Metaphorical and sacred symbolism is only of use if it can be related to direct experience. When I finished writing Time and the Sentinel (see Selected Writings), I realised it had to be tested. Such descriptions are always based either on ideas and concepts, or on past experience from memory. If it’s the latter, the test is to see if it is current as well.
The method is to turn the attention back (as in meditation). Then a questioning process can dig deeper and pull out the threads of the experience for recognition (two more descriptive but accurate metaphors!) In this account, the questions have been largely omitted to keep the flow of the narrative.
A ‘where’ question might be a good place to start with this. ‘Where’ always locates, and can bring attention into psycho-physical space. (People's perception may vary)
Q. And the Sentinel within, where is that sentinel?
A. I feel a sort of strong presence, I think behind the shoulders/throat, or back of the chest. It is very upright, darkish and waiting, watchful.
Interesting—it feels like ‘a’ presence, but I can’t detect any actual features, eyes etc. Maybe a shadowy sense of a tunic like a roman soldier—I guess that’s my idea of what a sentinel might look like. Keeping watch. That’s the job. It never sleeps or disappears, but is always awake and alert for danger or movement.
I don’t feel it as threatening at all. Not exactly friendly either, but actually it is a bit comforting, to know it is there, keeping watch. The other thing which comes up is that it doesn’t feel like ‘mine’—my sentinel, or even ‘in me’. But I can relate to it, and then I am sensing something outside of time, as if the experience would be available to any human from pre-history to now in time, because the experience is timeless. So in making contact, I am part of a line, a group, like joining an order.
Q. What kind of an Order could that be?
A. Always awake. That’s what it stands for. Awakeness, no more or less, just that. And in this minute I’m part of it, because I’ve sort of merged with the sentinel presence. I can look out from that place and the separation has disappeared. It feels very strong, upright as I said. And I don’t think I’d miss much in any direction, if there was something worth noticing.
I’d like to be able to hold this. I could, I think, if I paid more attention and practised being in and looking out from this place more often.
I’d have to be more awake though—isn’t that a bit circular…..!
Becoming aware and learning to recognise experience is the value of an exercise like this. The participant has recognised something real and experiential through the metaphor. As its name implies, a 'metaphor' is a carrier of meaning, (from the same root as amphora--a vessel for carrying).
Through working with the internal image, the experience can become more and more conscious and available. In this case, it is strengthening and re-enforcing the effort to remain 'awake' and aware, which is the aim of all meditation and contemplative disciplines.
Most importantly, it is Knowing.