• October 2, 2019

    There are two basic settings of the attention. In one of them, my thinking steps between attention and the object of attention. I act as if my attention depends upon thinking to direct it and keep it in place. This is head-brain attention. This form of attention is weak and easily diverted because it is funnelled through the thinker who is notoriously unreliable. Thinking flickers with associations, prejudices and habitual reactions which interrupt attention, causing it to be unstable and often involuntary.

    Head-brain attention is a dance between thinking and attending. The thinking apparatus steals some of the available attention to provide energy for considering itself, its aims, its analysis, its evaluation of its experience and other preoccupations.

    The second attention, which we call being-attention, is impartial and self-willed. Nothing stands between this attention and its object. This attention locks in and establishes a relationship with its object, acting as a kind of bridge uniting viewer and viewed, hearer and heard. The master of attention has learned that this attention is not his, but rather a universal property accessible to sentient beings. She has learned that this attention can be beckoned or invoked to perform a particular task but the task is then fully entrusted to the attention. Thought follows attention rather than the other way around.

    Let’s say I wish to attend to a beautifully shaped cup. I place attention on the cup. I then removes itself…. the thinker, the observer…so that there is, moment to moment, a direct engagement of attention with cup. My eyes and mind are filled with cup. In first attention, I am in here looking at something out there. There is separation which limits knowing. In second attention, inside and outside are one movement, one taste, more knowing.

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  • August 6, 2019

    There are very few sacred spaces left on this earth, it seems to me. What is a sacred space? It’s a place where the veils of ordinary existence are thinner and it is more possible to engage and penetrate the subtle worlds of feeling and meaning which are so easily hidden by worldly engagement. The ancients built temples for this purpose, to create or shelter such valuable places where real prayer and invocation could occur.

    Perhaps you are aware of such a place. The question then is can you enter it? Can I pass through the doorway? Special efforts are required.

    This is why our zikr often begins with questions. Can I be here? Can I sense my body? Can I sense my breath? Can I relinquish my connection to the past, to the future, to any other place or time, or any relationship, other than to the zikr chamber and the circle of friends within it? If my attention remains intentionally or unintentionally on other times, places and people, I will not be able to pass through the narrow entrance.

    The way itself is very broad but the entranceway cannot accommodate any baggage. He who is within demands our full attention and presence.

    My entry is by way of humility, submission and apology for having forgotten. These are the secret keys that open the heart and show me where to step, even though I have broken my vows a thousand times.

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  • August 1, 2019

    When do I become visible to myself?

    Of course, observing myself in action, I see the identities that operate in me, that I have habitual reactions which carry me through most situations without the need or ability to change anything. When I look to see more, I do not see anything that resembles a permanent, cognizant self, able to be. There is attention and perhaps presence, the lights are on, but no one is home.

    Rumi in his discourse 14 says this very clearly…what is real in me is not visible to myself. “You cannot see the attributes of man: examine yourself and you will not find anything so you suppose yourself empty of [His attributes]. Yet it is not the case that you have changed from what you were, only these things are hidden in you, like water in the sea”.

    In the presence of other people, more possibilities arise. Someone may see me without prejudice, attentively, and then I may see more of my non habitual self. If another gives me space and uses attention impartially, I am given the gift of greater freedom to be. This is the transformative power of real listening.

    This is an important guide for my behaviour towards others. When the other does not impose their opinions of me, when their attention is open and spacious, something more of me may become evident, something not conditioned by my past that is more of my true nature. Alas, the other person may also reinforce my habitual self by expecting and seeing only that, and then my limitations are likely enhanced. Seeing this, what efforts must I make to be more open to others?

    There is another possibility. Can I turn towards God? Can I have the sense that I am seen by Him? By this I do not mean the god of the religions, who is a human construction. By this I mean my sense of relationship to a Universal Being, the all-pervading consciousness. Turning in this direction, I become visible to myself as a reflection of Him, having an endowment of some aspects of Himself which His presence naturally calls into being. I feel recognized and I see who I am and have always been.

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  • July 21, 2019

    The marvel that is attention never ceases to amaze me.

    Do I have my own attention or would it be more correct to say that I participate in a wider attention which enters all sentient beings? When I am attentive to another, attention seems to tap them on the shoulder and we connect. When attention enters my seeing, I also feel seen as if entering into communication with what is perceived.

    Am I encapsulated in my own world, marshalling with effort my own attention on the world around me? Or do I move through a timeless sea of attention, something that surrounds and pervades the universe, connecting instantly to those for whom I am intended?


  • April 29, 2019

    My unconscious, involuntary attention holds me in time and space. This mechanism makes it possible for me to continue in my ordinary life. As an analogy, this form of attention is like a laser reading the data implanted in a DVD. My life is displayed in a predictable form…even if the events seem to surprise me, my reactions do not.

    When Ouspensky and others talk about eternal recurrence, this is what I think is meant.

    There are two clear signs that involuntary attention is operating. Time is sequential, one moment flowing into another without a stop. And space is dead, just something to be filled up with things but otherwise empty, a negative.

    Can it be otherwise?

    Can there be stillness? I find that there cannot be stillness if I try to stop the flow of time. The river continues to flow and I am swept along in it. To be still requires that I access another dimension of time. What makes this possible? Voluntary attention. Why? Because its nature is not in passing time…its nature is immediate and therefore timeless.

    Can there be spaciousness? Voluntary attention is spaciousness. I enter attention-space where what was empty is alive and full of ‘substance’, not of a physical nature but real nonetheless.

    There is probably nothing more important than reclaiming voluntary attention and then allowing it to perform according to its laws, without interference. This is a moment-to-moment undertaking requiring that ‘I’ participate with subtle skill, not as the subject-center who sees, but as the one who is seen and responds.

    When I try to voluntarize my attention, I find that I cannot control it.

    To voluntarize is not to control. The secret is to participate in attention, like a dance partner. The secret of the secret is that attention is not yours, it’s a gift from the universe, a quality of space itself. When I think of it as mine, I reduce it to myself.

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  • March 14, 2019

    In ordinary life, we seem to experience two realities. One of them is physical reality. Another is the reality of our emotional-mental space. The second reality is the one that gets almost all my attention.

    Do I notice the quality of sunlight, the presence of trees, the continuity of the building on the corner which is there every day? Yes, but mostly in passing. In my ‘inner’ world, I am continually thinking and reacting, experiencing my likes and dislikes, my wants, my fears and expectations. These occupations appear to be as permanent as the physical world ‘out there’, or that is how I treat them, but they are not. They are of my own making.

    It seems to me that the aim of work on self is to find that the inner world, the one where I expend most of my time and attention, can be changed in a fundamental way. The key is to find my habitual emotional reactions�not just the big, fat ones full of ‘sturm und drang’ but also, and more importantly, the smaller habits…of avoidance, giving up, feeling sorry for myself, impatience, pointless irritation, petty anxiety and so on. Each of these is a tool with a handle. Seeing them arise and turning them along a different path shifts my world fundamentally.

    In a state of no-work-on-self, I take the world as a given and I fight against it to get the outcome I want, often unsuccessfully. In a state of work-on-self, I observe and change my reactions, using them to shift my world at the point of contact, to find greater fluidity and new possibilities. The world becomes more workable. This is a great benefit of impartial observation of self.

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