Three crucial practices that awaken your super-powers of attention
I recently began a series of social media posts on the subject of attention. Navigating a series of quotes and contributions from diverse individuals such as Iain McGilchrist, William James, Lao Tzu, and Mary Oliver for example, I offered my insights, observations and reflections on how their wisdoms relate to my perspectives on the topic of attention. I wrote an article collecting all of these contemplations titled ‘Cultivating and Nurturing Attention’. A close friend of mine believes harnessing attention was the most critical of life skills that he taught his daughter to develop more than ten years ago. He has since witnessed her frequently exercise this super power, to guide her life towards flourishing young adulthood. Similarly I believe personal mastery through attending to attention, is possibly the most essential personal leadership capacity in these destructive times.
Before reading this article fully it is useful to orientate oneself within such an immense topic. To enable this to happen I have formulated some navigational questions that call for a less common engagement in the subject matter. Formulating a question is not just an expression of curiosity and interest, it can be said to be indicative of not already knowing, also of openness and willingness to learn. Opening the mind then can lead to changing the heart, changing the heart shifts relationships, and changes in relationships are the beginning of changing the world. These types of crucial questions are primary motivators of life at its core and as such, are essentially existential and generative in nature. Formulate your own or ponder upon the following navigational questions for this article;
- What are the ways or skilful means that orientate you, towards the breadth, depth, scale and scope of this phenomena?
- What attentional practices followed through consistently, make the greatest difference to the depth to which you experience and relate to self, others and the world?
- What are the ways you may take this phenomena for granted and undervalue it as irrelevant or not important?
- How does your ability to pay attention function, under pressure when in torment, or even when dissolving into ecstasy?
- What distracts you from committing yourself to focus on and commit to what is most important in your life?
- What habits ofattention prevent you from engaging in the most meaningful, significant and visceral opportunities to fully engage with life?
Practices that aid your super power of Attention
There is a radically powerful, even revolutionary tool method or perhaps non method, to open up your inner eyes and to optimise your super power of attention. What follows is an outline exploring the uncommon proposition that, employing the following simple yet powerful practices or postures over a substantial period of time, can play an ultra powerful role in elevating or awakening any practitioner’s super powers of attentiveness. I am using the terms practices or postures interchangeably throughout this article. I use practice in the commonplace meaning of the term, ‘the actual application or use of an idea, belief, or method, as opposed to theories relating to it’. When I use the term posture, I am indicating less a physical stance, more an attitude or disposition or a characteristic way of bearing or comporting oneself, when utilising any of the three core practices described below.
Background to the Three Practices
My many years of experience in adopting these postures/practices during extraordinary amounts of meditation and mindfulness sessions, have immeasurably enriched my whole relationship to life. I discovered deep trust in the life process, partly through extensively exploring the experiences, insights and travails as a result of this ongoing commitment. I have undergone a significant shift in consciousness, whereby the ground of all being or nothingness has become my before thought existential reference point. This helps me keep the daily struggles and challenges of living in a healthy, if not always buoyant, perspective. Hence this article’s title concerning awakening the superpowers of attention.
Postures are generally described in meditation guidance relating mostly to the physical position of the body when sitting in silence. Eastern meditative practices put a lot of emphasis on the position of the spine and head, sitting with crossed legs, the placing of the hands, as well as the angle of the chin and jaw. Assuming this physical posture of stillness is the first step towards pacifying the mind, to open the vehicle of the body to the possibility of silence. When beginning formal sitting meditation, to not give in to fidgeting, shuffling, or habitual random movement is the first essential step towards stilling the mind. Eventually through sincere practice it can become the posture or expression of the bold declaration, of an individual psyche ; ‘I commit to stillness above all else when engaging in all meditation or mindfulness practices.’
Much less is written, however, about the inner posture related to meditation which much of this article focuses upon. Meditation or mindfulness practices employ a technique or focus to occupy the mind. Faithful and diligent practitioners can at least achieve a degree of mastery that enables them to let go temporarily at least, of the relentless common anxieties, fears and depressions that plague most waking minds. These practises offer a central focus, in order to occupy the mind, so the necessity to assume an inner posture, is far less prominently explained or necessary, according to my research on the subject. Meditations with a focussing object, process or technique, are commonly known as those with a seed. The seed being an object, process or technique which is used as a point of attention, on which to focus and to still the mind. This might be a candle, the breath, a chant, the body, all of which are means whereby the mind can be trained, through returning attention or focus to one of these singular objects. Sincere practitioners understand that returning their attention to the object(s) on which they choose to focus, is the means whereby, occasionally and some point more predictably, the mind will slow down and get stiller and possibly reveal the deeper layers or roots of consciousness itself. Most of this article relates to those practices without a seed, those which offer or recommend no specific object or process on which to focus, or to practice attentiveness.
