Sunday, November 18, 2012

What is Attention?

The word attention originally derives from the Latin attendere; and etymological sources generally agree that this word means to stretch; in other words, to reach for.

 So attention is to reach toward something; to attempt to come into relationship with it. One does not reach for what one already has; reaching is an effort at contact. So we can say that our attention is an effort at contact.

But what contact? What are we reaching for, in ourselves, in our lives?

Men can reach for any number of abstract concepts, and this is what ideology and philosophy are based on — reaching for that which appears to be desirable, but which has not been attained or obtained yet.

Notice that I say that which has not been obtained or attained. Built into the idea of reaching, of applying and attention, is the idea that I understand I am missing something. That I lack something. And here I come immediately to Jeanne de Salzmann's idea that I must see my lack. Before I begin to have a wish for attention, in other words, I have to see that I am missing something. And it's not just the attention — the action that is necessary — that I am lacking. To go further into the question, ultimately, I am lacking the relationship that the action brings. So attention expresses a wish for relationship. To come into relationship — but, again, with what?

 I don't question this. I could be pressing up against the present moment at every moment asking myself where I am, but I'm not.

Reality, in the psyche and experience of human beings, is always expressed in the present moment. So our wish must be to come into the present moment, and be in relationship with it. That could mean any number of things; being in relationship with some present moments is not a pleasant experience. So I turn away. In fact, being in relationship with the present moment is, in general, not so interesting when compared to my recriminations of the past and fantasies of the future; so I retreat to my dreams, where things quite paradoxically seem more real to me than the present moment.

I could be reaching towards reality, but I don't want to be bothered.

It's a koan; why do I retreat from the present moment? Why do I prefer imagination? I have to reach towards the present to be in relationship with it; it's not a natural action in my usual state. This, too, is a question I have to ask. Why does it take an effort to be in the present moment, something that is freely offered and immediately available?

There are a lot of explanations for this. Perhaps I don't need to worry so much about the explanations. They end up becoming distractions and formulas. The organic experience of where I am and what I am doing— stretching towards something in the moment, engaging in an action that reaches towards the present from within me — this is an action of the inner, reaching towards the outer. It isn't the outer, bludgeoning the inner — which is how life is usually arranged in me.

When I say I have an attention, do I understand that it means I am reaching toward something — that it must come, actually, from feeling and from my wish,  and that it must also arise organically ( and quite naturally) in my body, not from some intellectual muscle I am flexing?

 I'm not sure I understand these things. I mean, I formulate them well. And I encounter the question constantly in life. It is there in every moment. So perhaps that's a beginning.

But there are moments when it becomes quite clear that a different kind of clarity is possible — one that has freedom, but isn't attached to my formulations, and where a dropping off takes place. A dropping off of my attitudes; a dropping off of what I think I am, which is replaced by a certain kind of emptiness that just receives what is, instead of being what I think I am.

 I respectfully hope you will take good care.

1 comment:

  1. As I explored the etymology of the Latin word 'attendere', I found meanings of (turn, stretch towards; apply) as derived from the Latin word 'tendere' (to stretch; pitch tent, encamp; pull tight; stretch, spread, extend) which was derived from the Proto-Indo-European root '*ten' (to extend, stretch, span). So, 'stretch' as the meaning only seems to embrace part of what is included in the etymology. I've been more interested in 'spread' and 'extend' as meanings that help me understand what 'attention' might mean for us.

    I have long thought of 'attention' as meaning the direction of one's energy. So, one can stretch, spread or extend (or direct) one's energy towards whatever one is interested in. Or, as Gurdjieff pointed out, one's attention (energy) can be attracted - and often is - by whatever "wants" one's energy, so one (one's energy) becomes captivated by whatever has grabbed it.

    Also, attention is not always extended towards something one wishes to acquire. Often attention is directed towards something one already has, or is experiencing, with an intention (conscious or unconscious) to push it away; reject it.

    Whatever the case, to 'pay attention' means to invest one's energy in something. As with any financial investment, there may or may not be a payback for one's investment: energy may be drained away, resulting in a loss of invested energy, or energy may be returned, perhaps even manyfold, resulting in breaking even or even profiting from one's investment.

    The high ideal would be, of course, to be able to invest consciously and with wisdom such that one would nearly always realize a profit. :-)


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