9. Cultivate Attention and Discernment (1)

“Life is religion. Life experiences reflect how one interacts with God. Those who are asleep are those of little faith in terms of their interaction with the creation. Some people think that the world exists for them to overcome or ignore or shut out. For those individuals, the worlds will cease. They will become exactly what they give to life. They will become merely a dream in the “past.” People who pay strict attention to objective reality right and left, become the reality of the ‘Future.'”

The Cassiopaea Experiment Transcripts, by Laura Knight-Jadczyk

Reading time: 18-20 mins

“Pay attention.”

A very familiar phrase. I don’t know about you, but this reminds of my school days when I certainly wasn’t paying attention for a lot of the time. I was either messing around at the back of the class or looking out of the window daydreaming.

Hardly surprising. School tends to encourage stress and dissociation plus all the frustrations and inattention that follows. Not that there aren’t some fine teachers about. But the concept of learning has gone so far from the joy and wonder it is meant to instil, that all who partake in this factory of disconnection can only end up blind.  When it extends into adulthood it acts as a fly-paper for a host of other problems – dissociation being one high on the list.

Children have a powerful ability to pay attention to their surroundings. Their “distraction” is a crucial part of developing sensory awareness and something we lose as we reach adulthood. Children actually notice and remember more through this total immersion which is developed through play, interaction and natural presence. [1]  By the time they reach formal schooling (i.e. indoctrination) children are force-fed what to think rather than how to think. Attention is directed to specific blocks of information created and formed by a consensus which is really just a form of hypnosis and entrainment and a product of distorted history and consequent perception management.

Filtration, fabrication and distortion form the education of our day, so it’s no wonder that young adult are feeling adrift after they graduate from such institutionalised propaganda. Thanks to this type of education, social media, a backdrop of content consumption and production there is, according to a recent study, a “…more rapid exhaustion of limited attention resources.” As a result, humanity’s collective attention span is getting shorter. [2]

Then we have the increasing automation of technology which is cutting jobs and laying waste to our ability to hold on to and develop new cognitive and practical skills to take us boldly into the future. There is an attention deficit but it is not restricted to the psychiatric label designed to market more drugs. We have a crisis of attention thus perception which has been going on for a long time.

At the most basic level, without attention, we would all be crashing our cars even more than we do already: burning our food to a crisp; sleeping in everyday; leaving the shower on all day or adding our number to the legion of people that die in accidents at home while attempting to “fix” things. A lack of attention and an overestimation of our knowledge can be a fatal combination.

Without paying attention we cannot simplify our life, give our lover pleasure, find our blind spots, control our emotions, or learn a new skill. Without paying attention we cannot define or uphold what we value. When values are absent knowing the difference between fact and fantasy is a tenuous proposition.

Attention not only matters it can determine whether we live or die, accept a truth or a clever lie. And these two pairings usually go together.

In other words, cultivating attention is a BIG deal.

So what is attention exactly?

The standard definition according to dictionary.com is: “…the act or faculty of attending, especially by directing the mind to an object.” And from a psychological perspective:
  1. a concentration of the mind on a single object or thought, especially one preferentially selected from a complex, with a view to limiting or clarifying receptivity by narrowing the range of stimuli.
  2. a state of consciousness characterized by such concentration.
  3. a capacity to maintain selective or sustained concentration.

So, concentration, (and therefore will) plays a big part, as does focusing in on a particular object that captures our attention in order to enhance it. Our brains can pay attention to something without us being aware that it’s there. [3]  So, our job is to to consciously strengthen our attention by being selective about what we choose to focus on. Since we are hopelessly subjective that seems to work best when get some real-time feedback through reliable exchange. Without exchange and interaction, our attention is limited in scope.

The process of fixing our full attention on something is fundamentally bi-directional, meaning it functions best from a feedback loop which occurs when you swap and compare maps of reality. By attending to the social clues in communication and the sharing of experience, the knowledge enriches the signal received from each. This means networking with like minds becomes imperative. Attention/awareness builds individually and within a group, if that group is an open feedback system rather than a closed one.

