Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of August 23, 2010

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Participation: Being Attention

(The Way of Attention: Part 7 of 9)

Participating in our life means shifting from seeing to being, from witnessing to engaging, from sensing our body to inhabiting it, from being aware of our situation to occupying it intentionally, from paying attention to being attention. The inner practice of participation entails joining the stream of attention to be attention itself, to feel and experience: I am my attention.

Attention entrains our awareness, whether narrowly focused or broadly open. We participate by being right here in awareness, inserting ourselves through and as attention. We do not just watch our life as if we were an outside observer, a semi-objective witness. Rather we jump headlong into the midst of it. We feel what were feeling. We think what were thinking. We see what were seeing. We hear what were hearing and we touch what were touching. We are not lived by our life. We live it. We experience it unreservedly. We revel in living. Engagement means more than awareness.

Notice that participation is always intentional and not to be confused with being lost in our life, nor with being identified with its particulars. We become our attention, but we do not collapse into our thoughts, or emotions, or pains, or anything else. We live and experience all of it, but nothing takes us. Neither our thoughts, nor our reactions, nor our sensory perceptions cause us to contract. We neither turn away from the distasteful, nor get lost in the desirous, nor fall flat in the neutral. We just continue being attention.

Perhaps the easiest way to acquire the taste of participation consists of being in our physical movements. When you pick up the phone, be in that picking up motion. When you move your arm, be in that movement. Not just aware of your arm moving but being in your arm as it moves. When you walk, be in your legs as they move, in your arms as they swing. Be here in your walking body.

Many of our movements, however, can and do go quite well by habit, without our participation. We need not be in every step as we walk. Our body knows quite well how to walk on its own, thank you. So we allow what is best done automatically to go by rote. But we profit by participating in our experience as we walk. Without being in each particular aspect of walking, we can nevertheless inhabit our body and mind and senses globally. We can be whole and in that wholeness as we walk, not merely a thought-filled and distracted mind being carried along.

Of course, the same opportunity exists without moving. When we sit, we can be there sitting, inhabiting our body, mind and senses as we sit. When we think, we can be there in our thoughts, aware of their meaning and direction, fully engaged in thinking. When we eat, we can be there tasting our food. When we speak, we can be there in awareness of the sound of our voice and the meaning of our words.

Participation also has forms that go beyond the personal, into for example a shared attention, as with a team, a class, or an audience. It may seem ordinary enough, but something magical emerges through shared attention: something more than the sum of the participants. A team whose members are not the greatest individual players, may nevertheless emerge victorious due to their teamwork. A concert may rise into an event qualitatively different than the same musicians playing the same music before an inattentive audience. Communal prayer or group meditation can take us much deeper than we can go on our own. An inspiring speaker depends on the audience for inspiration, and together they may reach new heights. All these examples depend on the shared attention of a group, on a common direction. Intention is not enough. Actual participation through attention enables a collection of individuals to become, for those moments, a group, to form a singular wholeness.

Still higher forms of participation await us. When we give our attention to another person, without judgment, and we enter that attention to be with that person, we touch our shared sameness, our common humanity. Similarly with an animal we may touch our common life. These are harbingers of participating in love.

In deep prayer, when we become the prayer, when we enter it as our attention, unreservedly and whole-heartedly, we participate in the work of the Sacred. This comes first by participating in the silence. We put our attention into the stillness beyond thought, beyond sensory experience. And we enter that stillness through and as our attention. Established in stillness, we engage our body, mind, and heart to put our attention beyond the stillness, into the Sacred Light and enter there, through and as attention.

For this week, please practice participating in your life.

See Also: The Path of Liberation: Be Your Attention


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