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Accessing the Key to Your Destiny and Taking Control of Your Life
Steven Maurice Droullard, M.A.
The Power of Attention
Copyright 2005 by Steven Maurice Droullard
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without permission by the author.
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“Controlling and focusing one’s attention is a primary and critical skill on any path toward enlightenment. Steven Droullard has performed a great service in making this daunting task simple and approachable in inspired and easily read language.” Clarke E. Johnston, Past President - Philosophical Research Society “LOT of nuggets for a guy like me. Thanks” Fred H. Bartlit, One of the most influential lawyers in America – The National Law Journal "Get ready for real insight and change! Using Prof. Droullard’s techniques, I learned how to transform my attention into an ally and then achieved what had previously escaped my grasp." Ken Haile, Systems Analyst, M.A. Transformational Psychology candidate - University of Philosophical Research
You’ve probably had moments like these. Waiting for your computer to boot up, you silently fret over what to do with the jury summons that arrived in the morning mail. Or, trapped in your car during the freeway rush hour, you seethe with inner resentment at all those other motorists ruining your commute. Or, after 20 minutes standing in line at the bank only to end up at the wrong window, you replay in your mind the nasty exchange you had with the teller. These are “voice in your head” moments. They are not productive, and they probably do your health mischief by driving up your blood pressure. They are also small examples of what this book is about: how to make your life more fulfilling by learning how to manage your attention skills. At first glance, it may sound absurd to assign so much importance to something so seemingly mundane. But in fact, attention is the most critical human resource. It is the basis of your spirituality. It
has to do with how effectively you are connected with your intuition and whether you can put it to beneficial use. It has a lot to do with fully exercising your intelligence. It has everything to do with whether you blossom with creativity. I like the way B. Alan Wallace, professor of Tibetan Buddhism at the university where I teach, puts it: “What we attend to and how we attend to it determines the nature of the reality that rises to meet us.” How important is that? It is the key. As Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a professor at the University of Chicago, observed, to control attention means to control experience, and therefore the quality of life. The writer John Ciardi said simply, “We are what we do with our attention.” William James put it this way: “My experience is what I agree to attend to. Only those items which I notice shape my mind.” Think back to the example that I began with, the nagging voices that can arise in your head. Are they informing you, or
advancing your understanding? No, they are just chattering away, running on a loop, repeating the same thoughts over and over again. Imagine them as a population of internal worries relentlessly consuming your attention. They will stay with you and corrode the quality of your life as long as you attend to them. You allow them to rise, you give them energy. The snake that you’re afraid might be in your garage, the boogeyman your child is worried might be under the bed - such images will retreat only when attention is turned away from them. How to do that - how to be in control of your attention habits each day of your life - is a fascinating process. When I first began work on this book, I thought of the words “attention mechanics” to describe what it was about. Some of my friends, especially women, thought the phrase sounded inelegant. It sounded too much like getting under a car and changing the oil. But I meant mechanics in the sense of taking apart the workings of our spirituality and consciousness, and seeing how our different attention
skills work in tandem with each. I especially meant to critically examine all the assumptions about awareness that we have embraced simply because they are conventional wisdom. It is my wish that readers will come away from this book with a new appreciation of their attention habits and how to manage them. The attention choices that we make that is, how we choose to direct our attention - shape our most important decisions. They are at the trailhead of causation for both our successes and our failings. There is a simple Chinese proverb that expresses this. It goes, “Sow a thought, reap an act. Sow an act, reap a habit. Sow a habit, reap a character. Sow a character, reap a destiny.” Put simply, a thought given attention is a thought sown, and all the rest flows from that. Our attention choices trigger nearly every important chain of events in our lives. They truly “reap a destiny.”
It was in the tenth grade when I noticed a kind of dullness overpowering my awareness. I instinctively knew that some element of my consciousness was “dying” and that I would lose it if I did not seek out demanding experiences that would stimulate and revitalize me. At the time, I was living with my family in Munich, Germany, where my father worked for the U.S. Foreign Service. The school year was ending; I had $90 earned from my paper route and a good bicycle. I decided to climb on my bike and go to Italy. The adventure that followed was marked by intense physical and mental challenges, unexpected crises, and many moments of beauty and pleasure. All of it made my awareness “fully present” and I felt bright and alive again. Now, almost 40 years later, I understand that I had recognized the shift in
consciousness that occurs when we gradually lose touch with the wonderfully open and spontaneous sense of awareness that is a gift of childhood. When this happens, we slip out of the present moment and become mired in the sluggish thought universe of selfcenteredness, which we build as we age until it becomes large enough that we begin to make it the primary residence and view point of our awareness. There, the landscape is comparatively gray and conducive to depression. The same worrisome feelings began to return in full force during college. This time, I knew that another bike ride would not be sufficiently consuming to shake off the feeling that I was sliding mentally. But I didn’t know which way to turn. I was filled with inner panic, desperate to find a way out. I was drawn to the Sermon on the Mount, and read it over and over. “Ask and it will be given, Seek and you will find, Knock and the door will be opened.”
One day I read the words from Matthew 7:21-23, and it was like the sky parting and being struck by lightning: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.” My revelation was this: the instructions in the Sermon on the Mount were not things to merely believe -- they were things to actually do. They were also explicit: “Don’t be anxious for your life: what you will eat, or what you will drink; nor yet for your body, what you will wear…But seek ye first his kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” The next day, in a humanities class, the subject of enlightenment came up. The discussion centered on admired thinkers in America and elsewhere, the ones who might be called enlightened. I thought to myself, such individuals are out there, and I’m just sitting here. I then knew what I had to do.
Over the next couple of days I gave away all my money and most of my belongings. I kept only one change of clothes, a backpack and a sleeping bag. I would accept the challenge and travel on faith. I would ask whoever I met to direct me to the most significant spiritual teacher they knew about. I would seek them out. I would knock on their door and ask them to teach me what they could. Without a penny in my pocket, I walked to the interstate highway and stuck out my thumb. Life became immediate, surprising, stimulating and bright again. My experience taught me that the promise in the Sermon of the Mount is valid. I never had to beg, and never went hungry. I just made myself helpful and useful wherever I was, and in return I was always provided for, sometimes in unexpected ways. On my journey, I learned from men like Stephen Gaskin at “The Farm” in Summertown, Tennessee, and Buddhist monks who shared their knowledge of
mindfulness. I spent time in communes, and was director of a meditation-based commune with about 200 members in San Antonio, Texas. I immersed myself in Raja yoga meditation; over time, meditation became the key to knowing how to intervene whenever I found my consciousness being diminished. I have been engaged in this pursuit of greater understanding and awareness for more than 30 years now, drawing on not only the many wisdom traditions but also more modern psychological and neurological insights and discoveries. I teach a course in “Attention Mechanics” which is part of a Masters Degree program offered by the University of Philosophical Research. This book is a distillation of what I have learned. -- Steven Maurice Droullard
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1 - Now, Where Did I Put My Attention? .................. 1 2 - Meet Your Spirits.................................................. 5 3 - No Time To Think - Literally ............................. 15 4 - A Place You Don't Want To Be.......................... 23 5 - Enough About You, Can We Talk About Me..... 29 6 - When Attention Is Divided ................................. 35 7 - Sometimes Less Really Is More.......................... 41 8 - Welcome To The Present Moment ..................... 47 9 - Tools Of The Trade............................................. 55 10 - The Yogi And The Zen Master ......................... 65 11 - Breathe Your Way To Awareness .................... 71 12 - Bounce-Hit, You're In A State Of Flow............ 83 13 - Don't Trifle With Attention............................... 89 14 - As Attention Goes, So goes I.Q. ....................... 95 15 - Mind Your Attention, Mind Your Body ......... 101 16 - A Nickle For Your Attention .......................... 107 17 - One Step At A Time ....................................... 113 Resources ............................................................... 121
Acknowledgements.................................................131 The University of Philosophical Research ..............135
NOW, WHERE DID I PUT MY ATTENTION?
You cannot learn how to manage your attention until you know what it is and where it is. This is your first task: to become an objective observer of your own attention. How do you do that? The wisdom traditions teach the importance of developing an “inner observer.” Think of it as creating a new entity inside you, a new self that is part of you but has an energy of its own. It will enable you to push through the barrier that I call limited self-perspective - the mindset that dulls our ability to see and know ourselves, kept in place by nothing more than habit.
Steven Maurice Droullard There are lots of ways to go about this, but here is a good basic strategy: Begin by focusing inwardly. Become aware of the thoughts and impulses flooding your mind, especially those that repeat themselves so insistently they seem to be running on automatic. For now, don’t try to do anything about them. Your first assignment is to simply create space between you and them. What do I mean by that? Let me try to explain. It seems reasonable to assume that everything going on inside your head is “me” - in other words, inherently a part of you. That is a misconception. It would be as if your immune system blithely assumed that everything within your skin was an essential part of your self, not to be challenged. We know that immune systems don’t behave that way, and in fact recognize unwanted intruders for what they are. That is much like the ability you must develop as an inner observer. When you first look inside, it is not what you see that is important. Rather, it is to 2
WHERE DID I PUT MY ATTENTION? begin to recognize that the many things going on in your head - the urges that come and go - are not an essential part of yourself. They are inner forces competing for your attention, and it is up to you to grant them that attention or not. Angry thoughts are a good example. If you are a successful inner observer and you notice an angry urge arising, something interesting happens. You don’t accept ownership - the “I feel angry” option. Instead, you are able to simply note that anger has emerged, or called for your attention. You know that you have the choice of attending to it or not and allowing it to manifest in your words and deeds or not. I use the phrase “attention commerce” to describe what is going on inside our minds. Your attention is the pot of gold, the currency that your inner potentials can use to purchase their existence and opportunities. They can be creative or destructive, beneficial or harmful, but they are always
Steven Maurice Droullard longing to be expressed and anxious that we attend to them. With practice, you will learn to do this exercise in a detached and objective manner. Your ability to develop a clear eyed view of the competition for your attention will be a breakthrough moment. Down the road, this skill will be critical to controlling your powers of attention making deliberate choices rather than letting habit rule. Most remarkable of all, your ability to choose deliberately won’t rely on the thinking of a thought or even a change of desire. You will exercise it with just the turn of your attention.
