Thursday, April 10, 2008

Inner and Outer attentions


Occasionally, in our work, we may discover that there is a much finer set of substances present within us than what we ordinarily encounter in our lives.

That can happen anytime. It does not have to happen when we are meditating, or doing movements, or in some special set of conditions artificially designed to make that more possible. It could happen when we are lying in bed in the morning. It could happen when we are doing the dishes. But whenever it happens, there is one unmistakable fact:

this is not an ordinary experience.

The kind of awe, exuberance, satisfaction, or joy that we derive from encountering a spectacular sight or hearing an amazing piece of music has little or nothing to do with this kind of impression. It's not about feeling great. I'm speaking here of an impression of something that comes from a place other than the external.

Please don't get me wrong. Taking in an external impression in the right way is an excellent thing. If the right substances are active in us, that can stimulate an extraordinary response in the inner senses. But without a primary sensitivity within the inner senses, without a willingness to discover, and then be in relationship with, this "something much finer", that isn't possible. In this work, everything has to begin on the inside, in a certain sense.

I've spoken many times about trying to develop a sensitivity to this, about attempting to really turn the attention inward towards the parts, to see them individually, to sense them from within themselves, to see what they eat, how they are fed, how one can become more open to feeding them. This requires a new kind of inner, not outer, attention.

I bring this up because I am not sure we discriminate between these two kinds of attention very effectively. When we use the word attention, we constantly associate it with our attention to the outer. But if it does not begin with an attention to the inner, a cultivation of the inner, our attention to the outer, no matter how developed it may be, eventually collapses. The tree of our life has to develop its organs of sensation from water and minerals drawn up through the roots of our being, before it ever spreads its leaves to receive the sunlight.

After studying this question for a number of years, I still believe that the chief lack in our collective work is in a failure to understand this particular question, to discriminate between the different kinds of attention that are possible within us, and to understand better what kind of effort is needed in terms of what is called "conscious labor" and "intentional suffering." These two acts of being-duty are to be primarily understood as actions within the self, for the self, and not actions that are undertaken in relationship to outside forces or circumstances.

Unfortunately, we all relentlessly attempt to understand our work externally, and psychologically. In a sense, it would be good for all of us if it were possible to actually just turn the thinking part off with a switch, to shut it down, so that it stopped interfering with the work of the other two parts. It is so active that it behaves like a whirlpool, sucking everything that happens down into its vortex, and it consequently makes a very great mess of things,

Gurdjieff speaks at the end of the chapter "Purgatory" about the absolute need to ingest the second and third being foods consciously. This, too, is an inner act that can only be understood with the work of the inner attention, and that is not something we can think about. It is an action we must undertake that is better understood with the tools of sensation and emotion than anything the mind can bring to it.

So why is this generally so difficult?

All of us labor under a rigid set of planetary laws that have their own requirements. The Earth and the solar system mercilessly extract what they need from mankind, just as they do every other organism. Because we exist in a state of sleep, the extraction takes place without our knowledge or participation. As such, we are enslaved by the planetary conditions we are under. The wise man, knowing this, reserves his effort for what is possible, when it is possible, because to try things at other times is almost useless and may even lead to despair.

I don't mean to sound overly dramatic in that last line, but one sees so many otherwise intelligent people who eventually begin to believe that inner development is impossible, and give up. One is almost better off with the stupid naïveté of an innocent in an ordinary faith than with these developed "brains of the Western world," which render us so top-heavy that our work falls over under the weight of our own ideas.

Don't give up. It is possible to discover an inner attention, but it won't be what you expect. It won't feel like you expected it to feel, and you won't react to it the way you expect to react.

That's okay, however; as what arrives enters us, we should just relax, and be gentle and easy within this life--both to ourselves, and others.

That's quite enough to bring a taste of love to the lips, and the soul to the point where our cup runneth over.

May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.

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