Focusing On Presence
At a recent teaching event, Robert Earl
Burton, founder of The Fellowship
of Friends, commented that, historically,
the greatest mistake men have made is to
think that there is somewhere to go other
than the present; and that there is something
to do other than to be present to one’s
own life. The event was a formal dinner
during which Mr. Burton kept emphasizing
the need to divide
attention and be present as much as
possible to each moment of one’s life.
dinner began with a quote from Bahauddin,
father of the Persian mystic and poet, Rumi:
“If there is no divine dimension [no
divine presence] to what we are doing, then
whatever we do is merely killing time. On
the other hand, if the presence of God [higher
centers] overlaps simultaneously with whatever
we are doing, then anything we work on performs
elegant description of divided attention
set the tone for a concentrated hour of
trying to be present while listening to
Mr. Burton speak about the urgency of promoting
presence, and about the countless things
that distract us from presence and cause
us to lapse into imagination.
For instance, every three seconds a new
or recurring ‘I’ appears in
us. Unless we are making a conscious effort
to divide attention, our awareness gets
pulled downstream by this constant flow
Although we cannot stop the ‘I’s,
we can—with self-remembering—swim
to the shore of presence.
Mr. Burton says, it is when we listen to
the ‘I’s that we get into trouble.
He often reminds us that, although the system
teaches us about the many ‘I’s,
we still spend too much time observing the ‘I’s and not enough time
from them. In this context, he enjoys two
related quotes, one from Rumi and the other
from George Gurdjieff. Rumi said, “Fast
from thought,” and Mr. Gurdjieff said,
“Do not be a taxi.” They both
refer to prolonging presence by not indulging
in or holding onto each ‘I’
that comes along.
Even when we know about self-remembering,
it is common for hundreds of mechanical
‘I’s to pass through us before
we produce an ‘I’ related to
self-remembering. In the language of the
system, ‘I’s that we introduce
with effort to intentionally promote presence
are called work ‘I’s; those
that occur automatically without effort,
and which inherently oppose and displace
presence, are called mechanical ‘I’s.
Mr. Burton keeps emphasizing that when we
are not making efforts to promote presence,
whatever we are doing is simply thwarting
self-remembering and displacing presence.
The literature of the Sufis repeatedly stresses
this truth, although it is easy to miss
their message by taking the words literally.
For example, when the Sufis speak of love,
they are speaking about efforts to promote
Burton also points out that the knowledge
of the Sufis derives from the same objective
source as the Fourth Way. After all, Mr.
Gurdjieff himself was in direct connection
with the Sufis of his time. Clearly, the
Sufis understood that being present is the
door to the miraculous, and that tremendous
discipline is required to continuously focus
on the effort to promote presence. One of
the Sufis, Abu Said, wrote: “Do not
occupy your precious time except with the
most precious of things, and the most precious
of human things is the state of being occupied
with the present.”
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Robert Earl Burton teaching
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The foundation of the Fourth Way
Self-remembering · divided
attention · consciousness
Man as a machine · the many
Barriers to self-remembering ·
working in a school
The theory of centers
(requires lecture 1)
Promoting and prolonging presence
The 4 lower centers
The sex center
The soul, the spirit
(requires lecture 1 and 2)
Practical ways to introduce and sustain
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Find a center nearest you.
Statue of an eagle. Collection of the Fellowship
Thoughts on presence
Moments of consciousness are very short and
are separated by long intervals of completely
unconscious, mechanical working of the machine.
You will then see that you can think, feel,
act, speak, work, without being conscious
One moment you are aware of yourself, another
moment you are not: you do things, you speak,
you write—and you are not conscious.
We never realize that we are present, that
we are conscious, that we are here.
Accept what the present brings and live in
that. If one is not established in the present
then one is nowhere and nothing is possible.
It is difficult for one's work ‘I’s
to emerge from the chaos of imagination, because
the many mechanical ‘I’s compete
to prevent them from rising to the surface.
Until your last breath, your work ‘I’s
must oppose your mechanical ‘I’s.
This is the esoteric meaning of the Philokalia
when it says, 'Expect temptation till your
Robert Earl Burton
Make the divine present your destination.
value to your time, live in the present moment.
Do not live in imagination and throw your
moment fills my chalice with presence; this
is my wine, I drink the present moment.
Attend upon the Lord without distraction.
most subtle awakening comes about through
Be attentive with the awareness which does
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