MEET YOUR SPIRITS
You have set out to become the master of your attention habits. A word of warning: it is a journey that will require you to come face to face with the spirits that mold all of us, for good or bad. No, I don’t mean ghostly apparitions making thumping noises in the attic. The spirits I’m talking about are the deep inner life forces that we choose to identify with and express. They divide into two opposing camps, creative and destructive. You can turn your attention in either direction. The wisdom traditions tell us that which spirits we choose to identify with and thereby accept guidance from, are the most important choices we will make in our lifetime.
Steven Maurice Droullard When I use the term spirit I am referring to impersonal universal constants, like love, hate, compassion or anger. When I see fear or anger arise in my cat I recognize it as the same spirit that sometimes moves me. While there are an infinite number of ways to express them, spirits themselves have fixed natures. Love never moves us to do mean things. Anger never inspires us to be gentle and kind. Spirits do not come in shades of gray, able to shift back and forth. There is a bright line drawn between them. We always like to think of ourselves as in control, but in fact spirits are far more powerful than human intention and always show up as the senior and managing partner in the relationship. They are not about the content of mind, or what you are thinking. Rather, they determine the context in which your thoughts are happening - your frame of mind, you might say. Your dispositions, your moods, your impulses, your feelings - all are expressions of your spirits, or your spirituality. So, for example, we might undertake an
MEET YOUR SPIRITS action in the spirit of anger or in the spirit of love. Thinking you can successfully adopt the guise of a positive spirituality is a mistake. For example, don’t think you are doing people favors by being cheery in a forced way. Everyone fairly quickly will realize what spirit is really motivating your words and deeds regardless of what “face” you try to put on them. Others are also looking into your eyes to see if you are actually hearing them, if your attention is actually present and being given to them - that is what feels good. That’s what makes the difference. Nor is it correct to equate spirituality with whatever religion you practice or philosophy you follow. Rather, it has to do with this sort of question: when you practice your religion or your philosophy, do you do it angrily or do you do it lovingly? That is your spirituality. Why am I calling them spirits instead of emotions? There is a useful distinction 7
Steven Maurice Droullard between the two. Spirit is the one universal archetype that actuates many possible personal emotions. This distinction allows us to notice that a spirit can be present as a mood in a room, a political rally, or a concert that affects many people at once. It can even be the spirit of an age that defines the common over arching feeling of certain times. So a spirit is more elemental and potentially pervasive in nature than a single individual’s personal experience or expression of it. We call the personal experience and expression of a spirit an emotion. If, for example, you make a habit of attending to anger as a spiritual force, it will regularly present you with a vast buffet of dark emotions and invite you to choose one that seems to fit the occasion. You might identify with the emotion of “mild irritation,” which becomes a grimace that contorts your face. That then is your personal expression at that moment - of the spirit of anger. Another person tempted by the same buffet in the same circumstances might go with an emotion that leads to an outburst of cursing, 8
MEET YOUR SPIRITS or punching someone in the nose, or even hatching a plan for murder. The choices are endless; anger has the ability to inspire every angry thing that can be said or done - an enormous range of possibilities. So do all other spirits; that is, each one is the inspiration for an infinite number of emotions. Each invites us to become its living expression and presence in the world. We do so by giving a spirit our attention and allowing it to inspire and move us according to its predictable creative or destructive nature. Anger, for example, will always inspire us to escalate hostilities. Our first angry word or deed is always immediately followed by a rush of still angrier words and deeds that come to mind. The process only stops if our attention turns away from Anger’s call. There are many who dismiss the notion of spirituality, equating it with participation in willful fantasy. We are inundated by wildly varied interpretations of what spirituality means. They come from all directions: secular education, religious instruction, best selling books, philosophical studies, fascina9
Steven Maurice Droullard tion with the occult, conventional wisdom and pop psychology. Taken together, they create a profoundly confused and often contradictory picture of spirituality. Little wonder, perhaps, that it is often not seen as worthy of investigation. Better that we get on with modern science, organize things intelligently. Rational minds don’t need spirits introducing irrational influences. But even those making such arguments, perhaps passionately and or even angrily, are in the grip of a spirit, as unacceptable as that might seem to them. The context in which their thoughts are organized and expressed is being shaped by a spirit. Its influence is not diminished by their failure to recognize it. Spirits are simply an inherent part of our nature. You can define your spirituality by looking inside yourself and seeing the kinds of spirits you have habitual relationships with. Your ultimate goal is to be conscious of the dynamics of these spirit relationships especially, how they develop - so that you can begin to make deliberate choices. More 10
MEET YOUR SPIRITS about that later. For now, trust me: it is a profound event, the moment that you are in such control of your attention that you are able to choose which spirits you attend to and identify with. This ability comes with certain risks. Let’s look at how creative and destructive spirits differ in nature. The power of destruction, the ability to crush an adversary, can be very attractive. The raw violent power of anger may seem like just what we want at times. You are no doubt aware of many reasons why anger may be a poor choice because of the kind of blow back and consequences it inevitably produces. This kind of risk is well known to you, but I want to point your awareness to something else so you will notice an important side effect that comes with a destructive spirit. If you choose a spirit with hateful influence and destructive power, you risk being consumed by it. Think back to your last fit of anger. Notice that the spirit of anger came not just to attack your adversary. It also came to feed on you, to jealously demand every last shred of your 11
Steven Maurice Droullard attention. Contrast that, for a moment, with the benign impact of a creative spirit like compassion. Have you ever had a good and generous thought that became a compulsion, that took over your mind to the exclusion of all else? No. It doesn’t happen. It’s not in the nature of thoughts inspired by the spirit of compassion. We don’t find ourselves uncontrollably reciting, “I want to do something nice for that person. I like that person. I like that person. I like that person.” We don’t do that. But the spirit of anger, for example, will send us spinning into a cycle of, “I hate that person. I hate that person. I hate that person.” And so on, ad infinitum. Anger attaches itself to us. It inspires an endless loop, repeated without interruption. It is given sustenance by our attention, and then digs in and clings to it. That’s why many of us play the same tape of worry, anxiety and upset over and over again. Creative spirits like love and compassion are “giving” in a very real sense; they don’t come to compulsively feed on your attention like negative spirits do. For them 12
MEET YOUR SPIRITS your attention is a bridge to your awareness and they come to attend to you, and, to others through you. True to their nature they are polite, they don’t kick in the doors of your awareness and barge in like negative spirits do. So it’s very important to make it a habit to attend to their mild inner calls and to favor them with your attention rather than let the bully boy spirits run wild. You have to pay attention to creative spirits for them to reach your consciousness, touch your life and bless your environment through you. Think of yourself as a doorman, admitting a creative spirit by giving it your attention and turning away a destructive spirit by withholding your attention. Don’t be discouraged if your inner observer initially finds that your attention is hopping around from moment to moment. If you are like most, no one has been consciously “minding the store,” so your spirituality fluctuates and wavers; sometimes so much that it can seem muddled and indistinct. But it is always there. 13
Steven Maurice Droullard Just by establishing your inner observer and beginning to look at what is happening inside you are turning on the light of awareness and beginning to restore your conscious choice making potential.
NO TIME TO THINK LITERALLY
You cannot think your way through the process of choosing a spirit to partner with. There is simply not enough time. Your choice is made the instant your attention connects with a motivating feeling, identifies with it and then attends to it. Click! In a flash, the spirit of anger, say, is in control. It surges through you and by the time you can think - “Boy, am I angry!” - the moment when you could have made another choice has already passed. The speed of thought the time required to create an opinion or belief - is slower; it trails the moment in which this choice happens by microseconds. The gap, tiny as it is, is enough to dash any hope that your powers of reason will inter-
Steven Maurice Droullard vene fast enough to deny anger your attention. Think of this as an introduction to a critical skill: awareness, or the ability to focus your attention on the present moment. Without it, you will never be in command and control of your attention choices. How to develop and heighten awareness is a subject for later chapters. Here, my purpose is to show how thought and reason are laggards when spirits are demanding your attention, making awareness the only tool that matters. A drama that occurred in my neighborhood illustrates this. Sandy and Jim are both in their 80s. Jim’s sight is poor, and he no longer drives. But he still likes to get behind the wheel of his big Buick. So he and Sandy go through this ritual: he backs the car out of the garage to the end of the driveway, and then relinquishes the controls to her. Sometimes, however, he leaves the car in an awkward position, causing Sandy’s rear vision to be obstructed when she slides into the driver’s seat, and irritating her no end. 16
NO TIME TO THINK - LITERALLY On this particular day, he does it again, with unpleasant consequences. Sandy gets behind the wheel to back onto the street. She looks in the rear view mirror and over her shoulder, but can barely see where she’s going. Right away, she is peeved. A bit of anger starts to boil up. Jim has gone around to the passenger side door, and is opening it. Sandy puts the car into reverse. As she showers her attention on the anger she is feeling and runs down a mental list of grievances about Jim’s driving, she fails to notice that he is only part of the way into the car. She presses hard on the gas pedal, the car lurches backwards, and Jim is thrown to the pavement. Now an alarmed Sandy focuses all her attention on Jim’s plight, forgetting that the car is still moving backward. She wakes up to that reality when she slams hard into the curb on the other side of the street. Now, in a panic to correct her error, she reflexively throws the gearshift into drive and hits the gas again. The car lurches back across the street straight for the bewildered Jim, who somehow manages to 17
Steven Maurice Droullard roll out of the way just as Sandy and the Buick bound over the curb and plow down the mail box. A fine bit of madness. Did Sandy have a choice in these matters? Our first impulse might be to say no, this was an accident. All she could do was react to a sequence of events unfolding faster than she could think. She was a victim of circumstances, relying on her reflexes to get her through the frightening experience. But let’s go back to the instant when the chain reaction began, when she saw that Jim had angled the car into an impossible position. The first bit of anger flared within her, sucking up her attention in a flash. From that moment on, anger was in the driver’s seat. It wasn’t Sandy anymore. She had yielded to that destructive spirit, even welcoming it and feeding it more and more of her attention. Otherwise, she wouldn’t have behaved the way she did. She wouldn’t have hit the gas that hard. She would have made sure Jim was safely in the car. But her attention was off nursing the anger. So Sandy did have a choice. It was at that instant when she 18
NO TIME TO THINK - LITERALLY attended to and identified with the first glimmer of anger. But to exercise her choice, Sandy’s awareness would have to have been fully awake to that instant, and ready to deal with it without pausing even for a split second to think. There was no time to ponder, “Will I be angry, or not?” The spirit of anger was already flooding in. She could have turned it away - vetoed it, so to speak -but only if she had been sufficiently aware. Studies in neuroscience shed light on what poor Sandy was going through. For example, Dr. Benjamin Libet, Professor Emeritus of Physiology at UCSF, and a member of the Center for Neuroscience at UCD, studied electric signals in the brain. He showed that we unconsciously decide to act well before we think we’ve made the decision to act. In one experiment he told his subjects, “Pick up the water glass whenever you decide to.” Their brains fired as many as four seconds before the test subjects were consciously aware that they had made a decision, Dr. Libet reported. So there is the
Steven Maurice Droullard conscious mind, the intellect, as a lagging participant. But research also has identified a window of opportunity for choice. You have between one - and two-tenths of a second to exercise the veto that Sandy didn’t. You’ve got to be quick. You’ve got to be conscious. You’ve got to be aware and ready to make a decision. But you do get a veto, a chance to gain control of the forces struggling for your attention. Alas, Sandy and Jim never knew why that flicker of anger within her was allowed to take over. After the dust settled, the predictable need to assign blame began. “At your age, you ought to know how to park the car straight, Jim. This was all your fault!” “What? Sandy, you just weren’t looking. You darned near killed me!” They became trapped in their anger at each other and their rush to defend themselves. Who did what right? Who did what wrong? Who did what more wrong than the other person? When we become lost in this kind of back-and-forth, 20
NO TIME TO THINK - LITERALLY we close ourselves to any understanding of awareness and the split-second timing required to choose spirits wisely.
