Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of May 9, 2011

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Be Your Attention

(The Path of Liberation: Part 7 of 9)

If I am not my personality or my thoughts or my emotions or my body, then who am I? After persistently looking into this question, we come to an answer, though a misleading one: that I am my awareness itself, that I am consciousness. But looking even more carefully, we notice that awareness does not choose or act; it only serves as the screen on which all our perceptions, choices, and actions are projected. I may rest in awareness, but this does not mean that I am awareness. This is a subtle but crucial distinction, crucial because the deeper realms of spirituality increasingly concern will. Consciousness is an energy; will is not. Will is will. Consciousness can seduce us into believing that it is who we are, principally because it is more inward, more central than our body and thus seems to be closer to us, which it is. Now this is not a bad place to be, for to live in and as consciousness does afford us freedom from our personality, our false self.

But consciousness is not the most inward aspect of our totality. The fact that we can direct and focus our consciousness, our awareness, shows that there is something in us deeper than consciousness. We are not our consciousness. To move in depth, we must move beyond it.

One way, perhaps the simplest way, toward discovering who we truly are and becoming ourselves is through the practice of being our attention. We all have attention and depend on it throughout our day, throughout our life. Yet we take for granted and do not notice our attention, because it is so familiar. But attention is a core aspect of who we are, who I am, for attention is a power of our will.

Try this experiment. Focus your eyes, your mind, and your perceptions on some material object close at hand, and hold your focus, your attention there. Ordinarily there is the object and there is you perceiving it. But now, double up on this, by being your attention, by being this channel of attention that focuses your perceptions onto the object. This does not mean being your eyes or your awareness or the object, but rather being this action of focusing, being the focusing. Ride your attention as your attention. Participate in and as attention. Be attention. Be the act of focusing your awareness, in an ongoing way as you hold your attention on a particular sensory object. Rather than letting your attention wander here and there, with you only partially engaged, as is so often the case with us, practice being entirely in your attention and staying with it for some time.

If you can catch hold of this, it can open a new and more vivid experience of living: seeing what you are seeing, hearing what you are hearing, doing what you are doing. You are right there at the receiving edge of your perceptions, the whole of you taking it all in. Your attention may be narrowly focused on a single object — a sound, a sight, a thought, a touch, a fragrance — or your attention may be broad, allowing all of your current surroundings, sensations, thoughts, and emotions to be equally perceived across the whole field of your awareness. Either way, narrow attention or broad, you can practice being your attention, thus raising the perceptive value of whatever comes into your attention and, even more importantly, moving along the path of becoming yourself.

Like learning to ride a bicycle, you learn to be your attention by getting on, peddling a short distance, falling off, and then getting back on. You do that again and again and again, until you get the feel of it. And then a new world opens. You sit in the seat of attention, transforming your ordinary awareness by giving it a presence, a core.

At first this is a subtle and elusive practice, as you experiment with it, trying to discover what it means, trying to find your attention. But later, as your inner perceptions become more refined, the reality of being your attention becomes obvious, as does its centrality in your whole way of life. For this week, please practice being your attention.

See also: Participation: Being Attention


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