“Attention is psychic energy, and like physical energy, unless we allocate some part of it to the task at hand, no work gets done”

— Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

The limited capacity for attention and awareness is well-known. If someone needs to concentrate on an important task it is hoped that they will have the silence and psychic space to able to do so. But in our society, not only is that increasingly rare, but the focus of our attention is captured by what is unworthy of the little time we do have. An intense focus on a task can render all periphery influences null and void as though they don’t exist at all. If social engineering is always and forever re-directing our personal narratives with haituation, repetition, sensation and shock, when can we develop the ability to perceive who is doing the selecting and what narratives we are subconsciously absorbing?

In the 2011 book, The Invisible Gorilla Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons detail a startling experiment on the nature of memory and shows just how easily our intuition can trick us. In the experiment, the psychologists made a short video in which two teams passed basketballs to each other. One team wore white shirts, the other black. The viewers of the film were instructed the difficult task of counting the number of passes made by each of the respective white and black teams. About halfway through the video, a person in a gorilla suit appears for exactly 9 seconds. During that time, that “gorilla” thumps his chest for a bit and continues on. More than half of the viewers did not notice the gorilla until it was pointed out to them.

The video has been viewed by thousands on social media and the results are the same – people do not see the obvious and is shocking to realise that such a dramatic image just isn’t registered. The perceptual “blindness” is caused by the counting task and the instruction to ignore one of the teams. Without those two, no one has any trouble seeing the gorilla. Do the experiment for yourself – it is most unnerving and really brings it home just how selective our attention can be.  As psychologist Daniel Kahneman states: “The gorilla experiment demonstrates that some attention is needed for the surprising stimulus to be detected. Surprise then activates and orients your attention: you will stare, and you will search your memory for a story that makes sense of the surprising event.” And most importantly: “The gorilla study illustrates two important facts about our minds: we can be blind to the obvious, and we are also blind to our blindness.” [4]

More on this neurological and cultural blindness later on. Meatime, for anyone wishing to extricate themselves from this brainwashing-fest we call culture, we’ll need self-observe.

“The whole of the Work starts from a man beginning to observe himself. Self-observation is a means of self-change. Serious and continuous self-observation, if done aright, leads to definite inner changes in a man.”

— Maurice Nicholl, Commentaries


Self-Observe to Save Attention

Attention is the cornerstone of self-observation and self-remembering which is focused awareness of external reality and our relationship to it. When we pay attention, slow down and be present, we are, in reality, applying metaphysical principles firmly in the context of esoteric traditions.

Self-observation is a form of waking prayer, a conscious meditation and an act of will to “Know Thyself”. When we are conscious, we think and question – we give direction to the mind. By observing our thoughts, our biological instrument of the body; our emotional programs from a detached perspective, we might one day be in the position of heightened self-control and controlling those mechanical habits of behaviour. That’s good for you and certainly good for everyone else. With conscious discipline over our reptilian/limbic and mammalian brains we can start the process of being guided by the highest in ourselves rather than pure genetic code. And we begin this path by observing the intellect, emotions and body outside judgement or inner considering.

And if we get into an overall mindset of self-observation, then we need attention to lead the army.

But wait…

…Attention is in the basement and it hasn’t taken a shower in years. Right now it’s sitting on a flea-bitten, stinky sofa holding a huge tub of popcorn staring at a Official Cultures smart TV, enraptured by the diet of mind-polluting detritus of hypnotic energy drains. Pop-corn goes flying. Attention’s flabby gut wobbles under a dank string vest. What a sorry sight you are. You drag your attention from the sofa grab him by the short and curlies up those steps to the first floor. You shove him in the shower, lather up, rinse, blow dry, pedicure, sauna. Attention is whistle clean, standing to…Now to lose the fat an get lean. Attention just stands there. Wet. pathetic, mewling like a wuss. It doesn’t want to get fit, it wants to go back to the TV, pop-corn and the warmth of the basement where it can lie, glassy-eyed and undisturbed…

The strength of our attention-muscle has become so atrophied that holding attention to an object or process might as well be trying to get a full-blown addict to choose stamp-collecting instead of crack cocaine. Thanks to our present culture our emotions are hungry for the next hit, our bodies attuned to need and intellect fluffed up like a Courtesan at Verseille. Our hubris and self-importance have banished attention to what’s going on in the basement of our unconscious. There are so many “appliances” down there which would function if we would only spend time learning how to fix them. When we allow our attention to be stuck in the basement unable to do its job it becomes accustomed to inactivity and acquiescence. Automatism takes over and the unconscious “I”s of the ego. They have a party upstairs, usually trashing the house.