A PLACE YOU DON'T WANT TO BE
Sandy and Jim taught us something about awareness, mainly how the lack of it plays havoc with our attention skills. But before we start feeling smug about these two unfortunate souls, we should pause for some honest reflection. Most of us are Sandy and Jim most of the time. Present awareness eludes us during most of our waking hours. Why is that? What stops us from getting past all the flotsom and jetsam that is cluttering our minds and finally focusing on the present moment? Pogo, the cartoon character of years ago, famously said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” He was talking about environ-
Steven Maurice Droullard mental pollution, but his observation is equally telling when it comes to achieving awareness. It is our own self-interests that get in the way. We are, to borrow a phrase from Einstein, trapped in the “prison of a selfcentered perspective.” It’s a universal problem. Everybody has it, everybody needs to find a way out. The hold that self-centeredness has on our attention is born of long habit, so ingrained that it is triggered automatically. It is quick and pervasive. It makes our problems seem large and the problems of other people seem insignificant. It presents itself as our loyal ally in our search for happiness, but in reality it is the greatest source of suffering. It is especially dangerous because of the spirits that it would partner us with. Despite its persistence, selfcenteredness is not an innate element of our minds. But it is an inherent aspect of the “American Dream,” for example, making it hard to get away from. Most cultures are built on the notion of self-interest: have a 24
A PLACE YOU DON'T WANT TO BE high-status job, acquire material goods, buy a bigger house, be a superior competitor, promote yourself, finish ahead of the other guy. We are urged on by powerful media images that are intended to snatch our attention and sell it to the highest bidder by triggering instincts like vanity, lust and aggression deep within us. This all does indeed stimulate a lot of economic activity and participation in the “dream” does motivate people to struggle against lethargy and poverty. But self-centeredness also locks us inside a thought universe of private worries and insatiable desires. Mental afflictions like anger, attachment, jealousy, arrogance and fear breed there. We dwell on our hurts, nurse a sense of having been cheated or short changed, and become petty or defensive or impatient or despairing. Once we identify with one of these afflictions, it takes over the management of our attention, with unpleasant results. For example, when anger triggered by self25
Steven Maurice Droullard centeredness is in command, it shapes us and affects everything around us. Everybody has experienced being in a room when an angry person suddenly arrives. He shuts the door behind him with too much force. The muscles in his face are tight. He speaks in clipped sentences, in an irritated tone. He is ticked off about something and doesn’t care who knows it. The traffic was horrible! The Dow dropped again! Whatever. The mood in the room suddenly darkens, as if a small cloud had settled over it. He ends up burdening everyone else with his anger and sucking the good feelings out of the room. And it all began with his self-centeredness, with his resentment at how unfairly the world was treating him. The Buddhist concept of “eight mundane concerns” is a particularly interesting way to approach the problem of selfcenteredness. The eight concerns are gain and loss, pleasure and pain, fame and disgrace, praise and blame. Every self-centered behavior is said to flow from one of these. The concerns work in tandem: I want to gain 26
A PLACE YOU DON'T WANT TO BE such and such, I don’t want to lose certain things I hold dear. I want pleasure, I don’t want pain. I want fame, I don’t want disgrace. I want praise, I don’t want blame. This last one, the need for approval, is really big. When you say something and someone winces in reaction, how hard is it not to want to restate what you just said or to represent yourself in a slightly different way? That one quick wince can make us unhappy for quite some time. The critical lesson is that we will be stranded in the thought universe, among the eight mundane concerns, as long as the reference point for everything is “me.” Each of the eight mundane concerns is a participation in a kind of internal grandiosity of self that cannot be contained. When we’re talking about gain or loss, for example, how much gain is enough? As soon as you imagine having $10 million, well, $20 million would be better. The last lottery winner got $200 million. Yeah, that’s more like it! There is no sense of proportion. 27
Steven Maurice Droullard The eight mundane concerns involve us in a kind of insanity. We would be a lot healthier in mind and body if, rather than worrying about how much money it would take to make us truly happy, we brought some soup to the sick lady next door. That kind of opportunity to shift our attention from ourselves to someone else and share in some real happiness is easily available. It is a perfectly wonderful way to escape the thought universe of self-centeredness and to enter present reality.
ENOUGH ABOUT YOU! CAN WE TALK ABOUT ME?
The word “ego” is simply the word “I.” Both mean the same thing. Freud originally used the German, “Ich,” which simply translates into English as “I.” But the scientific and medical community of the day thought it necessary to coin a distinct term. So they turned to Latin, and came up with “ego.” Whenever we say “I” or “me,” we’re speaking of our self-identity or self-image. That’s ego. We care about ego because it is a greedy consumer of our attention. So greedy, in fact, that it can absolutely deny us the ability to focus our attention in any other
Steven Maurice Droullard direction. When ego is in control, we can attend only to experiences that we understand, that we have come to accept as our unquestioned reality. That makes it a close relative of self-centeredness and almost as limiting. It is not surprising that your selfimage would feel like a fixed thing, something really concrete. After all, it was shaped by your personal history and everything about you up to the present moment. But it is only an image, not fixed reality. The challenge is to withdraw your attention from it, and look beyond to new possibilities that wait to be discovered and are wide open and profound. New insights are threats to the selfimage that ego is struggling so hard to protect and maintain so be aware that your ego will put up a fight. Ego hates the idea of plunging into the unknown, of facing the specter of change. It likes fixed concepts because they can be made subordinate to our understanding. Never mind that this check30
ENOUGH ABOUT YOU! CAN WE TALK ABOUT ME? mates our ability to free up our attention and gain the mobility to attend present reality. (See, for example, the “authoritative” models posited by the dogmas of religions; they promote a process of attachment to fixed ideas. This engages a religion in the error of turning the attention of their members toward the universe of thought rather than toward the present moment in which the Spirit they teach about resides.) Ego’s value system is idolatry. It is at its happiest when it imagines itself to be fixed perfection, unchanging and ageless. Beautifully proportioned classical Greek sculptures are excellent models of ego’s ideal. (Remind you of some people you see at the gym?) Ego yearns for the same permanent visage that will forever place it at the center of attention, brimming with approval and admiration. Status items in the form of clothing, cars and jewelry are especially valued for that reason. Remember the advertising slogan, “A diamond is forever”? It promised to enhance self image in a permanent way. 31
Steven Maurice Droullard Ego is always looking for ways to attract ever more admiring looks. The downside, of course, is that this can set off a furious battle of egos, causing the participants to descend into a great fool’s game of competitive fame, fortune and fashion. In any attention transaction, ego will continually angle for advantage, hoping to receive more than it gives. This trait is especially visible in its perpetual impatience. Take, for example, how ego would likely engage with a technique for spiritual enlightenment that suggests five levels of awareness. It is incredulous at the idea of actually having to go through all five levels. Barely able to contain its impatience, ego says, “Okay, tell me about number five. Let’s go right to five. One, two, three, and four sound like an awfully big waste of time.” It wants to immediately grab the brass ring waiting to be claimed at the end of the process. Forget about spiritual attainment. Ego can’t wait to proclaim itself a brass ring holder - “I’m at stage 5!” Why does it want to do that? Well, “If I am at stage five, I am more worthy of 32
ENOUGH ABOUT YOU! CAN WE TALK ABOUT ME? attention.” It’s a predictable dynamic. Ego always acts that way. Being the center of attention is not just a matter of desire for ego. It’s an absolute need. When it is not receiving attention from you or someone else, it winks out of existence. More later on techniques to accomplish that. But be reassured that once it’s gone, you are no less a person, not harmed in the slightest, missing nothing.
WHEN ATTENTION IS DIVIDED
Albert Einstein once said, “Any man who can drive safely while kissing a pretty girl is simply not giving the kiss the attention it deserves” I like this observation. It tells us that how much we get out of a given experience heavily depends on whether our attention is focused or divided. When you divide or split your attention, your presence is lessened, your intelligent participation is in retreat, and the reality of any particular event is blurred. This inevitably diminishes the quality and meaningfulness of the life you are leading.
