The nature of being human includes both form and essence. While form and essence are not one and the same, neither are they two separate aspects of being human. Such a dynamic may be understood through a phrase from Anthony DeMello, “not one, not two.” Within such an understanding we humans both know ourselves to be unique individuals and also know that we all share in the one heartbeat of Life Itself.
Our form comprises our unique Selfhood which includes our bodies, minds, daily lived experience and particular Story of meaning, i.e., our current “understanding of how the world came into being and our place within it” (Thomas Berry).
Essence is not an observable object or for that matter a definable concept. Even so, we need some understanding of the term as an entry point for engagement. The following images and understandings may be of benefit:
Essence is like:
- Robert Louis Stevenson wrote,
“it is not so much for their beauty that a forest makes a claim upon our hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air that emanates from old trees that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit.”
In a similar vein, essence is like that subtle something, indefinable and yet when experienced we can say, “we know that quality within us.” One way of naming such a quality is “a deep open state of awareness” (Richard Moss). Such a deep open state of awareness holds the capacity to be present to ourselves in our world beyond words, judgments, concepts and beyond a particular Story.
Essence is also like:
- a resting place within even in times of great turmoil in our lives. A resting place, not by way of an escape mechanism, rather as a gentle, courageous holding place.
- The “beingness” of human being (Parker Palmer).
- The unscripted part of ourselves.
- The deeper rhythms of Life itself.
- The sunrise image. The sun rises above the visible horizon . . . silently . . . peacefully . . . heralding the beginning of a new day. Each day unique in itself. Each day unscripted and yet full of possibility. Each day flowing from the one before and flowing into the one that follows. So with each new sunrise there is a sense of both new beginning and continuity.
In a similar way to the image of the sunrise, essence holds within it the experience of both new beginnings and continuity.
Qualities within essence are “stillness and presence” (Richard Moss).
- Stillness – Continually re-turning our minds to the beginning of ourselves. Re-turning to the unscripted part of ourselves; the still ‘I am-ness’ within our being.
- Presence – The stillness is not experienced as an empty void. Rather as a dynamic ever-flowing energy of loving kindness, creativity, joy, trust, compassion, forgiveness, gratitude, wisdom and the possibility of personal transformation.
In light of the above images and understandings, essence is not a goal to be pursued, rather a capacity within us which is grounded in our bodies and finds expression in our daily living.
A contemplative practice
The practice of stillness meditation opens the way for us to experience essence. Stillness meditation allows us to drop beneath our current experience of form with its resultant thoughts, feelings and actions. And as we do so we experience essence.
Stillness meditation practices may include: walking meditation, listening to music, a formal meditation practice, centering prayer, engaging in the creative arts, or simply being with nature.
Parker Palmer, Hidden Wholeness: the journey toward an undivided life
Richard Moss, The Mandala of Being: discovering the power of awareness
Rory McEntee & Adam Bucko, The New Monasticism: an interspiritual manifesto for contemplative living
Anthony DeMello, www.demellospirituality.com
Thomas Keating, www.centeringprayer.com