Swami Kriyananda recently challenged Ananda members to practice the presence of God for five minutes a day. It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s a bit like challenging someone to dunk a basketball once a day. You have to rise to a certain level just to do it once. Practicing the presence of God for even five minutes a day takes a certain elevation of consciousness.
A life-transforming practice
But if we really do it, this practice has the potential to transform our lives. Practicing the presence of God is a central aspect of this spiritual path and an enormously powerful practice. To be able to hold onto the consciousness of God’s presence in daily activity is a very high spiritual state. If we were able to do it throughout the day, even the hard times would seem like wonderful times.
Practicing the presence of God begins with the desire in the heart to be closer to God. As Sri Yukteswar put it, “We can’t take a single step on the spiritual path without love.” In this context, Sri Yukteswar’s meaning is love for God, the desire to be close to Him.
Now we don’t have to produce that desire, thank goodness. It resides in our souls. In fact, the most powerful force in the universe is the soul trying to recover its unity with God. We need to bring to the fore this dynamic desire to reunite with God, and nourish it so that it becomes more and more powerful.
Practice outwardly first
So how do we get there? Well, it takes a lot of energy to get there. On the deepest level practicing the presence of God means to feel Him in ourselves and in the world around us.
Because our minds are habituated to outward expression, the first level of practicing the presence of God is to have a more continual relationship with Him in an outward sense. We should try to think of God in a form that attracts us—Yogananda, Divine Mother or perhaps another.
But whatever the form, try to think more of God. Connect your life with Him in an attitude of self-offering. Carry on a conversation with Him throughout the day.
The ability to pray continuously
There’s that beautiful story in The Way of the Pilgrim, by an anonymous Russian writer, about a man who, one day in church, heard the priest say that one should pray continuously. That idea stayed with him and he began to wonder how he could do it.
He began asking people how one could pray continuously, and was led from teacher to teacher until he met one who knew how. The teacher said to him, “I want you to repeat five hundred times a day this simple prayer, ‘Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy upon me,’ and come back in a week.” When he came back, his teacher doubled the number.
Week after week the man returned and the teacher kept increasing the number until the man’s lips and tongue became numb from repeating the prayer, and his fingers became calloused from moving the rosary.
But gradually the prayer began to go deeper and deeper into his conscious and subconscious mind until the day came when his teacher said he no longer needed to count, and that he should continually practice the prayer during his waking hours.
As he did this, he found that the prayer took on a life of its own. He would wake up in the middle of the night and the prayer was still going on. It was as if his heart were repeating that prayer.
Finally, he achieved the state of being able to pray continuously. And the remainder of the book is about the remarkable things that happened as he walked through the countryside in such an uplifted state.
Not an “I and Thou” relationship
This is an extraordinary state to reach and one we should all strive for. But, extraordinary as it is, even that isn’t practicing the presence of God on the deepest level. There’s still an “I-Thou” relationship with God, a bit of separation.
We should strive for the state where there’s no separation between us and God. This is the deeper aspect of practicing the presence of God. But how do we get there?
On our spiritual path we have the techniques of yoga. By practicing Hong Sau and Kriya Yoga we can withdraw the life force from the senses and calm the mind in meditation. When the mind is calm we begin to feel God’s presence.
Yogananda said that when we meditate, we should try to feel the presence of God in certain ways—as joy, love, or peace. Choose one of these divine qualities and try to feel that vibration deeply in the heart. Try to become so connected with it that you identify yourself as that quality.
Become identified with God
When you can identify yourself as joy, love, peace or any of the other divine qualities, you are identified with God. You are actually practicing the presence of God. Then, if you can stay in that vibration after you leave meditation, and project it as you go about your work, you will be practicing the presence of God on the deepest level.
Unless we can feel God’s presence when we’re most quiet and centered, we aren’t going to feel it when our minds are engaged in the turmoil of phones ringing, people upset at us, and all the events of daily life. Maybe we can remember to think of Him a few minutes a day here and there. Or we can set our watches on a beeper so that once an hour it reminds us to say a little prayer. But it’s mainly affirmation.
To practice the presence of God successfully throughout the day, you first need to do it deeply in an inner way. It’s a rare person who can repeat a prayer so deeply and continuously that the mind spontaneously goes into a meditative state.
A slow process
Each day in meditation we should try to reach the state where the life force and consciousness are withdrawn. We should try to go deep enough in meditation to feel God’s presence. If we can feel God’s love or joy deeply in our hearts, and then stay in that vibration for five minutes outside of meditation, it will transform our lives and the lives of those around us.
This is a slow process. We need to be very accepting of ourselves because it’s not easy to do. So don’t get down on yourself or on others. It doesn’t help the process at all.
Just put intense love, devotion, and self-offering into your meditation. Offer up to God every thought, every attachment—everything that keeps you from practicing the presence of God. Then, after you feel God’s presence, go out and try to practice it for five minutes a day.