Steven Maurice Droullard In Einstein’s example, the fix is simple. You’re perfectly conscious of the two activities. All you have to do is halt one and pay attention to the other. But in everyday life, the problem often seems more complicated; we split our attention in many different ways, often out of practical necessity. If you have children, it’s kid awareness. Where is the kid now? What’s he doing? Everybody has car key awareness. Where did I put them? Are they in my pocket? Glasses awareness, wallet awareness - the list is endless, and you have to maintain a relationship with each. Your friends, family and employer also have claims on your attention. Add to that all the ordinary things you do, like driving, dressing, eating, reading a newspaper. And don’t overlook all of the media-driven messages trying to take a bite of your attention. To make matters more perplexing, splits in our attention are often rooted in our unconscious. Helen Palmer illustrates that with an interesting exercise in her book The 36
WHEN ATTENTION IS DIVIDED Enneagrams. It demonstrates how your memory of some past experience can linger in your unconscious and serve to divide your attention. Think of someone who made you feel afraid when you were young. Visualize him as he appeared then, particularly the intimidating way he always looked at you. Now, imagine that he lives with you in your house, and that he could appear before you at any moment. You sit down to read a book. Helen Palmer writes: “Now open the book and start to read, while at the same time remembering to stay aware of the person in the house. Split your attention between reading the lines and checking out the potential intruder’s movements. You will either be able to pay attention to both tasks simultaneously, or your attention will shuttle back and forth between
Steven Maurice Droullard reading and being aware of the other’s whereabouts.”1 Feel the pull and tug on your concentration? You are getting a glimpse of the power of your state of mind to divide your attention. As in Helen Palmer’s example, the trigger is often memory of a trauma from your past. A physical location that you associate with the trauma can stir the unconscious into action, or just a smell that reminds you of it. Once this happens, your attention is instantly conflicted - divided between the thoughts streaming through your unconscious and the concerns at that moment of your outward self. Intellectual achievement can be undermined by divided attention. A study by scholars at Dartmouth and Princeton showed how differently certain students performed in the presence of black researchers vs. white
1 Helen Palmer, (1988) The Enneagram, (p. 252) Harper & Row, San Francisco
WHEN ATTENTION IS DIVIDED researchers. All students in the study were given a task that measured “executive function” skills. According to an account in the New York Times, the performance of those identified as racially biased “dropped by almost two-thirds after conversations with a black researcher but not after conversations with a white researcher. Students who ranked as less prejudiced had far smaller shifts in scores.” The leaders of the study “speculated that the strain of veiling prejudices might sap performance, because executive function - which requires organizing, thinking and attention - appears to be a limited resource.” So Einstein was right. Divided attention gets in the way of the task at hand, whether it be a kiss or performing well on a test. More than that, like the voice in our head that talks all the time, it helps to trap us in what I call “ordinary awareness.” Put divided attention on your list of undesirables.
SOMETIMES LESS REALLY IS MORE
Learning to withdraw your attention is the first step towards taking control of your attention. William James perhaps said it better when he observed that the skillful deployment of one’s attention “requires withdrawal from some things in order to deal effectively with others.” Understanding the importance of this insight is critical to your pursuit of higher awareness. The notion of withdrawing in order to take control sounds counterintuitive, I know. Logic might suggest that you should be adding to the tools at your disposal - for example, seeking to develop a religious or spiritual understanding that would improve
Steven Maurice Droullard the quality of your consciousness. Implicit in this is the contradictory assumption that most of what you are doing with your attention right now is okay, and that an additional personal dimension of some kind is all you need to finally gain total control. This is a common error in thinking. If you try to add another wing to your personality or further divide your attention, you are headed in the wrong direction. Instead, you want to free significant portions of your attention by examining what it is currently supporting and doing some selective deletions. Think of the most voracious devourers of attention that we discussed in previous chapters, including self-centeredness, selfimage, ego and the roster of destructive spirits like anger. In each case, withdrawing attention is the most effective way to begin draining their influence and turning away from the unwelcome habits that they plant within you.
SOMETIMES LESS REALLY IS MORE This might not be so important if you had unlimited powers of attention. But you don’t. Your attention capacity is already being strained to its limits by the demands of “normal” life. Look back at the previous chapter and all the ways that your attention is divided. So much of your attention capacity is eaten up by everyday thoughts, concerns, worries and ideas that there is little room for anything else. The solution, then, is to free up as much of that capacity as you can - to withdraw attention from the clutter that is now crowding it. Take it away from things you do that have no value at all and are a waste of your time. Make that the test. The simple act of withdrawal opens the door to selfawareness by creating room for a new perspective, like your inner observer, to flourish. It makes the reality that is rising to meet you fluid and full of fresh, creative possibilities. Without that happening, your journey toward higher awareness can never really begin.
Steven Maurice Droullard Many wisdom traditions support this concept of withdrawing attention to achieve self-betterment. In the Gnostic Christian tradition, in the 27th saying of the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus advises withdrawal in this way, “If you do not fast from the world, you will not find the Kingdom of God.” Fasting from the world is the withdrawal from material concerns, withdrawal from the basic instincts of ego. Antoine de Saint Exupery observed, “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” And there is an old alchemist saying, “Dissolve and coagulate.” Dissolve always comes first. We dissolve, and then we can firm up again as something new. That is the process that turned a man like Saint Augustine - who, in his earlier days, was slave to his earthly appetites - into one of the
SOMETIMES LESS REALLY IS MORE greatest Christian saints, and what turned a confused Indian prince into the Buddha. It is also true that simply wanting something doesn’t get you there. Simply hoping and having faith that you will arrive at some new destination isn’t enough. You might want to be a happy human being, and you might want to practice an enlightened perspective, and you might want to focus your attention on caring for others and being compassionate. But you cannot stop being an unhappy human being and assume the persona of a happy one, just like that. You need to work at it. Withdrawing your attention from destructive habits like self-centeredness is a critical part of the process. It frees you to turn your attention in other, more rewarding directions. It puts within reach the ability to apply your attention mindfully.
WELCOME TO THE PRESENT MOMENT
Here is a destination that I’ve alluded to several times already, but which deserves a closer look: the present moment. One of this book’s basic themes is the need for your attention to be in the present moment. But wait. Aren’t we always present in every moment? Is this some kind of word game? No, and no. This will give you a rough sense of what I mean by the present moment: Someone throws a ball at your face. You duck. But you duck before you know you are ducking. The event and your reaction to it occur faster than you can collect your thoughts, faster than you can order your awareness into
Steven Maurice Droullard action. You were, for that instant, in a state quite like “the present moment.” Total focus, total concentration. All else was shut out. Now, it may seem at the time like your thinking mind is on the job. But it isn’t. It is actually a trick your brain is performing. Your brain captures the scene, then your thinking mind shows up a half second later and pretends that it was there all the time. But it wasn’t. Think of other things we do in that half second before our thinking mind kicks in. Handling a car in a moment of crisis, for example (remember poor Sandy almost running over Jim in her Buick?). Or returning a tennis serve. Most sports cannot be played at the speed of thought. Yogi Berra made a really good observation when he said, “You can’t think and hit the ball at the same time.” Nor can you think your way through a guitar riff. Conscious mind can’t do it. If it tries, the result is like Frankenstein on the strings. It’s slow and awkward because that’s the maximum speed at which thought operates. 48
WELCOME TO THE PRESENT MOMENT You have to assign all these activities to processes that operate in the present moment, faster than thought. Do you see how that applies to taking control of our attention habits? The present moment is that flash in time when we connect with the spirits. Remember them, forces like love, hate, compassion and anger? The present moment is that split second in which our attention makes the choice of which spirit to follow. It is the instant in which you have a wonderful opportunity: to turn your attention in the direction of positive spirituality and exercise your veto of undesirable urges. But you can’t “think” that turn of attention or that veto, anymore than you can “think” your return of a tennis serve. There isn’t enough time. Rather, your awareness must find a way to be there at that very instant - in the present moment - to direct your attention to a positive choice. (More about techniques to make that happen later.)
Steven Maurice Droullard It really is a matter of timing, that pesky half-second by which thought trails the creative moment. If your awareness is caught up in the delayed consciousness of thinking, your attention choices will be made automatically rather than under your direction. Habit takes over. Your attention falls back on its vast supply of default settings, much like a computer reverts to the settings stored in its memory unless it is told to do something else. Almost invariably, the default settings send attention in unrewarding directions - to past experiences or how things should be or could be. The present moment is nowhere in sight. Instead of being focused, our attention is badly scattered. Buffers like worry, regret and paranoia add to our predicament, muddying our awareness. Selfconsciousness is an especially common and powerful buffer. Most people converse easily and unselfconsciously with friends, but become different persons in front of an audience. Self-consciousness takes over, propelling them into a disconnected universe 50
WELCOME TO THE PRESENT MOMENT of fearful thoughts. They become inarticulate, and sometimes forget their own names or what they intended to say. When we are out of the present moment, we fixate on asserting ourselves, defending ourselves, doting on ourselves. We invent problems, we nurse anxieties: “There’s something I ought to be afraid of, I just can’t put my hand on it.” We try to script the outcome of conflicts at work or in a relationship: “Well, if he says this, I’ll say that.” We become caught up in mental hand-wringing, especially what I call “grandma worries.” Grandma, my wife’s mother, lives with us and she frets a lot: “The grandkids might hurt themselves today. I hope they don’t hurt themselves. But they sometimes do hurt themselves, and it could happen again!” Her attention is consumed by worries like that, shutting out any opportunity to savor whatever good things might happen during a given day.
Steven Maurice Droullard It’s no exaggeration to say that, when it comes to attention habits, most of us just bounce around a lot. From one moment to the next, we are quietly peeved or quite angry or sort of pleased or mildly amused, and so on - but not really happy or blissful. Life lived this way is a bit gray. On the other hand, our inability to focus on anything for very long usually protects us from making truly disastrous attention choices. But look what happens when you acquire the skill to move your awareness to the present moment, enabling you to control your attention choices. Everything changes. You are no longer limited to material reality, the sights and sounds and distractions of everyday life. Instead, you are ready for the far more ambitious and rewarding experience of engaging with spiritual reality. In particular, you begin to take notice of your own spiritual habits. And you become aware of the spirituality manifested by those around you. All of this should be added incentive to reclaiming the time and energy now greedily consumed by your default impulses. 52
WELCOME TO THE PRESENT MOMENT By the way, don’t misunderstand what I’ve said about the thinking mind. It is an absolutely essential, wonderful tool for planning ahead, mapping your world and retrieving handy information. But the thought universe is by its nature an impoverished one. It can never be more than a very pale and low resolution shadow of reality. So while you want to use your powers of thought, you don’t want to dwell primarily in a universe that is limited to images of your past experiences and your resulting personal impressions of reality. If you do, one of the primary consequences is that your spiritual reality will be decided without you. That makes it doubly important to be in the present moment, to override those default settings.
