As we keep at it, year after year, what else could we do to increase the power of our attention? First of all, from an Intellectual Center point of view, it is crystal clear why it is so important for us to pay attention and be present -- or do I need to go over this again?
Could you go over this again, please?
Right. I can think of five reasons. Let's spell them out:
1) Fundamental Pillars. As we've seen repeatedly, attention and presence are the foundations of most spiritual practices throughout the world. All the great religions of this world advocate their practice as captured in the admonition of Christ to his disciples, "Watch ye therefore: for ye know not when the master of the house cometh..., lest... he find you sleeping." (Mark 13:35-36), or that of Buddhism and its emphasis on Mindfulness.
2) Bases for Self-Observation. Attention and presence are the only means that will enable us to observe what is taking place both within and outside of us and in so doing, unearth and expose our innumerable 'I's. Gurdjieff once said in this regard: "There is no attention in people. You must aim to acquire this. Self-obsevation is only possible after acquiring attention."
3) Achieve Our Aim. They are the only means we have as we struggle to reach our ultimate goal of self-division and self-remembering on a continuous basis, and ultimately, develop a permanent I, True Will, and the ability to transform ourselves.
4) Behave Consciously. It is the only way we will manage to truly act instead of spending a lifetime reacting to our various conditionings. Attention and prescence represent our only safeguards against the inevitable mechanical identifications, distractions and seductions that lie ahead of us.
5) Transformation. And most importantly, they represent the only means to truly change and transform ourselves. Only by placing attention relentlessly and steadfastly on our machine will the latter eventually give up and loosen itself of its mechanicalness. A focused and yet relaxed attention will help us gather our energies and climb peaks of consciousness that we never knew existed as we reach our higher centers.
What are the steps involved?
First of all, let us accumulate as much knowledge as we can about what being attentive and present mean. Here are the most common characteristics of Attention. Please ensure that you remember them.
Characteristics of Attention
- It consists mainly of three types. In line with Gurdjieff's teachings, Nicoll distinguished between three types of attention. He said once: "Attention is of three kinds: (1) Zero-attention, which characterizes the mechanical division of centers; (2) attention that does not require effort, but is attracted and needs only the keeping out of irrelevant things; (3) attention that must be directed by effort and will." We are mostly concerned with this third kind.
- Triggered by interest. Attention is triggered by our interest. Once we become interested in something, for example, watching our child play tennis, we become attentive to it. Without this intitial interest, there cannot be attention.
- It helps us to sense ourselves. Attention helps us determine which center and which part of which center we are using. If a task requires little or no attention, we are in the mechanical part. For example, when we drive our car effortlessly, the mechanical part of our Moving Center is operating. When our attention is held by what we are doing, for example, when we are interested, excited or captivated by a movie or football match, we are using the emotional part of our Intellectual Center. And when we hold and direct our attention with effort and will on whatever we are thinking, feeling, or doing, we are using the intellectual parts of our Intellectual, Emotional, and Moving Centers respectively. As we operate mostly in the mechanical parts of our various centers (and for activities like driving that is indeed wholly appropriate), do you understand why, on the whole, we make so little use of Attention as a tool and, as a result, are so asleep and incapable of observing ourselves?
- On and Off. As you rightly observed earlier on, attention is seldom permanent but has an 'on and off' button. It digresses and wanders off very easily. At the beginning of the self-mastery process, we soon discover, much to our frustration, that our attention is drawn automatically to something, be it an association, a moving object, a loud noise, or something someone said. Most of the time, we cannot hold our attention. It is drawn in a particular direction and is not directed. And in the process we waste much precious energy.
- Like a Muscle. Finally, attention is like a muscle. As we have said before, the more you use it, the more it develops. Initially, it may require much energy to keep its flame alight and this in turn may feel too tiring at times. But if we keep at it, constantly reminding ourselves of both our aims and goals, our 'muscle' gets stronger and it becomes easier to flex it. Gurdjieff once advised: "To achieve this aim [of self-obsevation], you must try and try. When you try, the result will not be, in the true sense, self-observation. But trying will strengthen your attention; you will learn to concentrate better. And this will be useful later. Only then can one begin to remember oneself."