares myself with others making one of us the looser. I also get into debates where one of us is right and the other wrong. It feels good to realize I don't have to play that game anymore. I feel best when I see others as fellow luminous brothers and sisters with unique gifts and amazing stories. Their insights, successes and sorrows are mine.
During the meditation on week three I pondered the intense negative reaction I had towards John another kayaker while paddling a river. During the trip my husband and I discovered the river was blocked by a fallen tree. It's not a big deal as it's easy to get out, stand on the tree trunk and haul the boat over. It's fun like an obstacle course.
While pulling the canoe across the tree John began to yell instructions from the river bank. Gone was the peace and quiet! My husband ignored him but I got mad. Instead of saying, “Thanks John, we got it! You can go now” I remained silent.
Fortunately, there were no more log pull overs and I forgot about it – or so I thought. After dinner back at the campground I began to start a campfire. It had been years since I made a fire and wanted to see if I still could. Just as my fire roared to life and I was enjoying the flame John strode up and barked, “You need to put more logs on the fire!” He continued to holler instructions as he gathered handfuls of wood and dumped them on the fire.
I returned to my chair in a huff. “The fires all yours – YOU take over,” I snapped.
After doing “The Presence Process” I now understand what happened. John had pressed my “buttons” and let me know I had unfinished business. Michael would call John the “messenger.” Instead of bypassing the messenger to get the message I got caught up in my unfinished business about being criticized, controlled and silenced. I was able to have compassion for the the little girl in me who felt powerless, afraid and unable to do anything right. After a good cry my anger and sadness towards John and myself evaporated. Much of my anger at John looks hilarious now.
The power of self-compassion is amazing. I began to stop taking people who press my buttons and my reactions to them so seriously. Because I fear anger, judgment and rejection I have a tendency to “suck it up” and not tell others what I need. I don't have a problem setting boundaries and limits with my husband as I feel safe with him. He even suggested I treat everyone like him. Michael says, “Commit to saying “yes” when you mean yes and “no” when you mean no. “No” is a complete sentence.
During week four something shifted in me during a meditation. It opened a flood gate of sorrow, anger and compassion about my painful childhood. Much of it about living with different family members as a child in South Africa. It was painful to repeated love and lose them. I felt unwanted and in the way. My family had their own troubles with substance abuse and other issues and were unable to see my pain. But I was grateful to their domestic help. I saw love, understanding, and compassion in their eyes. They must have suffered as black people under South Africa's Apartheid and recognized my hurt. They became my friends.
To my surprise I also remembered the good things about my family. My obsession with the painful parts had clouded their gifts. Spiritually they were my angel messengers. They helped me learn how to let go of grievances, forgive and love unconditionally.
I discovered I don't always know I'm angry or hurt immediately. I still repress stuff. Old fears and habits die hard. This makes it hard on relationships. I'm learning to let people know when they press my buttons but try to see it as my problem. I can't change other people but I can change myself. It's great when others do change but it's their choice. The question is, “Can I be friends if they don't change?” Sometimes it's yes and sometimes no. If it's no then its time to distance myself or move on.
It's helpful to remember we all have rough edges. My husband and I have learned to navigate around each others rough edges. Having a sense of humor helps too. Over time it's become fun to see what presses our buttons and laugh about it. Sometimes I just tell him, “Where not going to go there!”
It's been a battle to let go of my victim (complaining) and victor (competing) mentality. But I know I'd rather have peace than be right. Now when my buttons get pressed I try to see it as a gift to get in touch with my unfinished business.
I once felt unfairly accused by my husband for something I didn't do. It was painful as it reminded me of all the times in my life I felt unfairly accused. After crying for five hours I realized I had just released a major hot button. His accusation was his problem not mine. It had more to do with him than me. I saw that I was okay. I know the truth. I believe false accusations by others won't affect me as much again. Luckily my husband was willing to talk about it, see my side and apologize. But I believe a healing would have taken place inside me no matter what he did. I'm becoming less and less interested in getting love, compassion and validation from the outside. I'm beginning to get it from within.
I believe we are bigger than our own narrative, thoughts, feelings and appearance.
