Attention

“[T]he power to alter the structure of human life, inwardly as well as outwardly, does not reside in partial function of the psyche. Only that function which can be in actual relationship, actual contact, with all the parts of the self has the possibility of altering the self, or as serving as the channel which has the force that can alter the whole of the self. That function [is identified] as the power of gathered attention, the power of the soul.”

– Jacob Needleman, Lost Christianity

 

It is useful to study and observe the state of attention in oneself and where it waxes and wanes in different situations. Attention is a powerful life force, an energy that can be directed but seldom is. The Work defines three levels of attention:

 

  1. Zero attention, where asleep in life, there is no consciousness behind our attention. Like machines, we simply move through life mechanically with no conscious attention on what is before us or what is happening within us. Zero attention belongs to the most mechanical part of the centers.
  2. Attracted attention, where there is some emotional connection or an awakened desire to what we are attending. This is where we begin to “pay” with our attention; some level of will is involved, at least to keep out distractions. This level belongs to the emotional part of the centers.
  3. Directed attention, which involves a great level of sustained and focused energy to keep the attention awake and pointed in one direction. The “payment” of attention, directed by effort and the engagement of the will, is significant. This level belongs to the intellectual or most inner part of the centers. John Fuchs describes it this way: “Focused, directed attention allows me to hear what my centers tell me, to see myself and my problems objectively as possible, uninfluenced by imagination or even the teaching. It can reveal the I which I am at the moment, cutting through the illusions that I have of myself. It allows me to produce the total inner quietness needed for the transformation of what I am into what I wish to be, for reaching a higher state. I see attention as force which gathers and focuses some of my scattered energies into one place, like a laser beam, or a magnifying lens focuses light. Attention can also be a force which helps create and increase the energy I need to carry out a task or project … Attention helps me to differentiate between thoughts, thinking and feeling.  Realize how very valuable this is, for so often we use our intellectual center when the solutions lies in our feelings. How often are we carried away by the emotions when clear intellect is needed. Attention is the ray which cuts through the cobwebs obscuring my path and shows me the kind of energy to use – intellectual, emotional or physical.” (Forty Years After Gurdjieff)

 

There is an even deeper level of attention where the subject-object dichotomy drops away into pure being.  But the starting point is to simply self-observe the state of attention at any given moment.

 

“You must try to be … conscious of all three foods [food, air, impressions] as often during the day as you can – on your own level of being. I sense my body when I set the breakfast table. In fact, I am aware of all my senses, aware of my hands holding the coffee cup, aware of the warmth of it, of the aromas of the coffee, tasting the deliciousness of it. I hear the bubbling sounds of water boiling and look at the room, seeing it in a different way. It becomes three-dimensional; furniture, pictures, the carpet, all appear as if I had never seen them before.  I feel, I see, I smell, I taste, because I am aware, awake, and I realize by contrast how often I am asleep to all this, when my attention is not gathered.”

– John Fuchs, Forty Years After Gurdjieff: A Guide to Practical Work