• March 6, 2016

    From childhood, you have been told not to interrupt others. And this is good advice. Interrupting the automatic functioning of attention in other people makes them more prone to accidents and sudden mood shifts. But intentionally interrupting yourself is another matter.

    Most of you have probably heard of Gurdjieff’s famous stop exercise. This is an example of interrupting others which can perhaps be defended by the fact that it occurred in a school among people who had agreed to the exercise. How would I interrupt myself? And why?

    Let’s deal with the ‘why’ first. My sleeping life consists of the flow of automatic attention through a sequence of habitual so-called emotional states. These emotional states, sensations really, are rooted in the body where they fuel the superstructure of the personality, a linked series of identities usually constructed around social roles and related self-images such as parent, worker, victim, child, femme fatale, critic, bon vivant. These identities are recognizable by repeated postures, gestures and speech patterns which project a measure of coherence. The cherry on top is a personal story or history which explains who I am and why, available at the drop of a hat (just ask). All of this is automatically triggered by my reaction to my environment which is continuously being monitored by my automatic attention. My automatic attention reads what is going on and selects the appropriate identity. Voila! Here ‘I’ am.

    The basic integrity of this haphazard and somewhat flimsy structure depends upon the sensation-states of the body. Any sort of interruption can throw ‘me’ into dysfunction, potentially making possible, or even requiring, a momentary engagement of voluntary attention. Begin with a shower. Shave left before right. Left shoe first. Toast and coffee by eight. These seemingly unimportant but never varying little details allow the parade of appropriate identities to proceed without disruption, in fact without even being noticed. That’s why we call it sleep. The Sufis also call it heedlessness because the automatic functioning makes it possible for me to be essentially unaware of what is going on around me.

    Why interrupt the flow? To create a separation, a space for the possibility of observing, engaging voluntary attention, invoking presence, making possible a real response to your environment. How? Get up one hour earlier? Right shoe first? No coffee with breakfast? Pick just one activity and vow to change it. This vow is serious and it must be kept. Take the vow during the activity and repeat it whenever the activity is performed. Every time the activity is performed in the old way, it must be redone. You will establish a trigger to observe yourself every time you do it. This work can be done on your own.

    In the work group, you will have many opportunities to interrupt others, either directly or by ceasing to listen. Learn to withhold the impulse to interrupt. This is a potent form of interrupting yourself.

    You are entering terra incognita, a land unknown to you. In time, you can claim it as part of your life. Until then, it belongs to sleep.

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  • June 3, 2015

    When we looked into mastery earlier, you talked about checking or withholding the mechanical impulses of the sleeping machine. What is the purpose of making such efforts?

    Humans are biological energy transformers. The one who pursues mastery must limit energy expenditures and transform energy of a lower quality into higher forms which are able to fund real work.

    The automatic functioning of body and mind uses automatic energy, an energy that can easily perform repetitive tasks by rote but does not notice or comprehend. You drive home and barely remember anything. Your foot automatically brakes based on your speed and the approaching intersection. Rudimentary passive awareness is all that’s required. Working with the same energy, your thinking consists of daydreams which roll over and over and have nothing to do with what’s actually happening around you.

    Withholding the impulse to eat or sit down or look at a moving object interrupts the automatic functioning of the body/mind. This begins by noticing the automatic impulse to do these things. At any given time, you are likely to have enough sensitive energy to notice that the machine is on automatic. Sensitive energy is able to notice, which can act as a reminder to summon voluntary attention. Attention separates from automaticity and introduces the possibility of choice.

    Now, let us suppose you choose to withhold an impulse of the machine. The impulse is energy. Withholding its expression saves that energy. Attention on that energy transforms some of it. Attention on mechanical movements increases sensitivity and noticing self and environment; sensitive energy in the presence of voluntary attention becomes conscious energy which has the property of enabling thinking, sensing and feeling to proceed together, harmoniously … the energy of multi-tasking. In fact, the heart does not operate as the organ of feeling unless it has access to conscious energy.

    How can I do all this if I am asleep?

    The only trick is to notice your machine is asleep in the present moment. Ordinary life gives us this opportunity very frequently, especially as we engage with other people. Noticing sleep behavior is a reminder to summon attention. You may find that engagement summons attention directly, triggering the energy exchanges that bring you into the present. That is the point. Mastery means being able to be present in the present. This in turn means seeing and responding to what is actually happening rather than reacting to subjective and false interpretations based on past experience. And having access to the energies required for all-centers functioning enables one to act according to the needs of the situation and in accordance with work aims.

    Ironically, sleep is the key to waking up. When you have observed your sleep and learned its tell-tale signs, sleep itself will wake you. This is not the only stratagem but it is a good one. Some of you may be easily shocked by the rough edges of life in the world or you may be unusually susceptible to beauty and order. The sudden impact of experiencing these factors can engage attention but you need to take care that the energy is not co-opted by clinging and averting or lost down the rabbit hole of self-indulgent emotions such as self-pity or sentimentality.

    Can we say therefore that we experience presence many times a day?

    Yes, but these moments are quickly overcome by the momentum of sleep in the machine. Can you learn to observe the exact process of falling asleep? If so, could presence then be able to remain present? Hahnemann called being present in the present our ‘natural state’. Our body/mind adopts an effective response to a challenge. The response is learned and it continues after the circumstances have changed. What was effective is now a block. Hahnemann considered this the root of illness. We call it sleep.

    Related Post:

    Mastery (1) – May 15, 2015

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