TOOLS OF THE TRADE
Now that we’ve defined “the present moment,” how do we get there? How do we learn to focus and steer our awareness so that it will place our attention in the present moment? The fundamental tool is contemplation or meditation. The wisdom traditions offer a broad selection of techniques. They operate in an almost mechanical way to overcome the half-second lag that otherwise leaves us stranded in the thought universe far from where we want to be. You may already meditate in some fashion and there are many kinds of medita-
Steven Maurice Droullard tion instructions offered on books, tapes, videos, by many Gurus and other teachers. I cannot comment on each so I will identify the principles that I find important. And, in chapter 11, I will suggest a particular meditation technique; a simple one that effectively achieves our objective. Remember; don’t be satisfied to just know about these things. That will leave you stuck in the thought universe. Doing them is key. Meditation requires a leap of faith; you must enter into it in a spirit of pioneering and exploration. This is because it is difficult at first to accept that not giving thoughts attention is a way of doing something beneficial and constructive. The American Meditation Institute for Yoga Science and Philosophy provides this excellent explanation of what meditation is and is not: “In the process of meditation, we ask the mind to let go of its tendencies to think, analyze, remember, solve problems, focus on 56
TOOLS OF THE TRADE events of the past or on the expectations of the future. Meditation helps the mind to slow down its rapid series of thoughts and feelings, and to replace that mental activity with an inner awareness and attention. Thus, meditation is not thinking about problems or analyzing a situation. It is not fantasizing or daydreaming or merely letting the mind wander aimlessly. Meditation is not having an internal conversation or argument with yourself or intensifying the thinking process. Meditation is simply a quiet, effortless, onepointed focus of attention and awareness.” It is common for newcomers, when they initially achieve a substantial departure from their thought universe, to have a strong and even startling experience the first time or two that they actually meditate. I have watched adults break into tears and others feel euphoric. But this triggers a defensive reaction as ego reasserts itself and its claim on attention: “Whoa! What’s going on? Is this going to be okay? What about me? Don’t desert me! ”
Steven Maurice Droullard The vividness of such meditation experiences is not hard to explain. Suddenly your attention is no longer veiled behind buffers like self-consciousness or worry. What I call “present reality” with its naturally powerful creative presence begins to communicate with you. It is as if you walked into a room you expected to be empty - and then, suddenly, you sensed a presence there. “Whoops!” There is a sense of surprise and even shock: “I’m not sure if this is my place.” As you attend to that, or any other thought that arises, doing so places you back in the universe of thought, and then ego jumps in and works to reestablish the selfcenteredness you escaped for a moment. Your inner observer now plays a key role. You will have no way to resist the voice of ego moving your attention back into the thought universe without your inner observer. It is now the critical ground on which “you,” as a simple point of attention, can stand and make the decision to turn in another direction; to turn instead into present reality where no thought exists. Your control 58
TOOLS OF THE TRADE over your attention needs to be such that you are able to pull it back when random tempting trains of thought come by to scoop it up and carry it back into the thought universe. You want to stay firmly planted in the present moment - not simply duck in for a quick snapshot and then hastily retreat to your thought universe to look at it. If you can do so you will achieve a critical mobility. You will have the ability to consciously move from one universe and into the other; to escape the confines of an invented thought universe and to move into the vastly richer present realty. Another word of caution: sheer force of will won’t work. I know some people think that meditation will teach them to repress their thoughts and thus still their minds. That is a serious misunderstanding. You can’t use your thinking mind with its half-second lag to push you more into the present. Do you see the contradiction? You need a technique that champions your awareness, not one that attempts to repress.
Steven Maurice Droullard Steer clear of superficial remedies, including much of what is billed as paranormal abilities. Corrado Pensa said, “Superficial therapy is like superficial meditation. Both are painfully ineffective.” I bring this up because there are many empty enthusiasms that use the wardrobe and vocabulary of spirituality but actually work against it. They provide you with the rationale to inflate your ego, your sense of self-importance, and to make yourself the center of attention. This contradicts every healthy practice that I can think of. Valid spiritual paths will help you collect and then give your attention to others; invalid spiritual paths help you hungrily consume the attention of others. I should note that you do not have to espouse a particular theological belief system to practice and benefit from a meditative technique. It matters not if you are a believer or non-believer of some kind. An effective pursuit of higher awareness will not recognize or be subject to such boundaries. Nor 60
TOOLS OF THE TRADE should the technique you employ be overt or showy, angling for the attention of others. Every moment in which you successfully attend present reality counts, no matter how brief. Any technique that achieves this result is beneficial. Finally, this thought: a lot of what gets called spiritual practice has to do with retreating from the world. That’s understandable. Lots of people feel pressured by modern life. Many look to spirituality in hopes that they will find some relief, that they will be set free for a little while. In fact, meditative techniques that detach our attention from the thoughts streaming through our minds can provide that release. This is consistent with the need for a withdrawal. Nothing wrong so far. But when spiritual practice becomes simply a way to avoid the pressure and unpleasantness of daily life, the potential for misuse looms large. Spirituality is more than 61
Steven Maurice Droullard merely escaping our everyday world. It is about truly understanding our intimate relationship with all the spirits - love, hate, anger, compassion and so on - that we partner with moment by moment and beginning to consciously control the process. If, after meditating or taking part in a retreat, we return to work with our attitudes and habitual reactions unchanged, then we’re not really engaged in a spiritual practice. All we are doing is taking time outs. On top of that, we run the risk of overdoing it. If the main use of our practice is to repeatedly retreat from the world, we can become a bit numb to our surroundings less conscious and less caring about what is going on around us. So it’s possible to spend many years practicing disciplines that end up separating us not only from our stress, but from life altogether. Here is a simple way to measure the value of your spiritual practice. Ask yourself these questions. Has it reduced your feelings of irritation? Has it affected in a positive 62
TOOLS OF THE TRADE way the manner in which you interact with others? Is it easier for you to exhibit patience? Have you learned to notice and veto anger at its first glimmer? If your answers are generally affirmative, your spiritual practice is doing you some genuine good. If not, you may be getting some temporary relief from our pressure-cooker world, but you haven’t really gotten to the nut of spirituality yet.
THE YOGI AND THE ZEN MASTER
Over the past few decades, a lot of people have wanted to wire up Yogis and Zen Masters and see what was going on inside them. One experiment that actually did so included a Hindu Yogi, a Zen Master and a control group of regular folks. All were monitored for galvanic, or electrical, responses on the skin. Other instruments recorded respiration, brain activity, blood pressure and heart rate. At the start of the experiment, the Yogi and the Zen Master were given a few minutes to enter their states of meditation. The monitoring equipment very soon indicated that the two were indeed meditating.
Steven Maurice Droullard All was quiet. Suddenly, unseen and without warning, someone positioned behind the group began beating on an enormous drum. Members of the control group were so startled that they experienced elevated pulse rates, some sweating and heightened blood pressure. It took them six to 15 minutes to regain their equilibrium. The Zen Master also responded: heart rate went up, sweat appeared. But his reaction lasted only a few seconds. Then he was placid again. The Yogi showed virtually no response. His pulse rate was steady, his breathing was unchanged, his skin showed no signs of sweating. He remained perfectly still. Afterwards, the researchers interviewed the two men. The Yogi, they found, had been practicing his mantra, and was so fixed on the present reality of the sound of his mantra that he was oblivious to anything else. Even his unconscious reflexes had been 66
THE YOGI AND THE ZEN MASTER quieted, no small feat. It was a remarkable demonstration of focused attention. The Zen Master had been practicing mindfulness - giving all his attention to whatever was arising in the present moment. So he was noticing the overall present reality of his immediate environment. But even when reality proved to be startling, he did not allow his mind to hop aboard a train of expectations about what might happen next. Most of us would have been worriedly thinking, “Wow, that was a total shock. What are they going to throw at us next?” The Zen Master did none of that. His response to the drum beat came and went in a split second. The instant his response ended, he left the noise of the drum beat behind and was on to the next moment, where he was at peace again. The different performances by the Yogi and the Zen Master point up the distinction between concentration and mindfulness, two very different kinds of meditation. Each rewards its adherents with a specific ability: 67
Steven Maurice Droullard to retreat and become centered and refreshed like the Yogi, or to be mindfully engaged in the world like the Zen Master. Every serious student of consciousness should make an effort to develop both abilities. “Bare attention” is central to the Zen Master’s response. Bare attention is what you employ when you are practicing mindfulness. It means to give non-reactive or nonjudgmental attention. Just notice things, just witness them. Don’t evaluate them. Don’t allow your experience to trigger a thought process. Just be aware. Remember, to be judgmental is to think and to think is to be in the lagging thought universe. We don’t stop being judgmental to be nice. We do so to be able to be in present reality. When we are directly informed by present reality our responses to it become naturally balanced and appropriate. The members of the control group were employing ordinary, everyday awareness. They could not let go of the drum 68
THE YOGI AND THE ZEN MASTER sounds. By allowing their attention to be swallowed up, they lost track of reality. Their attention became dominated by worry over what they were experiencing, and what might happen next. When our awareness is caught up in self-centered dithering instead of being connected with reality, we are in trouble. The longer we ruminate on a past moment, the less appropriate our responses become. So take it from the Zen Master: just hear, just see, just taste, and stop there. Don’t hold onto a sensation once you’ve experienced it. Don’t push away an experience simply because it wasn’t something you welcomed. Simply have the experience and let it go. You don’t have to stop and think about it. During the split-second act of experiencing, the precise information about what you are experiencing is automatically being cataloged and recorded in your brain. You are able to understand the experience as it really is, rather than merely hold an opinion about it.
Steven Maurice Droullard Most of what we’ve just covered has applied specifically to meditation skills. But I hope you recognized how the basic theme of this chapter also applies to everyday life: the more we are able to direct our attention to the present moment, the more aware we are of what is actually happening. That makes us more capable, more astute, and more able to participate in the creative opportunities that the present moment always offers.
