A Full Presence that is Empty


Packing up after 9 days alone on this hilltop overlooking the ocean, I pause for a moment to write and send this. I did some writing on this trip which I will post anon, but as I now reflect on the evolving and integrating that happened this week, my mind is especially drawn to the 2 contrasting kinds of focus I employed. Each pivotal – and together they create a Full Presence that is Empty … and SO satisfying.

The first focus is what I naturally do in nature – it’s a forward, absorbing into whatever arises. I see the ocean with its dramatic waves hitting the rocky coastline of bluffs, the golden wheat-like grass blowing in the wind, the clouds moving quickly in from the water or hovering further above, the rocks, the dirt filled with leaves and bits of everything, the sound of wind, waves, and birds – and I BECOME them.

I soak my awareness into whatever I see, hear or feel with a childlike fascination and no sense of separateness – and we merge and soon there is only what I’m seeing, hearing or feeling (and no me) and sometimes we both disappear for a moment – only to reappear with a wonderful sense of delight and satisfaction. A new kind of energy fills my body when I do this and carrying heavy loads up a steep hill can feel like light play when my focus is thusly directed.

The second focus is the opposite – it’s an expansive focus – that creates equanimity and a good level of detachment and I usually start sliding into it around the 3rd day here. I have different ways of developing or conjuring it (and both of these focuses are always present in my baseline not-paying-attention state – simply from my 100’s of hours of practicing them – they have become default activities.)

My favorite way to access a pure hit of this second kind of focus is classic Self-Inquiry practice. I simply ask myself the question – “WHO or WHAT is Seeing, Hearing, Feeling?”

And now, (because it’s become a bit of a paved road vs. the path I used to have to keep clearing the way to see) this full focus will almost instantly slide into the driver’s seat. The experience of this focus is a step-backward with awareness opening vastly out to the side and in all directions.

The “step back” comes when, after asking myself the question “Who/what is seeing?”, I STEP BACK as if to look at what was there before there was seeing. That’s the moment of the shift. I used to sit with these questions, deeply focused, for long periods of time before the shift might occur, but now, again no doubt due to the much traveled road, it’s an easy, instant slide (and always somewhat present.)

When this “step back & open out” awareness comes, there is an instant “detachment” from all sensory experience – almost as if it belongs to another and is not connected to “me” (and, at first, this detachment could, I imagine, be disturbing or disappointing for those who experience it for a first time – but I am so fortunate to have had the interaction & guidance by a master teacher, Shinzen Young, for years to help me understand how it all works.)

For me now, this “step back & open out” / detachment, has the theme of space and emptiness. I’m here but I’m not here. I’m free from the confines of any “here” as I’m more part of a universal Source.

And of course, I love attempting these two focuses simultaneously – which creates an appreciative Presence – that is Empty – and yet so satisfying.

And thus ends my time to stop during my packing up ceremony. Time for another trip down the hill with my bedding, chair & supplies. And what I enjoy, is that this moving of stuff up & down the hill – is really no different from the days I spent sitting looking out at the ocean in meditation. It’s just as beautiful, just as fruitful – leaving me feeling lots and lots of gratitude.

Categories : Personal Experience


  1. Paul Rubell says:

    Please teach me how to do that!

    • Yvonne says:

      You can begin to learn, Paul, by checking out her many meditations on youtube and just doing them. It is all there. I like to say when I grow up I want to be like Steph with my meditations.


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