As I write this, the world is in crisis. The news is dominated by a worldwide pandemic, by lunatic politicians, by imminent climate disasters, and by a worldwide economic collapse that will be difficult to reverse. Human life has become a commodity; it is spoken of not as a sacred trust but as a raw material that may be reduced to commercial profit. And yet, in the midst of all this, there are those who believe that we are on the cusp of a new age, which will be dominated by spirituality and selflessness, and that this new age will replace our present age, which is dominated by greed. But in order to have a new humanity, we must first have new men and women, and if we are to have new men and women, we must begin to not only think and act differently, but also to understand who we are and what we may be become. Though there are forces, both good and bad, that act on humanity as a whole, inner change needs to happen individual by individual. Not all social problems have social or political solutions; some social problems are rooted in spiritual issues that cannot be changed if people remain as they are. In other words, lasting outer change can only be effected by inner change.
We have to imagine that if a new spiritual movement is underway, it will not be reported by our mass media. The media in our times has concerned itself only with extreme ways of thinking and behaving. The richest people and the most powerful people are considered newsworthy, not people who are quietly working to change themselves. And, sadly, people who are obsessed with being in the public eye are, because of this, driven to acts of extremism not only in the political arena but also in the religious world. To get their message out they draw up sides, declare enemies, and in the most extreme cases, kill themselves or others. One of the many unfortunate things about this type of religious extremism is that it is often justified because of a misreading or a distortion of profoundly spiritual texts—texts that were written to teach tolerance and illumination. Clearly much of the religious fanaticism and violence we see today in the world is the result of a failure of understanding, not the result of an inability to act.
Practice or action is essential in religion, philosophy, and psychology, but so is understanding. For instance, if you want to be happy, you need to understand the inner conditions that make you unhappy before you can go about making the changes that will allow you to be happy. In the same way, if you want the experience of spiritual illumination, you will first need to understand the principles that keep you stuck in your old ways of thinking and feeling. You will need to begin to look at yourself objectively, from the outside, and see that there are basic psychological principles that keep your old self in place and block the emergence of your highest potential.
Enlightenment is an organic process. It takes time and it follows definite laws and principles of growth. Esotericism is, at root, an explanation of these laws and principles. It tells us not only what we must do, but also how we can view ourselves and the world around us.
I want to say upfront, as Peter Ouspensky said at the beginning of The Fourth Way, a book of his lectures, that I didn’t invent these ideas. The ideas in Be Present First are not my ideas. My role has been to try to express them in a clear and precise way. I also don’t want to give the impression that these ideas are limited to a particular tradition or system of thought. Esoteric ideas are of interest because they are universal and not just an expression of a local tradition. I have tried to give examples from many different traditions and philosophies, but because my upbringing is Christian and my training is in the Gurdjieff/Ouspensky system, you will find more examples from these two traditions. If you belong to or are trained in another tradition, I hope you will be able to find the parallels that exist in your particular faith.
I have also been told that before you will be willing to read anything I have written here, you will want some credentials. In other words you will want to know who I am, and by what means I have gained the knowledge I have and by whose authority I teach it. It’s a fair question, and I could say many things concerning the value, or lack of value, of credentials, but more than anything I want to say this. When I was nineteen, that is, at the very beginning of my adult life, I was almost killed twice. These two accidents fixed in my mind the realization that I was not prepared to die, and from this realization all the important questions in my life were raised. It seemed to me, even at nineteen, that life was short and uncertain; it also seemed to me foolish to not use all my best faculties and all my resources to find out what comes after life. So if you want a picture of me in your mind, think of me as the man who spent, and continues to spend, his adult life (and whatever resources he can put together) pursing the knowledge and the practices that lead to the actualization of a consciousness that can exist without a physical body.
Though Be Present First stresses understanding, I have and will continue to suggest various practical exercises that I have personally found useful. The problem with giving out exercises in a blog or in a book is that people are different. For instance one person may be inherently lazy and need to discipline himself and another person may be inflexible and need to be less rigid. These two types of people will not necessarily benefit from the same exercises, so I have tried to keep the exercises I suggest as universal as possible. The more you are able to observe yourself, the easier it will be for you to understand which exercises will inspire you to be more awake. The main thing is not to be afraid to experiment. Besides, the principal exercises I talk about are being present and self-remembering, and there is never a wrong time for using these exercises. Being present and self-remembering are our doorway to higher centers. It is where we always begin. The present is the only reality we can depend on. And without a foothold in reality, there can be no talk about illumination.
Feel free to contact me, if you have general observations or questions, or if you would like to assist me in the creation and maintenance of Be Present First. In the future, it is my hope to have more translations and book recommendations from my readers.
If you would like to help financially that would also be appreciated. For that you can go to the ebook page and download the booklet My Mystic Initiation, this will take you to the page where you can choose the amount you would like to pay for the booklet. The booklet can be seen as a gift to anyone who wants to make a donation to Be Present First. Contributors who donate $75 or more will be listed on this page, unless they ask that their donations remain anonymous.
William Page (updated 4/2/20)
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