We are told, and perhaps we would agree, that our concept of God is personal. Some of us devote a fair amount of time to prayer and other forms of devotion. Some of us do not, and do not consider that God is something we can pray to or worship. And some of us do not think there is a God.
Whatever our concept of Him (or Her, or It), there is one common thread—God is somewhere else. He is a being at a distance who either comes near to us, or does not. Perhaps we feel He has personally entered into our lives on more than one occasion. Perhaps we have had to admit that we do not really feel a connection to some divine being, even though we keep our faith and follow our practices and teachings as we understand them. And perhaps we know full well that He has not touched our lives, because He is not there.
In any case, in any iteration of feeling connected or not feeling connected, the experience of the divinity is of something outside of us, at a distance from us, coming to us in a way that we either experience, or that we believe must be so.
This is not a discussion concerning doubt or faith. It is an attempt to address an attitude, a mindset, about the divine. We live our lives as best we can, and we look to the divine as something we will encounter after death, or at some point in the future, or—if we are in the midst of an exercise or internal practice—any moment now.
Consider this last. It is perhaps a noble idea, even an ambitious one, but “any moment now” is quite specifically not one thing—it is not this moment. It is not now.
But if we look at “now,” where is God? Here I am. I see, hear, smell my environment; I have thoughts and emotions. I may now have an impulse to move. Where is He in all of this? Isn’t there something missing?
The Sufis used the metaphor of the Beloved arriving. Zen Buddhists speak of achieving satori. Poets have described after their fashion feeling at one with their surroundings, with the world. In any case, some kind of special event takes place. So, expectation aside, if I stop and regard this moment, this now, what is special about it?
There actually is a positive answer to this question. You. You are in this moment. In fact, focus on that for a bit. Do not explore too deeply what you hear or see, do not scrutinize your thoughts too much. Here you are. That is all.
We speak of such moments as being present. When we are present, we not only experience what is in the moment, we experience ourselves in the moment. This is important--not to forget yourself.
When we do not forget ourselves, for however brief it may seem, it is a fulfilling experience. It is so real, like coming home, feeling solid. This would not mean that by definition we feel at peace, in harmony with things. That may not be happening at all right now. But it is not a requirement; do not allow your mind to say that you cannot be present right now because you do not feel blissful emotions. That is not necessary, and you are likely to end up waiting the proverbial lifetime.
Such moments, which result from a light, almost indefinable effort on our part, for all their solidity, feel rare. Something was present and now it is absent. We may try to retrieve that presence, and we will succeed again for a few moments, and then the absence returns. Without the presence, there is the absence.
The absence of presence is not a play on words. Try hard enough to be present, and you will experience presence. And you will also experience the absence of presence. Eventually you will live the absence of presence. And then presence will return for a time. This is how it works. It comes and it goes. We need not wait for the one moment that comes forever, for there is no such moment.
This absence, this seemingly long gap between moments when we experience ourselves, teaches us something. It teaches us how rare and special presence is. If presence were like any other sensation, it would not be absent for so long. It would not be special.
Do we therefore equate presence with God? No, we do not. Presence does not prove or disprove the presence or absence of God. But it does prove the presence or absence of oneself. Eventually, as one tries to make being present more and more the central focus of one’s life, one realizes that it is more than special: it is divine. With it, we exist--we are. Without it we are not. But without it we do have its absence, and from that place we can seek presence again and again.