The Presence Process helped me get in touch with my child self during week five. To nurture and have compassion for her. My child self needs to learn not to take what other people say personally and let go. Other people have their own pain. I'm learning to witness my painful projections and the projections of others.
Michael's Emotional Cleansing Process was especially helpful on week six.
He says to get inner balance dismiss the messenger, get the message, identify the feelings, be with the “pain” and apply compassion without judgment or fear. When we lovingly embrace our inner child with compassion the upset passes.
It was emotionally cleansing when I stepped back from my reactions and attended to my feelings. Especially when I identified the feeling that resonated with my triggered emotional response and asked, “When did I last experience this emotional reaction?” The feelings and reactions always came from my past. When I choose to focus on the message not the messenger I stopped being a victim or victor. This empowered me to respond more consciously to life as opposed to reacting to it.
When I feel irritated by someone I try to remember if we point a finger there are three fingers pointing back at me or if I spot it I got it.
Michael is right my negative emotional charge separates me from “being in charge” versus “carrying a charge.” The blaming, guilt and regret of reactive behavior adds fuel to the fire. Responsive behavior throws water on it.
Compassionate attention also helps heal disagreements, physical ailments and conflicts. Compassion is the key to reopening and detoxifying our hearts. It reactivates physical presence, mental clarity, emotional balance and allows us to be in the world but not of it.
During week seven I stopped trying to make sense of everything with my head. It's my heart not my mind that enables me to experience the depth of my humanity. When I perceived discomfort I began to feel it to heal it. I believe fear, anger and grief cause dis-ease. Viewing my emotions as “energy in motion” made them my friends.
During week eight I practiced activating peace of mind through forgiveness. Michael says conditional love is a cry for unconditional love. Unconditional love must be given to be experienced, for only through giving is it received. Authentic compassion and forgiveness begins with our inner child. By forgiving ourselves we automatically forgive others. Love is our birthright it's who and what we are. Humility extinguishes arrogance.
Michael's questions to deactivate our unconscious definition of love were useful during week nine. He says we have an unconscious definition of love imprinted in us from our childhood. Three steps identify our unconscious definition of love: Step one asks us to finish the three sentences: When our intimate relationship ends or sours we always end up....,I always end up.... They always end up....
Step two asks us, “How did I feel when the relationship ended?” Use useful words like abandoned, abused, betrayed. This word is our unconscious definition of love. It's also the unconscious motivation behind the drama in our life experience.
Step three asks us to find the opposite word for our definition of love.
For example if we chose the word “abandoned” the opposite word for our definition of love might be “commitment.” Commitment then becomes what we've been seeking all our life.
Since “abandoned” was the opposite word for my definition of love “commitment” to myself and others resonated and was extremely helpful.
Michael says to heal we must appreciate ourselves for who and what we are right now, without judgment, concerns, conditions or expectations. We must choose to love and commit to ourselves no matter what and give to ourselves what we seek to receive from others without conditions.
My capacity for peace and appreciation increased when I focused on my inner presence during week ten. When I stopped seeking the extraordinary, ordinary moments become extraordinary. I found peace when I began to live in love and love to live. My life became a journey not a destination.
Michael says there is nothing to get from the world. The act of “getting” is a reflection of lack. Giving is receiving. I no longer believe I have to do something to receive unconditional love.
Michael believes addictions are caused by inner turmoil. He says the 12-Step programs are helpful and necessary but there should be a 13th-Step. An evolution from recovery to discovery from focusing more inward than outward. He says the Present Process asks us to stop, breathe, watch, respond, feel and pay attention. It's the realization we are already all that we can “BE.” We are perfect, whole and complete. There is nothing to “DO” but be present in this moment, here and now. We must appreciate ourselves for who and what we are right now, without judgment, concerns, conditions or expectations.
The distance between my thoughts, words and deeds has grown shorter. I've stopped blaming my negative emotional charge on my past, my quality of life experience has increased and I feel more at peace. I'm making a transition from constantly doing to just wanting to be or at least find a balance between the two.
For me Michael's Presence Process healing procedure is a gift that keeps on giving. When we change, the world changes because it's a mirror.