BREATHE YOUR WAY TO AWARENESS
Have you ever listened to your breath? I mean, really focused on the gentle sound of air being taken in through your nose or mouth and then expelled? Try it for a moment. Then, simultaneously, try to entertain a thought - I wonder if there is a ballgame on TV, should I wash the car today? You can’t do it. You can’t listen to your breath and think at the same time. You have to move your attention back and forth between one and the other. If you drift into thought, you lose track of the sound of your breath. They are in two different places. This is not a parlor game, like trying to rub your stomach in a circular motion and
Steven Maurice Droullard pat the top of your head at the same time. It is your introduction to breath meditation, one of the simplest and most immediate ways to escape the confines of self-centeredness. At the most fundamental level, if you can hear your breath, you are meditating. It is as simple as that. If you can hear your breath, your awareness - and, therefore, your attention - is in the present moment. When your attention rides your breath you are without ego, beyond the limited boundaries of your thought universe. Breath meditation will put you in that place where you can veto a rising emotion. Imagine a flush of anger building inside. When the first impulse comes, when you begin to feel it tugging at your attention, you can short circuit the whole process by just turning your attention in a focused way to your breath. You don’t have to stop and think, “I won’t submit to this anger.” You quash it just by the act of redirecting your attention to your breath.
BREATHE YOUR WAY TO AWARENESS It may be difficult to imagine that an uncomplicated act like listening to your breath could make such a profound difference in your awareness. Most people would consider this impossible or nearly impossible. But it does. Interestingly, it is one of the most popular methods of meditation employed by Theravada Buddhist practitioners, and it can be found in Buddhist writings and traditions dating back to ancient times. Consider the significance of having a simple technique that effectively quashes anger or fear in the context of this brief observation from the Tao Te Ching, “Do great things while they are yet small, hard things while they are yet easy; for all things, however great or hard, have a beginning when they are little and easy. So thus the wise man accomplishes the greatest tasks without undertaking anything important.” I suggest that you take 10-15 minutes in the morning, find a quiet place, sit up straight without leaning back on something, and listen intently to the sound of your 73
Steven Maurice Droullard breath. Place the focus of your attention right inside your nasal cavity and relax deeply as you attend entirely to the slow sound of inhalation and exhalation. A few more minutes of this before you go to sleep will help insure good rest. I like breath meditation because I can “take it on the road.” It’s portable, and you can work it into your everyday life. Remember the voices in your head that I described earlier - the irritation at being caught in heavy traffic, the anxiety over a jury summons? Breath meditation works well at removing my attention from mental noise like that. Develop the habit of listening to your breath during odd moments - five seconds here, ten seconds there, a minute someplace else. You will find that you are collecting a lot of fresh new capacity. Simply by being in the present moment, even in short bursts, your senses will sharpen.
BREATHE YOUR WAY TO AWARENESS Don’t feel pressured to have a profound experience. Think of what you are doing as taking advantage of otherwise wasted moments. Believe me, there is plenty of time that will otherwise be consumed by the useless worry, gripes and complaints departments of our awareness. Start reclaiming that attention and you will benefit in important ways. When you can hear your breath, the other information entering your senses will be sharper, clearer and more precise. Your awareness will be enlivened and brightened, and you will find yourself in unaccustomed touch with reality. Spend time working on this meditative technique and a new and brighter image of your world will begin to take shape. You’ll find yourself putting distance between you and your undesirable spiritual habits. You’ll feel happier in your surroundings. Your interactions with people in the course of a day will be more pleasurable. You’ll be a lot more fun to be around.
Steven Maurice Droullard I have even found that I can be involved in an activity and listen to my breath at the same time. Sounds confusing, I know. Maybe the example of listening to another person will help. If someone is speaking, we gain a much clearer impression of what is being said if we are not listening to our own mental chatter - thoughts like “When this person gets finished saying this, I’m going to say that.” When I use breath meditation in such situations, I find that it opens me up to really hear what the person is saying - to absorb what is being said more accurately and more precisely than I otherwise might be able to do. It is a bit like creating a background sound track that washes out distractions while I focus on listening to what is being said. By having my attention in the present moment I also see the precise facial expression that accompanied each word. That is combined with the information in the tone each word was delivered with. This information sharpens my awareness of the person’s deeper motivations and helps me have a much clearer understanding than I otherwise would if my attention had been 76
BREATHE YOUR WAY TO AWARENESS largely preoccupied by a stream of my own internal chatter. The efficacy of breath meditation underlines a critical point: knowing about many different ways to meditate is not the most important thing. Spending time in the present moment - learning to live and work there - is what is important, and it takes just one effective meditation technique to do that. Yes, there are many other techniques than breath meditation to explore. But don’t get caught up in an endless pursuit of every discipline that you hear about; don’t fall prey to unhealthy thoughts of how each will surely enhance your self-image. Keep in mind that your overriding goal is to move your attention to the present moment and become aware of all its possibilities. Breath mediation can do that all by itself. But what to do when you are already in a rage or scared out of your wits? Regardless of our best intentions this will happen now and then and it will help to use a little
Steven Maurice Droullard more developed breath discipline to get back into conscious control. For such occasions I recommend a technique used by well trained police officers, SWAT teams and even military Special Forces. It is called “tactical breathing.” First we need to review the difference between your autonomic and your somatic nervous systems. Your somatic nervous system responds to your conscious control, so you can decide to run or walk for example. Your autonomic nervous system runs unconscious automatic functions like your heart beat or perspiration. We know of two functions that are autonomic but that everyone can control consciously if they decide to. Those two functions are blinking and breathing. Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, a former Army Ranger, paratrooper and West Point Psychology Professor offers some key insights that have literally been tested under fire. He notes that when we are terribly 78
BREATHE YOUR WAY TO AWARENESS afraid we stop thinking in our forebrain (the part that analyzes, processes, communicates with language, and knows how to wait) and we start operating with our midbrain, which is, after millions of years, still the same as the midbrain of a crocodile. The midbrain’s primary function is to ensure survival, for which it relies on a few simple default program bundles triggered by fear, pain, hunger and sexuality. When fear arises the “midbrain reaches up and takes hold of the forebrain.” Each time it does so it creates a path, which makes it easier for it to take control more quickly the next time a similar fear is attended to. But, Grossman says, it doesn’t have to be this way. “If, at the very beginning, we can teach the subject to control their autonomic, physiological arousal, then they can nip this whole process in the bud, stopping the vicious cycle of fear and anxiety before it consumes them.” He suggests that, although autonomic responses are by definition automatic, “the bridge between the somatic and autonomic nervous system is breathing, and an increasing body of research and law enforcement experience indicates that if we teach the victim to 79
Steven Maurice Droullard control their breathing, then they can control their physiological arousal.” This is how Lt. Col. Grossman teaches “tactical breathing.” “There is still a need for extensive research to see how long each phase should be held, but for many years now the four-count method has worked wonders for warriors around the globe. Once you start using it, you can tailor it to your body’s needs. For example, you might find that you need to hold each count for five seconds and that you need five cycles of the procedure to achieve the desired effect. This is fine. It is like adjusting a tuning knob: Grab hold of the knob and keep tuning it until you get “dialed in” to the level that works for you. For now, let us use the four-count method. Begin by breathing in through your nose to a slow count of four, which expands your belly like a balloon. Hold for a count of four, and then slowly exhale through your lips for a count of four, as your belly collapses like a balloon with its air released. Hold empty for a count 80
BREATHE YOUR WAY TO AWARENESS of four and then repeat the process. That is it. Short, but effective. Now, follow along as I guide you through the procedure. In through the nose two, three, four. Hold two, three, four. Out through the lips two, three, four. Hold two, three, four. In through the nose deep, deep, deep. Hold two, three, four. Out through the lips deep, deep, deep. Hold two, three, four. In through the nose two, three, four. Hold two, three, four. Out through the lips two, three, four. Hold two, three, four. Maybe you are feeling a little mellow now or maybe you didn’t notice a difference since you were already relaxed. But in a life and death situation, we know this simple exercise can be a true revolution in human development. For the first time in human history we are teaching large portions of our
Steven Maurice Droullard population to consciously control the unconscious part of their body.”2
2 Lt. Col. Dave Grossman (2004) On Combat (p.323324) PPCT Research Publications
BOUNCE - HIT, YOU'RE IN A FLOW STATE
Tim Gallwey, the author of The Inner Game of Tennis, and I learned to meditate from the same guru back in the early ‘70s. One day I was invited to watch him teach a tennis lesson based on what he was learning from meditation. His pupil was a middleaged woman who had never played tennis before, and did not seem particularly athletic. He stationed her on one side of the net, picked up a tennis ball and walked to the other side. His instructions were unorthodox, to say the least. Nothing about where to stand or how to hold the racquet or how to swing.
Steven Maurice Droullard All he said to her was, “I’m going to toss the ball over the net, and I want you to do two things. First, I want you to give me an audible report the moment the ball hits the pavement on your side. Just say, ‘Bounce.’” He tried it a time or two, and she did as instructed. “Now,” Tim said, “when you swing at the ball and it connects with the strings of your racquet, give me another audible report. Just say, “Hit.’ That’s all you have to do.” Tim gently lobbed the ball over the net. It landed in front of her and she said, “Bounce.” It rebounded into the air and she whacked it, calling out “Hit” at the same moment. The ball flew back across the net to Tim. He repeated this routine several times, each time pitching the ball a bit harder. She returned it each time with a forehand swing, holding her racquet with both hands like a baseball bat. Now, without warning, he tossed the ball to her backhand side. She instantly switched her grip to one hand only and 84
BOUNCE - HIT, YOU'RE IN A FLOW STATE backhanded the ball back across the net. Nice shot, I thought. But she was too busy concentrating -- making sure she was saying “Bounce” and “Hit” at the right time -- to be amazed by her accomplishment. I watched as this total novice continued to volley with seeming ease. What was going on? Tim had hit on a simple but effective way to shift her attention to the present moment and keep it there. His technique gave her no time to think about what she was doing, to get hung up in the universe of thought that always runs a half second late. No time to think, hmm, maybe I should make the next shot just a bit higher, or, I wonder if I should bend my knees more. The intense concentration imposed by Tim’s very practical discipline allowed her to achieve a measure of competence that her thinking mind would have precluded for months. Like breath meditation, “bounce and hit” is an example of how a mechanical technique can enable us to experience the 85
Steven Maurice Droullard sensation of being in the present moment -even if we lack the training needed to consciously access it with an attention choice. Neither operates by suppressing thoughts or subduing thinking. Instead, both move awareness forward in time to that instant before ego and thought arise. Techniques like these are excellent ways to start exploring present consciousness. The only requirement is an activity that divorces our attention from the chatter of our thinking mind. If the activity is intense enough to entirely absorb our attention, then we have likely entered what is called call a “flow state”3 of awareness. This is where Yogi Berra’s observation about not being able to think and hit the ball at the same time eventually takes us. It can be a delightful place to visit. We enter the flow state when we are completely involved in an activity for its own sake. Our attention becomes so concentrated, so much in the present, that ego
3 Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi coined the term “flow”
BOUNCE - HIT, YOU'RE IN A FLOW STATE simply vanishes. In the flow state, we lose track of time and every action “flows” inevitably yet creatively from the previous one. The flow state is when you’re in the groove and do things effortlessly, like a jazz musician whose fingers race across a piano keyboard, improvised notes and chords spilling out in rapid succession. Or, a tennis player who is in top form. Tim describes how it feels: When a tennis player is “on his game,” he’s not thinking about how, when, or even where to hit the ball. He’s not trying to hit the ball, and after the shot he doesn’t think about how badly or how well he made contact. The ball seems to get hit through an automatic process which doesn’t require thought. There may be an awareness of the sight, sound and feel of the ball, and even of the tactical situation, but the player just
Steven Maurice Droullard
seems to know without thinking what to do.4 There is, by the way, a close connection between Tim’s “bounce and hit” discipline and mindfulness. You can hear it in his comments above. Don’t get sidetracked making judgments about your performance. Don’t drift into thinking how well or how poorly you did this or that. Be only in the present moment, be acting in the present moment. If you do this then attending to a simple tennis ball becomes a profound consciousness shifting meditation.
