Inner  Frontier
Cultivating Spiritual Presence

 

Attention

The single most important tool we bring to our spiritual work is our attention. This fundamental ability to direct our awareness toward an object and steadily hold it there serves as the foundation of most, though not all, spiritual practices, as well as many of life’s ordinary activities. A focused and sustained attention enables us to see our attachments, our clinging, offering hope of releasing their hold on us. A focused and relaxed attention equips us to contact, collect, and organize our inner energies, and to support the emergence of consciousness from the lower energies. Attention enables us to relate to other people and endows us with the possibility of opening our hearts. It animates our life in the present moment. Directing our attention toward the Divine, as in true prayer, creates a channel through which the higher may flow into us.

The most recognizable form of will, attention can direct our perceptions and thoughts. Attention exemplifies the character of will by entering into nearly every aspect of our lives, yet remaining unnoticed, subjective. In response to the question “Who am I?” we can rightly answer “I am my attention.” Inexplicably, our culture woefully neglects training our attention, approaching it indirectly, incompletely, and inadequately. Correcting this one shortcoming of education would produce enormous benefits, materially as well as spiritually, by addressing this most fundamental aspect of the person.

Of the three primary forms of attention, we typically think of the first: active attention. Yet the passive and receptive forms of attention also merit careful study.

Take the example of watching a television program. Our attention works passively: we just sit back, consumed by the program, allowing the TV to direct our attention, to run our inner world, to drive our thoughts and emotions, to usurp our place, to sap our alertness, initiative and energy. Such involuntary, passive attention characteristically operates with the automatic energy and sends us onto a downward slope with respect to our humanity. TV may be useful for a short respite of relaxation, but the negative consequences of overindulging in television carry over into the rest of our lives. This holds at any age, from early childhood on up. Yet our attention need not be passive in watching TV: we could inwardly work to be more conscious. But TV’s inherent design lulls our consciousness into abeyance and set us on a subconscious, automatic, consumerist track. The couch potato does indeed sink from the human toward more vegetative qualities.

In contrast with passive attention, both active and receptive attention engage the conscious energy. Both may be directed toward a single object or non-directed, i.e., related to the whole of the present moment. The differentiating factor between the active and receptive forms of attention lies in the inner movement of our will. In active attention, we move outward, as in speaking. In receptive attention, we move toward our inwardness, as in listening.

We need to exercise both active and receptive attention. Actively, we enliven and collect the sensitive energy in our body. In the receptive mode, we open to the sensation already present in our energy body. Actively, we train our children, while receptively listening to and loving them. Actively, we seek to understand where God is, while receptively opening beyond our uttermost depths. Our progress on the spiritual path depends in an essential way on understanding and training attention in both its active and receptive forms.

See Also: The Way of Attention series

 


        

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