How do you know when you are truly present?
There is a very clear distinction between the awakened state of Presence and the world of the mind. When you are fully present, thoughts stop and your mind is silent. That is the test of Presence. It is the test of silence. You are utterly present with what is here and your mind is silent. It is as if silence is aware of silence. That is it. Not one word or thought arises. You are immersed in the moment of now.
Your mind might come in with observations about your spiritual progress or how awake you are, or how enlightened you are. These are just thoughts arising within the mind and probably generated by the ego. Your ego wants to be enlightened. Just say to your ego, "yes, yes darling you are the most enlightened of them all." The ego will relax with this light-hearted acknowledgment.
Even if you say to me, "I am enlightened," I would ask you, "Who is enlightened?" The only possible answer is "I AM," which will immediately take you beyond the mind. It will take you beyond the world of time. It will take you beyond the concept or idea of enlightenment. It is the “I AM” Presence that is the awakened you. That is it. There is nothing beyond that. But the moment you think about it or the moment you have a view of yourself as being awake or enlightened, you are in the mind again.
No one can truly awaken unless they are clear about this distinction. Otherwise, you will think you are present or enlightened when you are not. Even worse, the ego will think it is present or enlightened. This confusion is an obstacle to your full awakening. It is very difficult to free yourself from an 'enlightened' ego.
To be present is your natural state. In fact the only way you can be somewhere other than in the present moment is to think your way out of here. And where will you go? You will take yourself into the past and future world of the mind. All thoughts are of the past or future and that is exactly where they will take you. You will find yourself in a world of illusion and separation.
I am not saying that thoughts should stop or the ego should be eliminated. Just be aware of thoughts as they arise and recognize them for what they are. Your thoughts have nothing to do with the present moment. Even brilliant spiritual thoughts are just thoughts. Even brilliant reflections upon your spiritual progress are just reflections within the mind. Do not allow the ego to fool you. Do not reject your thoughts, but also do not believe in them. Do not follow them. Just acknowledge the thought and gently return to Presence.
Once you relax into silence, you will deepen into Presence. And then of course, all sorts of wonderful things can arise from the silence at the centre of your being - bliss, ecstasy, love, compassion, truth and wisdom can arise and flow through you.
If you are fully awake in this moment, all separation dissolves as you open into Oneness. Your sense of yourself as an individual also dissolves as you are immersed into the mystery of this moment.
You do not always have to be at this deep level of Presence. Unless you retire to a cave or an ashram, you will still participate in the world of time and use your mind many times each day. There is nothing wrong with thinking, as long as you are aware of the distinction between the awakened state of Presence and the world of the mind. This will enable you to settle more deeply and more fundamentally into the world of now.