A general “law of least effort” applies to cognitive as well as physical exertion. The law asserts that if there are several ways of achieving the same goal, people will eventually gravitate to the least demanding course of action. In the economy of action, effort is a cost, and the acquisition of skill is driven by the balance of benefits and costs. Laziness is built deep into our nature.

 Daniel. Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow (p. 35)

It’s for this reason that the 4th Way teachings often stress that a human cannot make a genuine choice and stick by that choice until resolution. And if we do take action our motivation and intention is often shockingly subverted so we end up back where we started without really knowing why. This is because we have not helaed emotions, addressed our issues and accessed the shadows which rise up from our unconscious, filtrate into the subconscious and sabotage our good intentions. When our instincts/emotions and and their biochemical substrate run the show without conscious attention then the machine is in control, not our the highest concept of self. We lack the will because our focus and attention have been distracted by programming by parents, peers, culture and the pain of the past. We make our minds and emotions think that the past determines the present and thus the future. Based on all the body-mind signals, our attention dutifully follows our inner commands to stay inactive.

Self-observation is the first step to going “off-grid” and cutting your ties to the intrusions of the (Deep) state and the hive mind. We must become our own plumber and electrician, interior designer and accomplished artist. No one else is going to do it for us. And when we try to get somebody else to do it, we usually ending up giving away vast amounts of energy we don’t have, be it in wishful thinking or financial expenditure. Usually both.

To extend these metaphors even further, if you don’t take responsibility for your attention and thus your psychology, the house of your psyche will be taken over by those that will. And this is the situation we find ourselves. You are paying rent to Establishment forces which manipulate your mind and charge you extortionate fees for the privilege.

When you begin to recognise automatic habits through patient observation over a long period of time you will begin to know yourself. Intuition (inner-tuition) is also developed, which is merely heightened recognition. Eventually, you’ll be able to head off at the pass those repeating patterns of behaviour that keep you stuck in one direction. By paying attention to what keeps you trapped in a negative loop (to whatever degree) you will change direction and open up a new field of awareness. This is the development of will, the rejuvenation of purpose through which meaning is brought into focus.

Usually, that precious energy of the lower intellect and emotion is diverted into thoughts and actions that feed the ego and keep us bound and limited, safe but dull. Creativity cannot fledge sufficiently to be given flight. With time and practice, attention to the mechanics and energy currents of the body-mind is refined, transformed and the energy available to make the higher centres a reality.

“Self Observation is very difficult. The more you try, the more clearly you will see this. At present you should practice it not for results but to understand that you cannot observe yourselves. . . . When you try, the result will not be, in the true sense, self observation. But trying will strengthen your attention.”

— George Gurdjieff, Views From the Real World

Image by Sarah Richter from Pixabay.com

Come in No.9 – Attention and Negative Emotion

We are all in our own deflating dingys flailing about in this ocean of synthetically induced emotion and instinct, unable to fix the outboard motor nor paddle very well. We are just sitting in the middle of this watery void with a wet arse, turning gently in circles wondering how we found ourselves so confused. We might even begin to enjoy the gentle swell and the pretty clouds above…Are those bells I hear tinkling? Sleep now sleeeeep.

Not only is there an ocean liner bearing down on us and we are in a pretty busy shipping lane with everyone trying to read their own navigation charts but there’s a humdinger of a storm coming and if you don’t have a map and you can’t see the stars then you’ll end up on the rocks. This effectively a metaphorical description of normalised dissociation which is now epidemic in our societies. (more on this in a subsequent post)

To get the real map you’ll need to pay attention so you can make for the right shore and a safe harbour…Otherwise, when that tempest arrives,  you’ll be swept out to sea well beyond the horizon along with all the other ships people for whom truth was a quaint notion left for others to discover.

The Mary Celeste wasn’t a lot of fun.

Have you drifted off?

The truth is, our attention is damaged and for some (most of us?) maybe beyond repair.

