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Presence, Disassociation and a Spiritual Identity Walk into a Bar…



There is not joke or pun here. Sadly, I am just not that clever with word play.


But I wanted to get under the skin of a phenomena I work with clients a lot on. And that is to disentangle these three things: spiritual identity, the pursuit of presence and disassociation.

First off — to lay my cards on the table I personally believe we are all, to a degree and by the virtue of our human presence ‘on a spiritual path’, consciously or unconsciously. You don’t have to agree with me, but I wanted to share this to support the difference between that viewpoint and the spiritual identity that I want to talk further about.


So let me get to the heart of it….


Somehow the idea of presence has been so misconstrued and so tied up with meaning, that the effort-ing in keeping up this ‘spiritual identity’ of what presence is, keeps us away from noticing true presence. It can keep these ideas so tightly bound. Furthermore, I see it causing deep shame when I work with people who experience disassociation.


Perhaps that tight binding comes from an image of being sat in Sukhasana pose, eyes wide open in a ‘spiritual’ staring competition with ‘Tantra Man’ opposite, with sage billowing around, whilst on a weekend workshop to find presence.


And colourful descriptions aside, I am not knocking those experiences, they can be glorious moments in time. But once the smell of sage on our clothes fades and the hum of the crystal singing bowls is a distant memory, we are left with just the concept of what presence is.


The temptation then creeps in to chase this and here is where the spiritual identity can develop.


And it is the pursuit of this spiritual identity that can lead to a lack of compassion. A lack of curiosity. A lack of awareness of our whole self. A lack of, well, presence.


A note on chasing spiritual identity (and this one I know personally oh so well): It comes from pain, deep pain. So let me be clear — I have much compassion for this.


But if we really want to experience true — or let’s say — sustained presence, we must go deeper.


Beyond the spiritual identity.


Into the truth of who we really are.


In our body and in our soma.


That means meeting all our trauma that we were perhaps running away from when we run towards that spiritual path. In a human way. At this point we meet the pain; we meet the nervous system nuances and we meet all the patterns that have kept us safe until we are ready to look at them — including disassociation.


And this is where we must start to untie the knots of the idea that presence can’t contain disassociation.


It can.


And it does.

“Each time you meet an old emotional pattern with presence, your awakening to truth can deepen. There’s less identification with the self in the story and more ability to rest in the awareness that is witnessing what’s happening. You become more able to abide in compassion, to remember and trust your true home.” — Tara Brach

There is something about disassociation that often gets overlooked that is also important to note, and may add some depth and compassion. (Disassociation is when we feel like we’ve just kind of got fuzzy/not present or it feels like part of it is removed.)


It’s such a beautiful design of our Soma. Disassociation happens so young, it’s one of the earliest strategies that our system subconsciously takes when our threat of survival belonging, being cared for is in danger. It is really, like all our system, so clever. Think about a little one that you really love, that was in danger or was feeling overwhelmed or neglected. What would you want to do? You want to wrap them in your arms and take them elsewhere? That is exactly what part of your consciousness does.


And if we take the idea that presence is the presence of God then I don’t know about you, but I have faith for the type of God who designs a system so well.


So, we can choose to orient towards an atmosphere of curiosity around the experience of disassociation and stop shunning it, stop pushing towards the idea of presence from the conceptual viewpoint of a spiritual identity. This type of orientation is presence.


This can take time and isn’t always a clear an