4 W. Timothy Gallwey (1974) The Inner Game of Tennis (p.31) Random House, New York
DON'T TRIFLE WITH ATTENTION
The influence of attention on human activity exhibits itself in many different and often unusual ways. There is a story that Plutarch tells about Archimedes, the Greek mathematician who was attempting to solve a difficult problem. He was so focused on its intricacies that he failed to notice the Roman army had invaded and was sacking his city. He became aware of the incursion only when a Roman soldier burst into his quarters. As Archimedes protested the interruption, the soldier ran him through with a sword. It is a vivid, if somewhat extreme, example of concentrated attention.
Steven Maurice Droullard Dr. Richard Wiseman5 of the University of Hertfordshire in England was studying luck. Why, he wondered, are some people luckier than others? He assembled a randomly selected group of people for an experiment. Their task was to look through a newspaper and count the number of photographs on its pages. He did not tell them that midway through the paper, he had planted a half-page advertisement. It read, “Tell the experimenter you’ve seen this and you’ll get 250 pounds.” The type was big and bold, but no photograph accompanied it. Only half of his subjects noticed the offer. Wiseman concluded in part that lucky people are those who notice the unexpected. Unlucky people see only what they are looking for. Put another way, opportunity exists everywhere. But if we narrow the focus of our attention only to what we are expecting, other possibilities or options
5 Dr. Richard Wiseman (2003) The Luck Factor, Miramax books, Hyperion, New York
DON'T TRIFLE WITH ATTENTION vanish from view. It’s not that they aren’t there, it’s just that our attention overlooks them. The role that attention plays as a “volume knob” on our emotions is yet another reason to appreciate its power. Stephen Gaskin observed that “whatever you put your attention on, you get more of.” Dr. David Bresler, a colleague of mine, noted that “whatever we give our attention to grows.” I’ve seen the truth of these insights in my own life. When I connect with an emotion like anger, for example, my attention can amplify it until it is a great raging presence. By turning my attention away from it, I lower its volume. If one’s volume knob is placed in the hands of an unfettered negative spirit, extreme outcomes are possible. Take the case of the “Granny Ax Attack,” as headlined in the New York Post. The story told of a 20year-old who asked his 63-year-old grandmother to make him a scrambled egg sandwich with cheese. About 10 minutes later, 91
Steven Maurice Droullard she emerged from her kitchen with a fried egg sandwich without cheese. He made no attempt to hide his irritation. After all, he had been quite specific. But Grandma had failed him. So he sent her back to the kitchen to do it again, and get it right. He sat and fumed while she cooked another egg sandwich. This time she remembered the cheese, but the eggs again were fried instead of scrambled. This was more than he could bear. He exploded in anger. When she protested, saying “What’s the difference?” he threw the sandwich at her and then began throwing other objects about. The more she protested, the more enraged he became. About this time, a call went into 911. Grandma was in her bedroom and young Craig was breaking through the door with an ax that he had brought from the garage, in a scene reminiscent of The Shining. The police got there in time to rescue Grandma.
DON'T TRIFLE WITH ATTENTION It’s never the specifics, is it? It’s a matter of how much attention you turn to anger. It’s a matter of how you pump it up and let it run. It’s a matter of how, when it dumps a little adrenaline in your system, you use it to get all the more angry, increase your heart rate even more, throw a little more adrenaline in. Before you know it, you are past that point of free will and veto. Negative spirits given full access to our attention are very dangerous. Too bad young Craig was not a student of the Buddhist teacher Shantidiva. This great sage tells us that when a dark feeling first encroaches upon his attention, he sits “like a piece of wood.” He purposefully does nothing that would empower the unwanted spirit to take charge and act through him. It is a kind of “conscious inaction” that intervenes at a critical instant and entirely changes the flow of events. The dark feeling turns away. Shantidiva emerges unscathed because he was able to place his awareness in the moment when the transaction originated -
Steven Maurice Droullard long before thought could be relied upon for assistance. Now, that is attention power of the highest order.
AS ATTENTION GOES, SO GOES I.Q.
It’s usually overlooked, but there is an important relationship between attention and intelligence. As Robert J. Shiller, the Stanley B. Resor Professor of Economics at Yale University tells us, “The ability to focus attention on important things is a defining characteristic of intelligence.” Consider, for example, the keen-eyed Sherlock Holmes. The great fictional detective focuses his attention with such intensity that he is able to see critical details unnoticed by others. That is the secret of his success. His attention is on full alert, noticing a curious speck of dust, an odd crease on a pant leg, or a dog that failed to bark. His
Steven Maurice Droullard powers of attention fuel the ability of his intelligence to solve cases. He is always trying to teach this to Dr. Watson, even telling his amiable companion, “Paying attention means being fully present.” So our ability to fully exercise our intelligence is fundamentally related to how much attention we bring to bear on something and how near to the present moment is our awareness. Flashes of genius or world-changing inspiration are the fruit of present and focused attention. These are moments when we suddenly become aware of the significance of a material or spiritual reality our attention has somehow touched. Even Isaac Newton concluded, “If I have ever made any valuable discoveries, it has been owing more to patient attention, than to any other talent.” Dr. Ernest Mastria, a psychiatrist, has observed that a major characteristic of intelligence is the ability to detect the differences between situations, and then respond 96
AS ATTENTION GOES, SO GOES I.Q. appropriately. Imagine yourself in a backwoods restaurant in Louisiana that is famous for serving fresh alligator meat. Feeling a little nervous, you might ask the waiter, “What does alligator taste like?” He quickly replies, “It tastes like chicken.” Well, that isn’t very helpful. Maybe fresh alligator is similar to chicken, but what you really want to know is, what are the differences? What am I about to encounter that will be new to me? Knowing what is similar might put you in the ballpark of understanding, but coming to grips with differences is ultimately what is most important. How does this connect with your attention habits? When you’re presented with a new situation, it’s easy to take refuge in your personal thought universe. “Oh, I’ve heard about that, I’m pretty sure it’s such and such.” Or, “I’ve seen one of those before, they’re like this, I think.” It’s easy to do, but don’t do it. It is the opposite of mindfulness. Instead, bring your attention present. Look at whatever it is as if you’ve never seen it before. Notice how it differs from whatever 97
Steven Maurice Droullard you’ve seen that was similar. The differences are what matter. If you direct your attention habits in this manner when encountering a new situation, your awareness and intelligence inevitably will be heightened. When you meet a new person, for example, you don’t need to know how he or she is like every other person you know. What are the differences? What is new about him or her? There are discoveries to be made, and how intelligently you pursue them has much to do with your attention habits. Your ability to know present reality is tied to whether or not your attention is available to it. When you focus on “what is the same” you are primarily referencing your memory of past experiences and your awareness is flooded with impressions of the past. When you focus instead on “what is different,” you see new details, the awareness of which opens the way to new creative opportunities and original insights.
AS ATTENTION GOES, SO GOES I.Q. If focused present attention produces intelligent insight, what happens when our attention is scattered or divided? Very simply, our capacity for intelligence is significantly diminished. Standard I.Q. tests, generally administered in a quiet, peaceful setting, tend to make us think of our intelligence as relatively fixed. But it is actually a fluctuating quality. For example, how smart are we when we are enraged, depressed, deeply embarrassed, or lost in worry? The last time you were in a rage, how intelligent were your angry statements? When we partner with mean spirits, our capacity for awareness and intelligent response to situations varies wildly and may become depleted entirely. When that happens, we become trapped by the tired old default responses - remember them? - that linger in our unconscious and just can’t wait to take over the management of our behavior. Here is another way of saying this: intelligence has to do with what your atten99
Steven Maurice Droullard tion habits are causing your brain to be preoccupied with. When you apply yourself, you have an I.Q. of such and such a level. But when your brain enters an emotional state that ties up capacity and dedicates it to something other than the primary task before you, your intellectual ability can literally collapse. You can tear the guts out of it in a minute. This is the importance of each attention choice and each spirituality choice that you make.