Simplicity, non-identification and detachment don’t just appear like a lightning strike. But it can arrive slowly, but surely. Blaming our misfortune and bad decisions on a cruel world singling us out for a personal ten-ton bag of horseshit is much easier. Blaming it on the seemingly endless stream of people who line up to shovel that manure directly in front of you is also easier. However, the nasty truth is (and you probably know this deep down) we stink of our own self-importance, apathy and self-satisfaction. And that keeps us trapped. It is our incessant habit of lying to ourselves about all and everything that gradually erodes conscience. Much of our own misfortune and buffoonery is down to us and our lack of attention. If you don’t give a shit then life won’t give a shite about you either. Like attracts like in a variety of ways.

Seeing reality as it really is, develops through attention. It gives life to perspicacity and reading the signs and symbols that are continually interfacing between the archetypal world of the collective unconscious and the raw, brutal interaction between biology and will. Myth and folklore are always telling us to pay attention. Jordan Peterson’s popularity is related to this simple, accessible approach to myth and psychology. Without it we are prey to totalitarianism.

Horus was the god of attention. That is not the same as rationality. Because he paid attention, Horus could perceive and triumph against the evils of Set, his uncle, albeit at great cost. When Horus confronts Set, they have a terrible battle. Before Set’s defeat and banishment from the kingdom, he tears out one of his nephew’s eyes. But the eventually victorious Horus takes back the eye. Then he does something truly unexpected: he journeys voluntarily to the underworld and gives the eye to his father. What does this mean? First, that the encounter with malevolence and evil is of sufficient terror to damage even the vision of a god; second, that the attentive son can restore the vision of his father. Culture is always in a near-dead state, even though it was established by the spirit of great people in the past. But the present is not the past. The wisdom of the past thus deteriorates, or becomes outdated, in proportion to the genuine difference between the conditions of the present and the past. That is a mere consequence of the passage of time, and the change that passage inevitably brings. But it is also the case that culture and its wisdom is additionally vulnerable to corruption—to voluntary, willful blindness and Mephistophelean intrigue. Thus, the inevitable functional decline of the institutions granted to us by our ancestors is sped along by our misbehavior—our missing of the mark—in the present. [5]

So, by restoring and developing our attention to objective reality and the discernment of what is good or evil, we are restoring the “vision” of God or the Creative Universe – through us. Which is why the battle between good vs evil always takes place within every one of us, the victory and defeat of which is brought forth from a personal world into the impersonal, shaping it bit by bit.

By paying attention we become more present which opens up more choices – that means responsibility and courage to see what’s before our eyes as unvarnished truth. We learn from it even if it seems horrible and the horror “damages our consciousness, and half-blinds us.” The invisible gorilla deal mentioned above shows how this blindness is hard-wired in perception and biology. It has to be bypassed by an attrition of seeing. It is this act of seeing that challenges our “safe space” and everything we rely on. That’s destabilizing and misery-making. Conscious suffering is how much truth you can take as you moce forward. As Peterson says: “It is the act of seeing that informs the individual and updates the state … You are by no means only what you already know. You are also all that which you could know, if you only would. Thus, you should never sacrifice what you could be for what you are. You should never give up the better that resides within for the security you already have—and certainly not when you have already caught a glimpse, an undeniable glimpse, of something beyond.”

Attention is a path of access to the unknown. It is one of our greatest liberators. But that doesn’t come cheap. Facing the unknown with impeccability isn’t a cake-walk. Why would it be? Especially when we are so in love with ourselves or identified with our self-created misery.

Gurdjieff also had something to say about this perpetuation of this “Mephistophelean intrigue” and Osirisian “blindness.” He believed that it was our self-conceit, our “self-appreciation” that was the primary obstacle to inner development. We give in order to get something or believe we have rights which are automatically ours, through no efforts of our own. He talks of deep blindness to life merely because we consider ourselves worthy of attention and respect merely because we exist. We are routinely blind to the fact that “in life you get back exactly what you put in.” And if our attention is merely focused on our own desires and means to obtain our self-satisfaction for free with only the facsimile of effort, that we recognise only our voracious wants, is it any surprise that life mirrors that selfishness in all its complex rationalisations? Our self-appreciation makes us blind. Gurdjieff goes on to say: “No matter how intelligent, how endowed, how brilliant a man is, if he doesn’t change his opinion about himself, he will be lost for inner development, for the work based on self knowledge, for a real evolution. He will stay as he is all his life…” [6]

