Sunday, March 23, 2008

Divided Attention

As our machine moves through its life, it acts as it has been taught and shown. We learned early on to allow our attention to flow out carelessly and attach itself to any object that presents itself before us. Toys, food, people, flowers, the sky, the sun, a mountain, a little finger… we look, we feel, we smell and we attach our attention momentarily. The movement is outwards. Even if we look at images inside our mind: day dreams, visions, regular dreams, sexual fantasies, future projections, fears. In all of these, something within us is looking out, out onto the relentless and never ending theater inside our mind. It may move around. It may move from a plant that is physically in front of us to a plant that it saw when we were only 5. It may move from the person that stands before us smiling to the smile of our mother when we were 12. But it always moves out.
We must learn to turn the attention around towards us, towards the center of the flow, towards the source. Try it right now. Where you sit. Close your eyes and look inwards. Look at all the thoughts crowding around, ready to steal your effort. Look at so many desires, wishes, fear, anxieties. Try to look past all of them and stare at the source of attention. Take a deep breath. Do it again. Take another deep breath. Do it one more time.
You may feel as if you have just stepped into a room where someone is naked and thought they were alone. You may feel that you are doing something that is inherently wrong. And it is "wrong". Only in the sense that it goes against everything that happens in ordinary life. In ordinary human life, you may always look out… comment on the state of things, say which things you like and dislike, say what is bothering you at the moment, say what is funny or not funny, say what is acceptable and unacceptable, express yourself in a thousand ways… but don’t look at the "Being behind the curtain". Allow it to remain undisturbed.
But if we undertake the task of waking up our machines, we must disturb ourselves to the very core, to the very root of our attention, the very center of our existence. There is no way of avoiding that. Anything short of that is what has been called "imaginary work". You may play at "spiritual work", put your body in extreme positions, work on your psychic abilities, do intense breathing exercises, endure extreme karmic sacrifices… but it will all be for nothing, it will all be imaginary if you don’t look inside while you do it.
This is not something that is to be done once and "learned". It is not done to discover some secret about yourself and then step away satisfied that you have done your work. It is not done in order to achieve a state of "peace" and then be able to relax. This is something that you will have to do, over and over, forever… for as long as you wish to work.
The work of looking inside, of allowing your attention to flow into your center, has been called "self-remembering" (and it is important to make a slight but clear distinction between this and "self observation"). When should you do this? Anytime you become aware enough to realize that you are not doing it. The more often you do it, the easier it becomes. The less you do it, the harder it becomes. If you do it often enough, it may start to happen without any thought process at all, in the midst of stressful activity, in the midst of dreams. Don’t be concerned about what you see or what you may find in there. Simply allow your attention to flow inside.
At first you may attempt to do this only sitting quietly with your eyes closed. But this is very limiting. You have to be able to do this in any situation, no matter where you are or who you are with. So you need to be able to divide your attention. In other words, one part of your attention flows out (to make sure you walk without bumping into things, to continue the conversation you are having with your friend, to ensure you don’t drive off the road, to perceive the beauty of a piece of art) but another part of your attention flows inwards. That means that you have to be able to cut your attention in half or in three or more parts. This, in itself, is a skill that must be practiced and learned.
As you practice, visualize your attention as a constant flow of energy that emerges from your core. As you visualize it, you can see it splitting into different rays. You can place one ray on a book. You can place one ray on a piece of paper. You can place one ray on the music coming out of the speakers. And always save one precious ray of attention to turn inwards and place it directly on your self, your true Self, your hidden infinitely watchful Being.

Divided Attention Experiment
You will need three vases. These may be borrowed or purchased from a thrift store.Sit down with your vases. Arrange them so that there is ample space between each one and they are all within your field of vision.Take three deep breaths. Make the effort to be wholly present. Place your attention on one of the vases. Look at this vase and pour yourself into it. After a few moments, move your eyes to the second vase, but keep part of your attention on the first vase. Divide your attention between the two vases while looking at only the second vase.Slowly move your gaze to the third vase. Keep part of your attention on both the second and the first vase while placing attention on the third as well. Maintain this balance for a few moments. Then move your gaze back to the second vase. Withdraw your attention from the third vase while maintaining the connection with the second and the first. Hold this for a few minutes.Now withdraw your attention from the second vase and place your gaze and full attention back on the first.Hold it for a few minutes, then draw the attention back into yourself.Feel yourself as fully present and take three deep breaths.

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