Introducing the three crucial practices
The substance of this article is based on my 15 years of intensive practice of a very specific form of meditation within a very dedicated spiritual community. It could be said to be a practice mostly without form or seed, enabling greater possibility, formlessness or nothingness to arise fully into consciousness. Focussing on nothing is undoubtedly a more arduous and challenging practice, but can directly awaken the practitioner’s superpowers of attention. This is a superhighway or if you like a hyperlink, to an awakening to that which lies beyond all concepts, that which transcends thought, feeling and experience. One could argue that this portal to awakening the superpower of human attention, could be said to be an attitude, a posture or disposition in relationship to the entirety of human experience. I propose the capacity to awaken this superpower relies on three apparently simple but crucial dispositions, to be still, to be at ease and to pay attention. What follows below is less to explain why this is the case, but to provide indicators, metaphors and hints, through descriptive writing, indicating what can be sourced through these three radically elegant liberatory practices.
Once the choice to use these crucial practices has been made it could lead to the mind-altering stupendously profound fact, that the act of intentionally choosing to still the body, mind and psyche, to decide to be at ease with whatever manifests as the contents of consciousness and to solely pay attention to the ebb and flow of the mind, without needing to add absolutely anything else, is the beginning of optimising and awakening one’s superpowers of attention. Which is to begin to experience a little of the full extent and range when activating these superpowers of attention.
These three practices of stillness, ease and alertness or paying attention, are the foundations for arguably the most powerful form of attentiveness training, when practised sincerely and with an open heart. As mentioned I also see this type of awakening of attention as an opening, in some sense to the source of all wakefulness.That this non grasping embrace of whatever and whatsoever occurs or arises in consciousness, grounded in a steadfast commitment, to be still, to be at ease and to pay attention, is to put into practice an awakening to the ground of all being that which is prior to all of experience. So to assume that these super powers produce a specific flavour, attribute or manifestation, is to equate this panoramic knowingness, this attentiveness to a thing, a feeling, a thought or specific sensation, something other than the simplicity of wakefulness itself. This understandable reflex, the need to feel, perceive or experience some-thing, inevitably diminishes the enormity of the primordial ground or source which, by assuming the postures of stillness, ease of unconditional attention, is invited into manifestation. If the reader is having some trouble accepting my proposition, it may be because they already have cognised, some externalised presupposition, indicator or measurement of what they think the expression and arising of the super power of attention might really be.
This evaluative function of the critical brain is exactly that which must fall into the background to allow the full power of these timeless capacities to surface, to fully manifest clearly and totally. It is the unutterable pure profundity of immediately assuming the condition or posture of one’s own or anyone’s true nature, the supreme never changing, yet always different, ultimacy that is accessed simply through stillness, ease of being and paying attention. These to me are the eternal never changing core conditions of super powers of conscious awareness. What follows are reflections and contemplations on these three distinct postures, portals or oscillations to awaken the superpower of attention.
The First or Practice or Superpower — Committing to Stillness
To focus on stillness is to orient everyday awareness towards the instinctual source, the primal origin of all experience and to invite it to enter into the human psyche. To become physically still is to consciously commit to something that is not exclusively of the mind, to dissemble, slightly, from the tumultuous never ending onslaught of thoughts and the ocean of emotions that accompany them. To sit immovable is to prioritise stillness, to firmly, never violently, make the existential statement, that I commit to discovering a reality that I will never fully know, understand or comprehend with my mind.
Physical stillness initiates a harmonic, invites a pattern of resonance to open up the psyche, to receptivity and willingness, for the whole play of existence to fly across the perceptive portal of conscious individual awareness. Whatever the internal undulations of experience are, whatever clouds and challenges might arise and pass away, this physical stillness holds and embodies the practitioner’s everlasting commitment to silence and unsurpassable peace, beyond whatever is moving or present in the aspirant’s life. To become truly still, fosters that recognition that everything else in existence is in play, in movement, that the whole of existence is in becoming, the restless never ending genesis of the universe is always moving.
To become physically still is to create an aperture, to slow down for the infinite, to enliven eternal witnessing, and detach from the momentum of relentless, habitual movement of the mind, body, and spirit. To offer oneself up to stillness, is to take a stand in being, to adopt an attitude of bearing witness to whatever may come, via the unstoppable, unarguable, incessant, momentum of mind, of feeling and of consciousness. To simply stop, to halt and experience that choice, is an invitation to unconditionally feel the effects of every kind of mental motion that transpires across the practitioner’s mind. Committing to stillness is to cast an ontological anchor that occasions the possibility of experiencing the far greater potential and majesty of everything that is not over everything that is. Prioritising stillness in a frantic manic world, that is damaging the planet beyond repair, is to strike an attitude that values and exalts the core essence of the always indivisible unbrokenness of life itself.