In order to change we must learn to SEE things in ourselves that we have denied, covered up or repressed. If we can see that which is hidden amongst the dark corners of our unconscious and slowly integrate those pissed off demons into the light of awareness – no matter how bestial or monstrous – we might be able to get to work or change a diaper without inner considering ourselves into a resentful stew – just for one day. But before that process, we have to know what to look for. We do that by focusing our attention: “By maintaining his attention on it, by not forgetting about looking, one day he may see. If he sees once, he can see a second time, and if this is repeated he cannot ignore seeing. This is the state to look for in our observation; it is from this that the true desire, the desire to evolve, will be born; from cold we’re becoming hot, vibrating; we will be deeply touched by our reality…” [7]  Meantime, without attention to the real, we devote energy that could set us free from fantasy and wishful thinking, thinking we deserve more than we merit.

“Self observation is only possible after acquiring attention”

— G.I. Gurdjieff

Wolfgang Eckert | pixabay.com

Paying attention is the operative phrase because: “One must pay, pay a lot, pay immediately and pay in advance. Pay from oneself. With sincere efforts, wholeheartedly, without expectations. The more you will be willing to pay without reticence, without cheating, without falsity, the more you will receive. And in order to avoid paying cash. Because you have to pay with all the gratuitous theories, all the deeply rooted convictions, all the prejudice, all conventions, all “I like it” and “I don’t like it”. Without bargaining, honestly, not just make believe. Trying to see while using fake money…” [8]

And that’s the monumental truth of paying attention. We’d rather not because it would unravel our self-conception, our voluntary slavery to the unreal and the ugly. To pay attention leads to a whole world of inner and outer revelations we would rather not see. So, we puff ourselves up and imbue our personalities with all kinds of pretensions and external activities to keep us far away from those revelations and unpalatable truths. We lie to ourselves and we lie deeply so that it has become habitual and we cannot control it. Indeed we confuse truth with lies, sincerity with fakery and art with mimicry. We then cannot see the propaganda of Official Culture because we are a public relations pimp for our own denials.

Lies are everywhere:

“Your relationships with others, lies. the education you’re giving, your petty conventions, lies. Your learning, lies. Your theories, your art, lies. Your social life, your family life, all lies. And what you think of yourself, lies too. But you don’t stop from what you’re doing or from what you’re saying, because you believe in you. You have to stop inside and observe…Observe without prejudice. While accepting for a time this idea of lies. And if you observe in this manner, paying of yourself, without self-pity, by giving all your false riches for one moment of reality, maybe someday you’ll see all of a sudden something you never saw in you before. You will see you are someone else from what you thought you are. You will see that you are two. One that is not, but takes the place and plays the other’s role. And the one that is, but so weak, so inconsistent, that just brought forth it disappears immediately. It cannot stand the lies. The smallest lie kills it. It doesn’t fight, it does not resist, it is vanquished in advance. Learn to look until you have observed the difference between your two natures, until you have seen the lies, the imposter in you. When you will see your two natures, that day, in you, the truth will be born.” [9]

This is all a bit deflating right? But in truth, I’ve barely touched on how bad it really is. Blindness doesn’t even come close. We ARE lies embodied.

“Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.”

— Fyodor Dostoyevsky,The Brothers Karamazov

We have a lot to work on if we wish to re-activate attention. Self-observation moves to self-regulation. we deploy attention across our whole mind-body system. Moods – how they come and go and in what situations; body posture – how we sit, walk, wait and work; the voice – how we talk, the intonation, breath, frequency and the moments of silence; when we smile and how often; what makes us happy and when and how negative emotions surface. All this can help us reveal patterns of unconscious and habitual behaviour that crushes our attention or develops it. By accentuating constructive ways of Being, we hone our attention and allow it to develop from a state of dysfunction. All this means we suffer consciously by slowly moving from one “nature” to new authentic concept and practice of self, and forging a new relationship with life.

