Conscious leadership at its core is about being present, and knowing when we’re not. I’ve noticed over the years that there are a few questions that invite presence immediately; they’re instant shift moves. Just as conscious breathing changes our blood and brain chemistry in less than a minute, these questions shift us into presence more or less immediately.
All three of these questions do two things. First, they invite us to see beyond the chatter of the mind, and second, they invite us to see through the illusion of a personal self to experience our true identity. What’s fun about these questions is that you don’t have to know about the chatter of the mind or the difference between a personal self and your true identity to use the questions. The questions do the work for you.
All that is required is to ask the question sincerely, then really, truly look for the answer.
Let’s take a closer look at each of the questions.
I first heard this question from Loch Kelly. Like so many others who have asked this question, I found that it brings me into presence, peace, and flow immediately. I believe the reason that it works is because it turns the mind on itself. The mind believes its job is to solve problems because it believes this will keep us safe. But in order to be constantly problem solving it has to be constantly problem finding and problem creating. The mind creates problems in order to solve them out of a fear-driven compulsion to keep its job.
When we ask the mind to look for what is here if there are no problems, it in effect short circuits the mind. For a moment the mind relaxes and the deeper truth of who we are emerges. We are peace, spaciousness, openness, aliveness, and the hum of joy. We don’t have to create these things. They are what and who we are. This question prompts us to let the truth of who we are shine through..
I first heard this question from Ramana Maharishi and have since found it in many wisdom traditions. It is often simply called inquiry. The question asks you to inquire into the nature of reality, including looking for the truth of our true nature.
Many of you are using Sam Harris’s Waking Up App as part of your practice; we do too and highly recommend it. Sam is teaching us to do inquiry by using simple direct prompts. He is teaching us to look for “the one who ……”
The question works like this. If you find yourself stressed out by the circumstances of your life, pause and ask, “Can you find the one who is stressed out?” If you find yourself looking for a donut to eat, pause, and ask yourself, “Can you find the one who wants to eat a donut?” If you find yourself angry and wanting to scold and shame your child, pause and ask yourself, “Can you find the one who is angry and wants to yell at your kid?”
Now, in just reading the previous paragraph and not actually doing the inquiry, your mind will say, “Dah, of course I can find the one who is stressed, wants to eat a donut and yell at my child,” it’s me. I’m right here.”
But if you pause and look more deeply and with a blank slate beginner’s mind, can you find the one you’re looking for? Where is the “one” we think is so easy to find? Is the one who wants to eat a donut in our stomach? Is the one who is stressed in our chest? Is the one who is angry in our head? Upon direct examination, you’ll discover as a matter of experience that you can’t find what it is that you think is so obvious.
If you ask this question sincerely, presence, and its attendant qualities— peace, joy, and freedom—become more apparent. They’re always here; we just tend to look away instead of turning towards them. This question invites presence to become more obvious so we can more easily turn towards it.
I heard this question from my mentor Hale Dwoskin, and have used it as a primary shift move for over 15 years.
This question points us towards reality and away from illusion. There are only three things that are ever here now: sensory experience, thinking, and the sense of a “me.”
Sensory experience simply means whatever the five senses are experiencing: images (seeing), sounds (hearing), sensations in and on the body (feeling), scents (smelling), and tastes (sour, sweet, etc). Part of this practice is to get more grounded in the body and its experience, and to welcome the body having its experience. Sensory experience is not a memory from the past or an imagination of the future. It’s here now in the present moment. What we also discover is that whatever the body is experiencing is OK. It doesn’t need to be resisted or changed.
Thinking includes remembering, worrying, fantasizing, planning, anticipating, and so on. In other words, it’s the mind doing what minds do. All this thinking is linked to the problem-solving agenda of the mind I mentioned above. By asking the question, “What’s actually here now?” we shift from being trapped in the thinking mind to noticing the thinking mind from presence.
A sense of self is an awareness—which is subtle and runs in the background— of a personal me who is having this experience. This “mini-me,” as Loch Kelly calls it, is an ego identity that masquerades as YOU. But what you really are is something so much more vast and spacious. You are present awareness itself. By seeing and identifying this sense of self, we are shifting from being in the grip of our ego identity to resting as that which is beyond (and also includes) our small self.
A key to successfully using these questions to instantly shift to presence is not to analyze or deconstruct them, but rather to ask them from a sense of genuine curiosity and openness. To really, really look for the answer.
Another key to using these questions as a shift move into presence is to use them often and for short periods of time. Find the question you like best and then ask yourself the question multiple times a day. Don’t spend lots of time looking for the answer. Rather just look and see what makes itself known. Rest in the presence that emerges, and then go about your day.
A meditation to practice coming into presence with your breath. Tune in with this practice and shift into the present moment.