Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice

 

Inner Work


For the week of October 31, 2011

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Attention

(Developing Will: Aspect 4 of 10)

Directed, sustained attention is the most obvious and immediate power of the will. To learn about will, we can start with studying our own attention. To develop our will, we can start with developing our attention. Vital to most productive activities, attention occupies the center of perception. Without attention, sensory impressions do not impress, they just fly past us. With attention, we can notice what we see and hear and feel and think, so that sensory inputs can become perceptions, can register with us. We can only learn through perceptions. We can only live through perceptions. Attention means we are present to see what we see and hear what we hear, present to live our life.

To study attention we observe its many modes, its absence or presence, and its source, hidden in the recesses of our soul. Active attention focuses our senses, as exemplified by the focus of our eyes when we look at something. But just as our eyes can see without our really seeing, there is more to attention than just focusing our senses. Attention, as an act of will, brings us onto the scene, so that we are there to see what our eyes see. In that way, attention connects us, our I, with our senses to create perceptions.

One very instructive practice is to look for the source of your attention. To look for the source of attention is to look for yourself, for your will. Because we are immaterial, it is not so easy to recognize the source of our attention. It means learning to recognize will, which is neither material nor even an inner energy. It is the user of inner energies, for example, when our attention directs our senses and consciousness. Thus attention is a very direct expression of our I, of who we really are. So one aspect of finding yourself is to find the source of your attention.

The primary way to develop attention is simply to practice paying attention, putting our attention on something and keeping it there. Attention tends to wander, distracted by passing thoughts and other random sensory events. In our ordinary life we can practice by sustaining our attention on tasks we do, on the people we interact with, on what we hear, on what we read, on a subject we want to ponder, and so on. In that way, we couple our outer life and our inner work, we make life into our spiritual path. Such practice strengthens our attention and trains us to direct and hold it.

We can also train our attention for subtlety by many of the methods of inner work. Most forms of meditation require directed attention for at least part of each sitting, usually at the beginning to help our minds settle and focus. Prayer without attention rambles and dissipates ineffectively. With attention, prayer connects.

The various levels of inner energies require more and more refined qualities of attention to access and make use of them. On that hierarchy, we begin with attention to our body, to the sensations of our body, to the sensitive energy in our body. This is fundamental and necessary inner work, throughout the path, to establish our soul on a firm foundation. We put and hold our attention on part of our body, gradually building up to embrace and sustain our whole body sensation in our attention.

To practice attention to our mind, we can think our thoughts intentionally, rather than allowing our thoughts to think us haphazardly. With attention to our mind, we can also open to the silent, cognitive space beneath thoughts, so that we can be here, mentally alert, but without necessarily having any thoughts. Those that do come we allow to pass through unhindered, while we stay here in the deep, cognizant pool of our mind.

To practice attention to our emotions, we place our attention in the area of our chest and solar plexus, though not focusing on any particular inner organs. We notice any feelings there, whether physical sensations or emotions. And we just stay with it. Being here in our center of emotion, even without any particular emotion arising, we are ready to feel appropriately to any situation, ready to respond and live with heart. Furthermore, attention to our center of emotion can brings us to peace, to the high emotion of equanimity, and to love.

The attention that embraces all three, body, mind, and heart, is the essential factor of presence, bringing all of our parts within the purview of our attention, our I.

As the core tool of all spiritual practice, we find many other ways to put attention to use. A primary one concerns energy breathing, attention to the inner energies carried by the air. Using attention and intention, we draw those energies into us to help build our body awareness, our sensation, to help nourish our soul.

For this week, notice your attention, seek its source, and practice sustaining and refining your attention.


     

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