Observe and cultivate the will of attention, as a student of Gurdjieff Jeanne Saltzmann explains:

We must see where our attention is. Where is our attention when we remember ourselves? Where is our attention in life? Order can be born in us only if we enter into direct contact with disorder. We are not in the disorder. We are the state of disorder. If I look at what I really am, I see the disorder. And where there is a direct contact, there is an immediate action. I begin to realize that my Presence is where my attention is. I believe I need to pay attention when, in fact, I need to see and know my inattention.

A conscious attention means something that is between two worlds. It is only by working to be present that my attention will develop. I will always lose myself unless my attention goes both toward life and toward the inside. Attention is the conscious force, the force of consciousness. It is a divine force. Attention is the essential energy in man. And this energy can only appear when one is constantly occupied in seeing, in listening, in questioning. We must give our complete attention to the question in front of us. The attention will not be total if we seek an answer.

Total attention is the process of meditation. The power of divided energy is my power of attention. It is an energy that connects me both with the source and with the outside world. To see requires an attention that is active, not simply one produced by the shock of an impression. We need to realize that our usual attention is not in contact with what it is perceiving, and as a result we do not really see. For this contact, the attention must become active. We need to face its passivity, to realize our insufficiency, our nothingness, and to stay in front. This brings the activation. To be present requires dividing the attention. Three-quarters must be kept inside, and only one quarter allowed to support the movement toward manifestation. [10]

We might think that this is a path toward obsessive introspection, but there is a science to this Work and a set of tools for advancement. If it were mere introspection there would no purpose, no balance between input and output – no real seeing, thus no development. Sometimes if a twig has been bent out of shape, it must be bent back in the other direction with equal and greater force of will – even beyond the mean – before it regains it’s original, natural form. Better to appear “extreme” and to consolidate gains before easing up on the throttle too soon. ‘Inner attention’ as opposed to ‘Introspection’ must be balanced with a proper relationship to external demands and responsibilities otherwise, we will fall into the new age trap of encouraging escape, thus weakness within, rather than building will and fortitude to meet the unknown.

Attention as a “conscious force” re-makes your perception, properly applied. And there’s no way back from that. Once you see, you can’t unsee. And that’s initially feeling like you are a stale shrimp on a stick in a vast platter of energy consumption.

Self-observation and self-remembering might be the deeper applications of modern-day mindfulness. We suspend judgement, take everything in without identification. You meet positive and negative emotions which rise up and let them go by just observing them. We don’t try to force them away but accept them without becoming them. (“There is anger. But I am not the anger;” “There is sadness but I am not the sadness”). In our day to day interactions with others we observe and remember, we do not fall into inner considering, stewing on what’s been said or not said. Just observe them from a point of neutral detachment.

Keeping in mind that we are immersed in complex currents vying for attention and largely successful to boot, we must seek to simplify the constructive elements of reality within our field of awareness in order to prioritize toward a more complex informational field. We can start by selecting one object and we focus our attention and build up from there. For example, when I walk in a forest I am aware of one tree that I single out for attention. I notice every detail as well as its overall shape and impression. I notice the relationship between me, the observer and the tree. There is sight, sound, movement, smell and touch. How do these elements exchange and change as a result of my observation? What’s going on in my body as this unfolds?

Often we are in negative states thinking we are observing it but really, we are resentfully adding fuel to the other. When we think we know something already and observation isn’t required then we stumble at the first hurdle. I know why I’m irritated so why bother observing? By sensing the body, the thoughts and feelings, we can calm that state and receive insights which do not come from our assumptions and programs. Observation can help bypass what we think is the truth but is really just a habituated coping mechanism or implanted propaganda we have soaked up from media and the mass mind. All those little “I”s within are like a crowd and their energy is informed by instinct over reason. It can be whipped up into a frenzy very, very easily. Which is why overreaction is always a hair’s breadth away – especially if we are trying to cope with constant stress, which is true for most of us.

