First, notice that self-observation begins with establishing Observing I in our inner world. This means that no matter what is occurring external to us, there is a quality or capacity each of us can cultivate that observes, that pays attention. This "I" or function in us is the function of attention. It seems that Observing I runs on the fuel or energy of our conscious attention, as well as our activation of intention and aims.
Second, notice that this quality of attention is not identified with what it is observing or giving its attention to. This is a unique and key aspect of self-observation in the Work. We give our attention to what we are noticing and observing from a neutral place: simply observing, simply attending to what is, without self-criticism, negativity, or commentary toward someone else or something that is occurring or what we are perceiving.
Perhaps this is what makes self-observation challenging for us. It requires effort not to become identified. And so, for a long time in the Work, our non-critical self-observation and moments of attention are short in duration. But in time we cultivate a capacity – we build an accumulator within to self-observe non-critically, and without negativity for longer periods of time. Such equanimity and non-reactivity take time to arise as a fruit of our inner Work.
Third, "it" and you are not the same. Whatever "it" may be that we are self-observing, noticing or giving our attention to is not I. "It" is not you. And "it" is certainly not all of you, or the totality of what you are; nor what your destiny or possibilities are. You are more than what you are observing. Others are more than what you observe of them. Perhaps the key phrase related to this practice is that unless we divide ourselves into two we cannot change.
The division is between what we give our attention to and what is attending – between what we self-observe and what is doing the self-observation. You – the you that is awake and watching – is in there. And you are not what you are observing, internally or externally. This distinction, this separation of "I" and "not-I," observing and observed, can be a source of profound psychological and spiritual human freedom and power, especially for the oppressed and suffering. Let's explore this idea further, with specific key phrases, applied to specific events that arise in life and awareness.
Being Present, in a Non-Critical Way, to Whatever is Arising
One way we do this is by using these phrases. Feel free to fill in the blank.
This ____ is not I.
This is called ____.
So, for example:
This mood, event or situation is not I.
This is called receiving difficult news.
This is called seeing something that triggers desire.
This is called feeling a powerful emotion.
As we practice doing this, little by little, we begin to understand ourselves better and this self-knowledge informs us in new ways as we move through life. The effort of Work in this way builds a capacity to live more non-identified with what we observe and give our attention to.
Attention is the Root of Attending
A further nuance of the practice of attention is found in the root word "tend," as in giving care to someone or something, such as attending to, or caring for a plant or pet.
Attention can be an expression of care. We can give our attention to the ideas of the Work. To our children and/or grandchildren. To the care of others. To the needs of a situation. All of this is a way of using our attention in consciously-chosen ways.
Attention can also be an expression of avoidance or distraction. Think TV. Drink. Food. Novels. When we give our attention to the surface things that distract us, that disorientate our center, that keep us asleep and mechanical in outer parts of centers, we often discover that we are wasting our attention on activities or pursuits that willingly "eat" our attention and give us little life-giving energy or force in return. They may be harmless or even good things – but still, our attention is being used without our conscious intention.
It appears that human beings are free to give our attention to anything, but it is useful to realize that our life goes where we are gazing. There is always payment for how we use our attention. If our attention is scattered and distracted, given to surface pleasures, or consumed by what Thomas Keating terms our particular programs for happiness, over time, we may find ourselves increasingly feeling empty, lost or exhausted. Such pursuits are like parasites feasting on our attention. This may prompt us to seek a higher or deeper use of our attention. Indeed, magnetic center may draw someone's attention to Work ideas or a spiritual community.
If you wish to discover what someone loves, notice what they give their attention to. We give our attention to what we love. This can be very beautiful and meaningful – especially because we care for what we attend to. Tending is a conscious expression and manifestation of our attention. When we attend, we often tend. When we attend, we care. When we use our attention to attend to someone or something, we can demonstrate conscious love.
As we attend to the Work and its practices and ideas, we may discover that we begin to love the Work. We begin to love the spiritual journey. We begin to will this Work not out of duty, but out of love. And this love propels us to give more of our attention to the Work, for our self, for others and for the Work itself (the three lines of the Work). And the Work reciprocates and comes to meet us. And we begin to be able to love God and others. The desire to love is irresistible, as we learn to live and move from presence, to love each other with all our particularities and difficulties.
Attention and the Body
Mr. Gurdjieff's Movements are an example of the union of attention and three-centered embodied movement. Each posture, each gesture, each sensing help bring one's attention into a deepened awareness and connection with the body – a deeper inhabiting of our being-body. We might even say incarnating the truth of being by way of movement. Breath, posture, movement, are all related to this and help us to be more awake in our bodies, with a deep attentiveness to presence
Attention to our body or another's body can also be a trigger for negative emotions such as shame, self-criticism, or lust. Paradoxically, if we are not paying attention, attention can get hijacked. This is a process one needs to observe and self-study. Notice how your attention relates to your body or other bodies.
Attending to our bodies, being present in our bodies, feeling our bodies are each neurological and emotional practices that support being balanced and help maintain emotional homeostasis. Some of the practices we learned in dealing with traumas help us attend to our bodies: placing our hand upon our heart; placing our tongue on the upper soft pallet of our mouth; splashing cold water on our face; walking barefoot on the earth. Such practices help us attend to our being-bodies and awaken our embodied attention. The Movements and exercises – and all our Work -- also help us to build the energetic capacity to open to higher centers and to be a bridge to imaginal realms and the conscious circle of beings. Thus, the leverage of our conscious participation and energy transmission is increased.
Attention and the End of the Spiritual Journey
Having said all that, our email would be incomplete without acknowledging that ultimately all our practices of attention are in service to the phase or experience of dying to self, or realizing our life is "hidden in Christ with God" (Colossians 3:3).
If we can say it like this, let the listener be wise: as we mature in Christ, our intention increasingly is in total service to letting go of our personal attention as a fixed point of reference -- in service to the observer abiding in the Center of Being, which we call Christ.
This Center is deeper than our personal attention or consciousness; deeper than that which our attention is attending to. As this deepening consent to the Center begins to happen on the spiritual journey, there can be moments and seasons where a most curious sensation arises in which one doesn't quite know where oneself ends, and God begins. Paraphrasing Jesus, at the end of his life:
Into thy Center goes this self and all its attention.
We are each invited to consent to this Center and its love and care for us. Amen.
- Begin each day with the intention to become more aware to what you are giving your attention.
- Notice how your attention is given to what you love. Notice how your attention avoids what you dislike.
- Practice tending to or caring for someone or something living, by giving your conscious, loving attention. Notice what it feels like. What do you sense in your body? What thoughts arise or dissolve? What do you observe occurs in the other to whom your care and attention is directed?
July Practice: Watering Plants
Tend to the living plants in your life, especially at dawn and dusk. Notice the water as the gift of life; speak words of affirmation and gratitude for this life that begets life and graces your life.
Attend The Journey School Thursday Class Tonight: All are encouraged and welcome to attend tonight's class for a review of these teachings and, importantly, to produce a container of beings seeking to be more conscious and whose efforts assist one another: 7:00 pm Central Time via Zoom only.
Click on this link and Zoom should open automatically on your laptop or
or open Zoom, click on Join Meeting and enter this meeting ID: 996-101-9778, passcode: CCH