The Second or Practice or Superpower — Being fully at Ease
To practise ease of being is to acknowledge in the deepest heart of existence that there never was a problem. That there is an uncorrupted never born, never dead, core that lies at the heart of reality. To be at ease is to allow the raging, excruciating torment of the past, the present and potential future and give room for all of these experiences and their karmic residue, to inhabit the body to rage, to burn, to play out their compulsive dramas, then dwell and eventually ebb away. To practise being at ease in all places and all circumstances, is the path to expand the human’s ability to feel beyond it’s normally limited spectrum. To be at ease is to be humbled and blessed by the sheer extent and range of bliss, joy and the sublime, but also be confounded by the staggering span of wilful self-destructiveness, of hatred, cynicism and fear, that modern mental and emotional life can often be occupied with and savagely consumed by.
To be at ease is an energetic pattern, an invitation that honours, respects and creates awareness of the undisturbed, eternal, ever still, peaceful core that lies in the womb of all creation. To be at ease is to acknowledge, to appreciate and amplify the eternal and the timeless, the true nature of your original face. Practising ease of being is to live in greater consciousness of the unlimited extent of everything that IS and is not. Inhabiting the space of Ease of Being, is to make room for the full totality of experience, to explore, allow and accept whatever crosses the screen of the mind and to no longer feel compelled to act out of these often fictitious contents of consciousness. To be at ease is to be liberated from feeling victimised by any aspect of human emotional life and to allow the sweet, subtle, transparency of these energies to become vehicles to reveal and release the underlying luminosity that pervades all of experience.
The Third Practice or Superpower — Paying Attention
To be alert when practising this form of meditation, is to potentially be fully conscious and alive to all dimensions of existence, physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Recognising that paying attention is a wonderful gift and precious resource. Being alert, is to notice, to pinpoint, to become aware of apprehensions, apprehensions, revelations and insights, in relation to the lived experience of the world as it is happening and arising here and now. Being present to that marvellous ability to focus, a product of billions of years of sentience throughout all living systems, now in play as simply noticing, becoming conscious of consciousness, in any given moment. While growing in awareness of the absolute randomness and arbitrariness of conscious sentience, how unsolicited recollections or expectations, generated by any thought, feeling or sensation oscillate across the internal landscape of any given mind. Given the complexity of any human living system,there are zillions of bytes of data of this sort, which we may be responsive to in any living moment. Noticing is our north star amidst the chaos. It is a value free activity. Noticing passes no judgement, draws no conclusion, offers no evaluation and has no underlying conviction. It is an unconditional automatic core function of how consciousness or life operates.
Giving full range to liberate the function of noticing through stillness and ease of being, offers unrestricted access to the multidimensional possibilities of whatever might arise in the aspirant or practitioner’s mind. Paying attention to attention, brings awareness to the multiple fluctuations, perturbations and imaginations in the thought stream, of memories, of flashbacks, enduring sentiments, nostalgia, worries, anxieties, projections, fears, hopes, dreams, imaginations, wishes, longings, yearnings, desires, and filled and unfulfilled eroticisms. Thus the activities of such an unfettered psyche within this wide open frontier, where thought and perceptual streams veer wildly, are magnificently, massively beyond and out of the control, of any human individuals.
The emergence of these unfettered contents of consciousness afford some possibility of true adult developmental maturity beginning with a unique form of humility that co-arises when an individual is fully paying attention with ease in stillness. Easeful focus,with relaxed attention, is an expression of deep trust in all of existence. As in the almost uncontrollable mind, wanderings may especially unearth that which may not have been fully digested, repressed and submerged. Paying attention to nothing specific, to nothing in general, cultivates suppleness, and refrains from desiccating the practice of meditation into a technique, a mechanical repetitive habit, that drains the practice of paying full attention and therefore of its life-giving regenerative properties.
I hope the above three or four paragraphs open the reader to the radical and unique liberatory possibilities of the superpowers of stillness, ease and attention. Secular mindfulness, arguably a tool to compensate or neutralise the ubiquitous miseries of our age, is generally not taught as an emancipatory practice to wake up to and explore the deeper existential questions, that are the capstones of a potent life well lived. Similarly with meditations that use a specific focus for attention, the practices can become a crutch and a pacifier bypassing the challenges of questioning and or critiquing the current state of the world. The radical freedom, the independence of material world dependency and eternal buoyancy encompassed at the core of all human experience is a gift and privilege available to anyone who is dedicated to wholeheartedly practising stillness, ease of being and the liberation of nothingness, into a life full of all multiple known and unknown possibilities.
This collection is a series of a reflections, a learning journey if you will into the ubiquitous phenomena of Attention. If this theme appeals or attracts you, please interact with the shorter from social media posts on the following platforms my Twitter and slightly longer on my Facebook and Linked In accounts. There will possibly be me more articles in this series and masterclass on this topic in the spring
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About the author Dave Pendle; I am synthesising almost 30 years experience in non profit enterprises with over 40 years of deep personal development experience. Passionate about enabling others’ sense of fulfillment, impact and trust, to engage wholeheartedly with inspiration and commitment to 21st century work and life.