Certainly, it is essential that we focus attention on negative emotions in order to re-balance and be free of their influence on behaviour. Boris Mouravieff has this to say on esoteric work, attention and negative emotion:

“We often think that it is sufficient for us to gather theoretical esoteric knowledge, and that this will then produce its effect on us – like a healing medicine: that no other effort will be necessary on our part. This is a common error of conception. In reality, esoteric work requires continuous efforts of analysis and synthesis in order to create and consolidate each ‘grain’ of success that we gather in our march towards and on the Way. The influences to which life – that great way-constantly exposes us, are mixed, and contain corruption. To choose between them, we possess certain resources, a certain liberty of action, and a force which makes it possible for us to accomplish this work of selection. This force is attention. Attention is the sole capital we possess. But we can use it in either a good or a bad way. Often, we cannot even say that we use it at all: we leave it to disperse. Yet attention is indispensable to us, especially for the control of negative emotions, which impoverish us and provoke in us losses, sometimes considerable, of forces we have accumulated at the price of sustained effort. In certain cases this can go so far as to provoke true collapse within us. A watchful attention allows us to stop these negative emotions the moment they are born. Afterwards, on ground which has been purified in this way, we will be able to let positive emotions flow freely, so as to enrich us and permit us to accumulate the force necessary to continue our esoteric work.” [11]

“When things break down, what has been ignored rushes in. When things are no longer specified, with precision, the walls crumble, and chaos makes its presence known. When we’ve been careless, and let things slide, what we have refused to attend to gathers itself up, adopts a serpentine form, and strikes—often at the worst possible moment. It is then that we see what focused intent, precision of aim and careful attention protects us from.”

— Jordan B. Peterson, 12 Rules for Life (p. 266)

Let’s say you intensely dislike someone for very good reason. The feeling is there’s no point observing that state and your reaction to that person. But how much is feeling and how much is genuine concrete evidence? Is there something that repels you by the very nature of his/her being? Or are there clear signs? How much of this person’s presence really triggered a program deep within you? A lot may be available to observe if we sit quietly with it and reflect. When we know, this is knowledge stored and applied. But it is not self-observation or attention. They are the active processes which can lead to knowledge. Attention is activated by observation directed toward your inner self alongside external reality. It is a conscious act. Be careful not to believe that you know based on reading errors in your system – this is an unconscious act.

Think about a person who wronged you. Bring their face to mind and the events that unfolded as a result of their interference. It doesn’t take long before we replay conversations and re-invigorate the indignation, disappointment and hurt that we felt. You may be justified, you may have serious gaps in your awareness or a mix of both. Either way, there is a kind of masochism in re-living it, fantasizing what we should have said and how we might inflict all kinds of revenge on the enemy. You become fully identified with the wrongdoing and righteously infuriated and affronted, thereby You personalising it and giving it more power than it deserves. Imbuing that fakery with power means you’ve yet again wasted energy which could have been used to elevate your own system. An enormous amount of time and energy can be wasted on these fantasies by observing only the feeling and the chain of unpleasant reactions that arise. Negative emotions can become re-grooved and dug into the trenches of our mind as a result.

It’s this habitual re-animation of past feelings and hurt that denote a negative feedback loop rather than contemplation and observation.

We can spend a whole day – our whole lives – identified with the attack and never observing or directing attention. Therefore, there’s no essential change. We remain mechanical. It’s then we are back to the two “I”s again. Is it my essential self? Or is it the lowest in me? Am I bouncing from one theatrical prop to another reading a script that is not mine, whilst claiming ownership? Am I under the directorship of a host of little “I”s all clamouring for internal exchange and easily gaining the negative energy they need to exist? Or am I taking command of my personal narrative?

Probably not, because we identify with all those negative emotions too much. We gain a perverse satisfaction from fantasizing about those bastards who wronged you and are so morally corrupt and cruel that you wish them an early death.

So much re-invented dialogue that totally consumes our attention!

If you secretly enjoy this masochistic revelry in negative emotion (and we are encouraged to do so all the time) then over the years it becomes an iron cage that’s defined by inner considering or splitting – impenetrable from within and from without.


This is how our defence mechanisms operate and how our self-protection becomes a prison. And when a man has been in prison long enough he is blind to the bars and the window of light on the other side. He walks, talks, feels and thinks through restricted parameters. The more restricted we are the more our thoughts, emotions and actions will manifest those restrictions and the increasingly contractile nature of our awareness. As our awareness/attention is demarcated by negative thinking and aligned beliefs, there is never enough space or inner silence to give respite from the prison. And in such a confined space we cannot look after our-selves crowded in and milling around like lost mini-souls. The prison quickly becomes a dark cesspool of rising emotional sewage.

