Saturday, March 30, 2013

The quality of attention and intention

 Swedenborg frequently talks about intention and discrimination. And in fact, he means, quite exactly, intention and attention. But he uses a different word for attention; he says, discrimination.

Why does he do that?

To attend means to apply one's mind to. The mind is not idle. It is active. It is pointed in a particular direct, it has a quality.

 In action, the mind cannot possibly be indiscriminate. The act of perception itself is an act of discrimination, because to see is to observe the parts of things. If there is only one thing (and there never is, there are always an infinity of things) then the mind has no work to do, because there is just one thing, one sees it, and that's that. But this is not how it is, and we can see this even in ordinary life. Constantly and forever, awake or asleep, the mind and the attention are at work, and the work is one of discrimination.

If we do not discriminate with attention, nothing can take place. Already, attention discriminates between right action and wrong action; between working and not working. So attention and discrimination are unavoidably connected, and basically exist as parts of the same action. This is because consciousness has parts, as well: attention is the moving part of consciousness, and discrimination is the intelligent part. There is, of course, an emotional part as well, and we call that feeling.

Attention is not a solo act.

 So we have attention, discrimination, and feeling — taken together, if they are all present, this is what constitutes consciousness. Swedenborg, because he was a scientist (and one of extraordinary skill, especially in neurology) was particularly interested in the discriminating part of consciousness, which works (or at least it ought to) precisely in conjunction with attention. But my point here is that he understood the idea about intention and attention in much the same way as Gurdjieff, and consistently presented these two qualities as the necessary elements in man for Being. The teachings are the same, if one understands them properly. This is not just the case with attention and intention, but also with almost all of the other material he presents.

Attention is needed as a tool; there is much talk about being nonjudgmental, indiscriminate, or indifferent if one is in a so-called "higher" state, but all of these words are understood from the ordinary mind, and the conception of them is in fact quite wrong because of this.  I'm sure many will want to argue about this; I have had such arguments. These concepts just exists as labels that people stick on what they think spirituality is, based on limited experience. In point of fact, they are nearly useless in understanding the question.

In fact, a spiritualized state (this is what Swedenborg would have called it) is exquisitely discriminating, and it discriminates between the false and the true, the evil and the good. That is the whole point of a higher level of Being, that it has the capacity to understand these things clearly, instead of getting them consistently confused, as we do on our level. The action of discrimination is, in other words, essential. There is no use in having an attention if there is no discrimination to accompany it. Intelligence — real intelligence, not intellect — is not indifferent.

It is insightful.

If this sounds philosophical, why don't you try this. When you are browsing the web and looking at the list of news stories, take a look at what you are drawn to. Take a look at all of the headlines that are presented. How many of them are nothing more than pornographic exposés of the misdeeds, misery, and suffering of other people?

What purpose does this serve? And why are we drawn to it? We have no real power of discrimination; we keep selecting impressions that are bad ones to take into ourselves. This is done not only automatically, but, frequently, deliberately.

A real intelligence, a real attention, a real discrimination, and a real feeling would not do this kind of thing, because it soils the inner being. Yet all of us are, to one extent or another, subject to this action, because such influences in society are—due to an indiscriminate media—very powerful right now. If I want to resist this, I have to bring a part of myself to the action that is more conscious, and say no.  I have to be aware of the action of these things on my inner life, and discriminate by refusing them.

That's not always possible; yet this idea of attention and discrimination and feeling all go together, and must become a living thing if I want to purify my intention and turn it towards a higher service.

 May your soul be filled with light.

1 comment:

  1. Also Swedenborg was a metallurgist, and just like Isaac Newton, was in charge of the nation's mint.

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