Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of August 16, 2010

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Receptive Attention

(The Way of Attention: Part 6 of 9)

With the practice of receptive attention, we turn to a very different side of spirituality, a side that complements and also depends on the active modes of attention we have pursued in the earlier parts of this series. Those active practices build a strong, fluid, and subtle attention, which we now put to use in receptivity.

For example, we practice being receptive to other people by listening. We pay attention to the person and allow what they say and how they are to enter us. We get who they are in this moment without judgment. We also practice being receptive to ourselves by accepting our limitations and weaknesses, while working to improve. Such receptivity to ourselves and others makes our connections real and puts us on the road to love.

The spiritual paradigm of receptive attention also concerns receptivity directly to the spirit. Initially this means opening to the silence, the stillness deep within us, beneath our thoughts and emotions, beneath all our sensory perceptions, beneath all our efforts and aspirations. We open our attention to the ground of awareness, the pure consciousness, the cognizant stillness, the context prior to all contents. For this, we sit in quiet meditation, attending to the stream of awareness, without attempting to block the stream, or stop it, or grab hold of particular items in it, and without allowing them to grab our attention. We just sit in simplicity. When thoughts come, we let them come and we let them go as they will, while we sit and watch with an open, receptive attention. Gradually our thoughts slow down. We notice the gaps between our thoughts and we attend to those gaps. With our attention we see into those empty spaces. We enter those gaps and open to the stillness there. We receive that warm silence and allow our whole being to soak in it. We recognize the simple, unadorned conscious awareness between and beneath our thoughts, between and beneath our emotions and sensory perceptions.

We become pure perception without an object to perceive. In this cognizant stillness, the strings of thought, the ribbons of emotion, and the tapestries of sensory perception no longer mesmerize us. First and foremost we are aware. That pure awareness moves from the background of experience to the foreground. We are receptive, receptively attentive. And the first new level that arises in that receptivity is consciousness. We luxuriate in consciousness itself, open, contented, and free.

There is an interplay between directed and non-directed receptivity. Non-directed receptivity, non-doing, leads organically into the silence, the cognizant stillness. As we relax, our thoughts and emotions also relax, to the point of growing indistinct, disconnected, and transparent. The cognizant stillness of consciousness then naturally shines through our inner quiescence. Once we have acquired the taste of this, however, a new possibility opens to us. We can direct our receptivity into the stillness. We touch and even enter the stillness at will, without waiting for the natural unfolding of non-directed receptivity.

A similar situation occurs with the world just beyond consciousness, the World of Sacred Light. In the state of stillness, non-directed receptivity gradually loosens consciousness itself. Our awareness grows porous and the Light begins to shine through. The first sign of this comes as an unmistakable cascade of energy descending into us as we begin to open to the Light. Staying receptive, even in the face of those energies, can gradually open us to the realm of the creative Light itself. Again though, once we have acquired the taste, we may also discover the possibility of directing our receptivity into the Sacred Light at will.

Beyond that, however, the distinction between directed and non-directed receptivity tends to blur as, in heartfelt yearning, we approach the threefold Unity at the root of creation. Here we may direct our attention beyond all that is, but the grace that descends from that Unity comes not at our will, but at the will of the Higher.

Directed receptivity puts us at the center, directing our receptive attention, choosing what we will be receptive to. The issue here is who occupies our center, an issue we shall explore in the upcoming parts of this series. Non-directed receptivity, however, bypasses that question by bypassing our center. Non-directed receptive attention has no center. We just let our experience take its own course. But this is different than passive attention, which has no particular intention behind it, or at most an intention to allow oneself to be played upon as in daydreaming or in being entertained. Receptive attention, even the non-directed form, does have an intention behind it, an intention to open to, to receive from what is higher than us. Receptive attention to the Higher naturally loosens us up, relaxes the grip of self-centeredness, and opens us to an unexpectedly vibrant inner life.

For this week, practice receptive attention.


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