4 Oct 1999 –13 Nov 2003 Victoria, BC –
from Transcript of Audio Recording of Cynthia Bourgeault’s Commentaries on:
Living Presence by Kabir Edmund Helminski

the way “being in the Presence of God” is portrayed in classic training is judgement – “God’s watching you; you’d better watch out!”  Remember that Thomas Keating story about how – well, he was actually quoting Basil Hume – about how Basil Hume, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of London, had grown up in this family that said, “Don’t you dare take that cookie out of the cookie jar because God’s watching you!  God’s watching you!”  And Basil Hume said, “I finally had my moment of breakthrough when I heard God saying, “Help yourself!”  But for most of us the idea of being in the Presence of God feels like judgement [and] it feels scary.  And it doesn’t mean this at all.

There’s a wonderful Sufi maxim that says, “Become accustomed to the quality of the Divine Presence.  Be constantly aware of the Presence of God in your heart.”  I’ll say that again and then I’ll explain the two parts.  “Become accustomed to the quality of the Divine Presence.”  That’s part one.  Part two is:  “Be constantly aware of the Presence of God in your heart.”  Now if you can figure out [and] work your way through that koan, you’ll be able to learn what is the quality of the Divine Presence.

What for you is the quality of the Divine Presence?  This is almost the most important question you can ask yourself.  And I’m not meaning by that “What quality does God have? – God is great.  God is good.”  What does it feel like as sensation in you when you know that Divine element is present?”  One of you – I can’t remember who – said, “[It feels like] surprise.”  Surprise.  Okay.

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We have natural appetites and they come from good places.  The body’s job is to keep you in the body as long as the body is needed, and it does this job with amazing faithfulness and health.  It kind of nudges you when you’re not getting enough of this nutrient or the other. It has this wonderful “nudging system” and it has this wonderful way of knowing and telling you, “Maybe you ought to sort of dose this up” or maybe the idea of, “You know, you need a little less sugar.”  It’s marvellous!  Its purpose, when left on its own, is to maintain the equilibrium of your system.  And if there were nothing else interfering, I would venture to guess that you would have no such things as addicted bodies on their own, except for cases where there were really sort of physical imbalances built in.  You know, there are some syndromes that cause people not to have appetite suppressors and things like that.  I’m not talking about physical, chemical imbalances at this point.

Most of the problem is not caused by the body.  It doesn’t generate there.  It’s generated by unconscious conditioning, by old egoic patterns, by deprivations in the false self system – is my take on it.  So it’s not the body that deserves the bad rap.  It’s this kind of funny collusion between the ego and the unconscious which Thomas Keating calls “the false self system”.  And I think that we need to be so forgiving and that, as Helminski says, our body is our ally in the spiritual work and we have to learn to use it.

[Eckhart] Tolle has some marvellous passages on the body and I wanted to read just a few of them in light of this because they have some important things to say.  “When religions arose,” – I’m reading on page 97 [of The Power of Now] for the moment – “this disassociation became even more pronounced as the ‘you are not your body’ belief”.  And you see Helminski saying this.  His teaching says, “You are a soul and you have a body”.  And you’ll find the religious traditions splitting right down the middle between saying “You are a body.” and those that say “You have a body.”  Very good teachers on both sides disagree.

But without getting lost in that brouhaha for the moment, I continue [with Tolle]… “Countless people in East and West throughout the ages have tried to find God, salvation or enlightenment through denial of the body.  This took the form of denial of sense pleasures, and of sexuality in particular, fasting and other ascetic practices” – this will be very interesting in light of what Helminski says on fasting.  “They even inflicted pain on the body in an attempt to weaken or punish it because they regarded it as sinful.  In Christianity this used to be called mortification of the flesh.  Others tried to escape from the body by entering trance states or seeking out-of-the-body experiences.  Many still do.  Even the Buddha is said to have practiced bodily denial through fasting and extreme forms of asceticism for six years but he did not attain enlightenment until after he had given up this practice.  The fact is that no one has ever become enlightened through denying or fighting the body or through an out-of-body experience.  Although such an experience can be fascinating and give you a glimpse of the state of liberation from the material form, in the end you will always have to return to the body where the essential work of transformation takes place.  Transformation is through the body, not away from it.  This is why no true Master has never advocated fighting or leaving the body although their mind-based followers often have.”

This is incredibly important stuff to be read and to be re-emphasized, particularly as Christians, as heirs of a tradition which is particularly guilty of making this dissociation.  Remember Richard Rohr’s marvellous comment at the workshop on Saltspring where he said, “In most religious traditions the goal has been to transcend the ego; in Christianity it’s been to demonize the shadow.”

And since the body does tend to get tangled up in a lot of our shadow stuff, and our shadow desires are projected on it – “It’s the body that made me lust!  It’s the body that made me drink too much!” – since we do that, there’s been this radical dissociation in Christianity and this sense, often, that if you can only get out of your body you will be spiritual.  So we’re heirs to that kind of treatment.