Radical Presence and its Role in Spiritual Development

Thomas Hübl is a contemporary spiritual teacher who advocates the practice of what he calls ‘radical presence’. This is not someone who is interested in (as he puts it) ‘feel-good spirituality’, but more a philosopher who works to dismantle the mystery of spiritual development and explain it in simple terms. Hübl’s concept of radical presence gripped me from the moment I heard him say it; it sent a shiver of excitement down my spine which was admittedly partly attributable to his rather charming smile, but mostly to the use of the word radical. Here’s why.

There is something highly enticing about the word radical – it smacks of passionate committment and world-changing quests. Although generally not a word I like hearing, when it comes to personal and spiritual development there is a distinct lack of it in the western world, an observation that has always frustrated me. Most ‘New Age’ spirituality workshops and talks are focussed on inner healing and not on serious striving for spiritual growth; inner healing is of course a valid and necessary stage of the growth process, but it seems to me that we got stuck there. Hübl believes that only by truly committing to spiritual practice and making it a priority in our lives can we make real progress, and that radical presence is a key facilitator in our development.

Andrew Cohen recently noted the following on the subject: “Too many of our progressive psycho-spiritual values and practices haven’t changed very much in the last thirty or forty years. Back in the glory days of the late 1960s and 70s when a real cultural revolution was sweeping the Western world, diving into our psychological interiors—developing sensitivity, inclusivity, and compassion—and awakening to the oneness of all things were truly bold and radical steps forward.

But most of us anywhere near the leading edge of cultural evolution today have, at least to a significant degree, already developed in these ways. We are, for the most part, highly sensitive; we have rare capacities for empathy, tolerance, and inclusivity; and we already know, explicitly or implicitly, philosophically or spiritually, that we are all interconnected.

I strongly feel that what is needed in our time is a psycho-spiritual perspective and practice that is very different. Indeed, there are much deeper and more culturally relevant ways in which we need to connect, spiritually and philosophically. Now, instead of being so concerned with healing the wounds of the past, it is time for a spirituality that is fueled by an overwhelming sense of urgency about what’s possible in the future. It is time to move beyond an approach to spiritual practice that too often has become reduced to just another form of narcissistic self-absorption” {Italics/Bold mine}

Healing the inner child, expanding awareness and working on the heart connection were important steps for the Baby-Boom generation* but are no longer so relevant; the next generation is innately more spiritually awake and ready to take on the next phase of spiritual development (disengaging from ego, raising consciousness and integral awareness, developing our capacity to consciously co-create, etc.).

Coming back to the subject of this post, presence can be understood as being the foundation of spiritual practice, in that it facilitates transcendence of the ego (which is defined by the past and by expectations about the future), and authenticity, both of which are essential components in our personal and transpersonal development. In his extraordinary book “The Power of Now”, Eckhart Tolle explains why being present is such a transformative practice, and manages to demystify the entire spectrum of human experience in radically simple terms (yes, I am enjoying using that word :)); if you haven’t already I suggest you get hold of a copy.

I would like to note that radical is not the same as extreme; radical is defined as “arising from or going to a root or source”, whereas extreme is something “extending far beyond the norm”. Radical presence can therefore be understood as consciousness fully anchored in the present moment.

Tenzin Palmo says that for transformation to occur in meditation (the highest form of awareness), the mind of the meditator and the subject of meditation must fuse.

Radical presence means to become one with the present moment – so that you are no longer aware of yourself being in it; you are it.

* The reasons behind this are a whole other post, which I will probably also write at some point ;)



5 thoughts on “Radical Presence and its Role in Spiritual Development

  1. Interesting post, and I belive the points you made are quite valid. Ironically, Karen Armstrong, a more scholarly writer rather than necessarily a radical one takes the underlying standpoint here as well. She’s kind of a self-made religious scholar who, after surverying a whole slew of varying views, has basically decided it’s not the precise meaning which drives that sense of “radical presence” but sheer simple practice. Despite its profound effect, it really a plain idea. But today’s society loves the status quo, and I think that’s part of why the word radical carries such weight.

    Keep up the thinking on this matter. This place needs it.


    1. Thanks for you comment and for introducing me to Karen Armstrong! I haven’t come accross her before but will definitely be getting a copy of her book. I think you’re totally right; individually and as a society we need to break out of our glazed-eyed resignation and dare to confront our existence radically, deeply, courageously. I can see it happening, we just need to increase the pace.


      1. I’ve gotta forewarn though that Karen can be a bit of a dry read, hah. She’s brilliant, but definitely more the scholar type. At the same time though she’s turned activist recently with charterforcompassion.org. A remarkable lady all the same.


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