Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice

 

Inner Work


For the week of July 25, 2016

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Inhabiting Our Attention

(Basic Inner Work 3)

The exercise of inhabiting our attention is a truly remarkable one, for it very directly enables us to become ourselves. First though, comes the more straightforward exercise of attention itself, in particular actively directed attention, as opposed to the passive type that is drawn from us by external events, such as watching TV or other entertainment. We may pay attention to a TV or a video on some screen, but generally we are simply acquiescing to that, not actively making any effort beyond putting ourselves in front of it. The creators of TV and other video entertainments are masters at grabbing and holding our attention.

Video games, on the contrary, despite their dubious and often violent content, do require active attention, an intentional and ongoing engagement. But they also have an element of drawing your attention to their action, as do some other, similar situations, such as listening to a lecture or a speech.

One way to come toward a pure exercise of attention is through various meditation practices. A prime style for this, taught in Buddhist circles, is following your breath. Among the breath-following meditations, the one that focuses on the nostrils and upper lip is perhaps the most effective for training and stabilizing our attention.

Sit quietly and comfortably relaxed, though upright. Put your attention on the sensations your breath makes on your nostrils and upper lip. Count the exhalations 1 to 10 and then begin again at 1. Continue the counting the breaths in that way. Keep the counting in the background, while the foreground of your attention stays in contact with the sensations of the breath at the nostrils and upper lip. Keep your attention focused to just that area, as the breath passes back and forth.

The associated counting helps ensure that you remain focused. On the first breath, count 1 gently in your mind, when you exhale. On the second breath, count 2. And so on to 10. Then start again at 1. Each breath is natural, unforced. Let your breath set its own pace and length. Do not drive the breath with your counting. Let the breath drive the counting. When you lose the count, simply and immediately upon noticing that loss return to the breath and the count beginning at 1. In a given meditation session, once you reach the state of having been with the breath for an unbroken 5 or 6 cycles of 10 breaths, you can drop the counting and just stay with the breath sensations or move on to the next part of your meditation practice.

As an intermediate step toward inhabiting your attention, you can at this point work to keep your attention steady and stable, unwavering moment-to-moment. Remain relaxed while doing this. Hold your attention there on your breath.

Now, go all in with your attention. In fact, become your attention, be your attention. You may discover that this comes naturally, because you are your attention. You are not your thoughts, not your emotions, not your body, and not your awareness. You are your attention.

The practice of inhabiting your attention is to be there in it, to ride it, to be it, to stay with it. Wherever you look, there you are. Whatever you listen to, there you are. Whatever you do with intention and attention, there you are. You no longer need to look for yourself, because you are the one who is looking, you are the looking.

For this week, please practice inhabiting your attention.


     

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