If we are going to be able to withstand the influences that put us to sleep and resist the warping of our conscience that comes from assimilating negative cultural programming then we need to remember ourselves and what absorbs our attention. This is usually at the behest of genes and mammalian imperatives. They powerfully calls us back to a herd mentality and the energy requirements needed for all organic life. If we are to escape these planetary laws, we must think for ourselves and experiment. For information to become knowledge, not just theoretical propositions, it must be verified by personal experience.

If we decide to take our attention to metaphysical gym then we have to shun the doughnuts of the subjective, fantasy-ridden world and honour as much objective analysis as possible. By doing so, we get closer to seeing ourselves and life as it really is across all the five senses and beyond. That doesn’t mean we change our biology but we change how it interfaces with life by becoming aware of our unconscious habits. If we see them for what they are, we might be able to reduce their effects and modify their influences; to become more stable and less prone to self-sabotage from the gaps in awareness which are continually widened from the socio-cultural Mind. After all, when those gaps become chasms then our mind is no longer our own and any energy that we do have gets swallowed up in an instant.

This is where self-remembering and self-observation act as marriage. The former allows you to discover what’s really going on behind the body-mind instrument. The latter contains a range of observational tools to nourish consciousness and conscious behaviour. To cultivate attention is to bring us back to consciousness. Attention is awareness of thought and emotion and the move toward an integration of both.

When self-observation includes non-identification, detachment and non-judgement we are meditating on the thoughts, feelings and the bodily sensations which arise. Attention begins to mediate between what exists in the moment and our relationship to it. We don’t seek to change anything but just observe. Through cold-blooded analysis of what IS, we come to hone our attention thereby encouraging humility and sincerity. We cannot truly self-observe unless we are sincere. When this begins to grow we are gaining a path of access to the real “I” or the seat of developing awareness.

In a very real sense, the development of attention is the formation and strengthening of the will. To focus on a singular aim is to channel consciousness into a finer point of awareness. We seek to bring our life into clear focus so that we are able to see the why, how and who of our existence and what we might do with that emerging knowledge.

The greater resistance you have to this process the more you can assure yourself that you are on the right path!



[1] ‘What Children Can Teach Us About Paying Attention’ By Jeremy Dean, PhD, Psyblog, April 2017 | https://www.spring.org.uk/2017/04/what-children-can-teach-us-about-paying-attention.php
[2] ‘Humanity’s attention span is getting shorter says new findings’ by Samantha Page Cosmos Magazine 16 Apr 2019 | https://cosmosmagazine.com/mathematics/too-much-information-sure-looks-like-it
[3] ‘Attention and Awareness Aren’t The Same’ Psychological Science Journal June 6th, 2011 | https://www.psychologicalscience.org/news/releases/attention-and-awareness-arent-the-same.html
[4] p. 24-25; Kahneman, Daniel. Thinking, Fast and Slow (2012) Penguin Books Ltd.
[5] pp. 222-223; Peterson, Jordan B. 12 Rules for Life (2018) Penguin Books Ltd.
[6] ‘First Initiation’ By Jeanne de Salzmann. This essay was originally published in Gurdjieff: Essays and Reflections on the Man and His Teaching, New York: Continuum, 1996, edited by Jacob Needleman and George Baker, from the French edition compiled by Bruno de Panafieu. Earlier versions of this essay—sometimes under the variant title, The Only Exact Measure—have been incorrectly attributed to G. I. Gurdjieff. | https://www.gurdjieff.org/salzmann3.htm
[7] GI Gurdjieff, September 1941, from Question de Gurdjieff by Albin Michel | https://www.endlesssearch.co.uk/exercises_selfobserve.htm
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid.
[10] ‘Going Toward Consciousness’ By Jeanne de Salzmann, published as an essay in the Gurdjieff International Review: Fall 2013 Issue, Vol. XII (1) Revision: November 1, 2013. These excerpts are from Jeanne de Salzmann’s book, The Reality of Being, Boston: Shambhala, 2010, pp. 22, 16, 21, 27, 43, 44, 51, 58, 94–96, 99, 132, 134, 160, 205, 221, 217, 220, 221, 242, 279–280, 289.
[11] pp.174-175; Mouravieff, Boris; Gnosis: Book 1: Exoteric Circle Praxis Press.

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