MIND YOUR ATTENTION, MIND YOUR BODY
What we do with our attention can have a demonstrable effect on our physical well being. Our attention habits can influence everything from stress levels to pain sensation. William James, in his writings, tells of the startling experiences of his friend, a Dr. Carpenter. “He has frequently begun a lecture while suffering neuralgic pain so severe as to make him apprehend that he would find it impossible to proceed,” James writes. “Yet no sooner has he, by a determined effort, fairly launched himself into the stream of thought, than he has found himself
Steven Maurice Droullard continuously borne along without the least distraction, until the end has come and the attention has been released. [At that moment] the pain reoccurred with a force that ... overmastered all resistance, making him wonder how he could have ever ceased to feel it.”6 The example of Dr. Carpenter tells us that even severe pain may cease to be experienced if one’s attention is otherwise fully absorbed. Pascal, Wesley and Robert Hall are also said to have had this capacity, according to James. Modern techniques like guided imagery recognize the health benefits of redirecting our attention habits in desirable ways. Dr. David Bresler, who teaches at our university, is the founder of UCLA’s Pain Control Clinic and also co-director of the Academy of Guided Imagery. He has noted
6 William James (1890) The Principles of Psychology, Volume One, (p.419) Dover Publications, New York, N.Y.
MIND YOUR ATTENTION, MIND YOUR BODY the essential role of attention in relaxation, meditation and hypnosis, as well as imagery. Imagery is powerful because your mind can’t tell the difference between something your ever-alert senses have sent to the brain vs. an image that you have simply conjured up out of thin air. In fact, Dr. Bresler has found that the most common form of imagery we practice is worrying with physical results that can be scientifically measured. Imagine, for example, that you envision a threat from a snake that you feel certain lives near your doorway. As you approach the door, or merely think about approaching the door, your physiology starts to crank up. Your blood pressure surges and adrenaline pumps into your veins. Fear of an imagined snake has created the same physical response that a real snake would cause. In the real world, your reaction would be relatively short-lived. The snake appears, you get charged up, he leaves, you settle 103
Steven Maurice Droullard down. But the snake you’re worrying about doesn’t have to go. You can hold the image in your mind as long as you want. The problem is, you cannot settle down as long as you attend to a worry, and your body will continue to take a hit all that time. Your blood pressure, for example, will stay up and that is a long term health hazard. A Yale University study of people with cardiac troubles underscored the physical damage that can be done by attending strong emotions such as anger. Subjects in the study had implanted defibrillator devices that shock the heart back into its proper rhythm whenever dangerous flutters start to occur. Diaries kept by the subjects enabled researchers to learn what each was experiencing at the moment just before being shocked. They found that the most intense disruptions of heart rhythm occurred among those subjects who said they had been extremely angry. Dr. Ernest Mastria’s patients include many with obsessive compulsive behavior 104
MIND YOUR ATTENTION, MIND YOUR BODY and panic attacks. These are people who, for example, wash their hands over and over, or can’t leave the house because something bad happened in the past and they are sure it will happen again if they step outside. In the most extreme cases, their discomfort eats away at their awareness of reality, and they spiral into extreme fear or terror. Left untreated, they lose touch with reality. It is a condition that the psychiatrist calls Reflexive Attention Diversion.7 The dynamics that drive it are more complicated than this brief description can provide. But the end result is clear enough: when attention becomes detached from what I call current reality, the resulting loss of reference is the very definition of psychosis. Put another way, what we do with our attention can even determine our mental health.
7 Ernest Mastria, Psy.D., (2000) The Habit of Living, (p.37-38) Ocean Publishing, Belmar, NJ
Steven Maurice Droullard Accepting difficulties as passing challenges rather than overwhelming crises is the key to meeting stress in a positive way. Resignation, despair and hopelessness make stress overpowering, and these are inevitable if we are unable to control our attention habits. I am reminded once again of the wise observations of Dr. Csikszentmihalyi, the University of Chicago professor: “To control attention means to control experience, and therefore the quality of life. Information reaches consciousness only when we attend to it. Attention acts as a filter between outside events and our experience with them. How much stress we experience depends more on how well we control attention, than what happens to us.”
A NICKEL FOR YOUR ATTENTION
Ever feel like the whole world is demanding your attention every waking hour? It’s not your imagination. All of us are being assaulted daily by a culture intent on stealing every last shred of our attention. Internet advertisers pay web sites in exchange for the click of your mouse indicating that you looked at their ad. Telemarketers on the phone promise to take only a minute of your time and you know they don’t mean it. Commercials on radio and television shout, “If you can’t lose weight, you better listen to me.” News announcers deliver their reports in an exaggerated “crisis” tone of voice to hold your attention. Convention
Steven Maurice Droullard speakers put as much effort into jokes, histrionics and other gimmicks as they do the content of their remarks. Video and film entertainments rely less on plot or story and more on pulsating action or emotion to grip audience attention. Technology assists with spellbinding special effects and floor shaking THX or Dolby Sound. Attention has become the single most valuable commodity in the world - the new currency. It is being gathered wholesale and sold retail, more in demand than raw materials, ideas or even talent. Thomas H. Davenport and John Beck, in their volume titled “The Attention Economy,” declare that those atop the economic and wealth pyramid in the years ahead will increasingly be those who control mass attention. Why should we care about this? Because the same resource now being devoured so relentlessly by the material world is also man’s most essential spiritual resource. That means you have a huge stake in the contest.
A NICKEL FOR YOUR ATTENTION Nothing about this mining of our attention is subtle. It is akin to what happened when the industrial age began and strip mines were hastily developed with no concern for the damage done to the environment. The big energy companies operated cheap and dirty, seizing the mineral wealth before Americans realized what was being done to the land and to their health. The same thing is happening in our attention economy. It too is being done dirty. Little thought is given to the long term psychological and health costs of television programming and advertising that exploit lust, greed and violence while mining our attention. The high value that our attention commands is an inescapable outcome of the information age in which we live. In times past, information was scarce. Now we are deluged by it. (The Sunday New York Times, for example, contains more factual information in one edition than all the written material available to a reader in the Fifteenth
Steven Maurice Droullard Century.)8 Nobody has enough attention capacity to absorb all the information coming at us; thus, attention has become the scarce commodity, instead of information. Herbert Simon, a Nobel economist, even calls it a “poverty of attention.” He writes: “What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence, a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.” Kevin Kelly in Wired Magazine observed, “The only factor becoming scarce in a world of abundance is human attention.” The unceasing assaults on attention make it difficult for any of us to adopt a positive spirituality. The overexcited news-
8 Thomas H. Davenport & John C. Beck, (2001) The Attention Economy (p.4) Harvard Business School Press, Boston, Mass.
A NICKEL FOR YOUR ATTENTION caster, for example, imparts a certain spirituality to you even as he speaks. It is not one that you want, but it nonetheless can shape the context of your awareness. The messages he sends move swiftly into your brain and create the psychological ground on which you stand. By the time you think a thought, it is already colored by the mood or spirit communicated to you by his voice and the expression on his face. You are already drifting towards the feelings to which he is leading you - and they are overwhelming negative moods and selfish desires that are being falsely sold as reality. Soon enough, you are feeling a bit empty and used up. So how do you defend yourself against all these strategies for stealing your attention? It can be done, but it is not easy. We all harbor powerful default behaviors that, if they are triggered, can be exploited by those who are chasing our attention for profit and power. But we do have the veto that I discussed earlier, the one that Sandy failed to exercise at the wheel of her Buick.
Steven Maurice Droullard I’m not talking theoretically here. It doesn’t help if, while I’m looking at a naked breast during the Super bowl telecast, I’m thinking: “I really don’t think they should be showing this.” It’s not a matter of intellectual agreement or disagreement. If I’m attending whatever it is, then my attention has been captured and sold to some commercial or other interest. Your position on the content doesn’t matter. They have stolen your attention, and they have collected their nickel for it. So consider how much time you will spend with overt manipulators commercially harvesting your attention. Look at where the initial transaction happens, the moment when you first begin to turn your attention, and exercise your veto then and there. Then you are back in control.
ONE STEP AT A TIME
We are all born into madness. It is a concept familiar to students of Buddhism, but you can also find many related observations in literature and philosophy. Shakespeare wrote, “When we are born we cry that we have come to this great stage of fools.” A phrase attributed to Plato reads: “We are fired into life with a madness that comes from the gods, which would have us believe that we can have a great love, perpetuate our own seed, and contemplate the divine.” Catholic theologian Ronald Rolheiser, drawing on Plato’s thought, makes the connection with spirituality: “Spirituality is not something on the fringes, an option for those with a particular bent. None of us have a choice. Everyone has a spirituality.
Steven Maurice Droullard Everyone has to have a spirituality. Either a life giving one or a destructive one. No one has the luxury of choosing here, because all of us are precisely fired into life with a certain madness that comes from the gods, and we have to do something with that. We don’t wake up in this world calm and serene, having the luxury of choosing to act or not act. We wake up crying, on fire with desire, with madness. What we do with that madness is our spirituality.”9 The madness of self-centeredness is the context of our thoughts and awareness from the moment of our birth. It’s not surprising: we are launched without warning into bodies that are sensitive, vulnerable to feelings, jarred by loud noises, startled by bright lights. We anxiously scramble in the direction of self-preservation. It’s the natural starting point we all have in common. It
9 Ronald Rolheiser, (1999) The Holy Longing (p.3) Doubleday, New York, N.Y.
ONE STEP AT A TIME gives free rein to what can be called our “little soul” - selfish, petty, easily despairing, aware of hurts, feeling cheated or short changed, constantly looking for compensation. But as Rolheiser has observed, we also have within us a “great soul.” When we let it take command, we become different persons altogether. We want to give of ourselves without regard to cost or profit. We want to embrace the whole world and everyone in it. The great soul is the antidote for desire, fear, anger and unhappiness. Shifting from one to the other has everything to do with our ability to control our attention choices. We only access the great soul if we are able to focus our attention in the present moment, where we can exercise that veto power I’ve talked about. When we are lagging behind or outside the present moment, we are in the thrall of the small soul.
Steven Maurice Droullard Making this shift in perspective is a demanding process, which is why high spiritual accomplishment is not common. But it can be done. In the beginning, it is like deciding to take a walk. First, you have to figure out where you want to go. Then you have to orient yourself in that direction. This is really what my book has been about getting you pointed in the right direction. Then you can start taking steps. At first, they will seem difficult because they are counterintuitive and strange and in opposition to all your ordinary reflexes. You’re handicapped in terms of instincts. But the steps become easier as you gain more practice. Pause along the way to measure your progress. Were you able to become an objective observer of your attention habits? Did you feel a rising urge and recognize it as an emerging spiritual presence? Did you manage to veto an angry passion? You can begin with small but meaningful steps, like turning your attention toward others in ways that show apprecia116
ONE STEP AT A TIME tion. Thich Nhat Hanh, considered by many to be a living Buddha, places a high value on this. He writes: “The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When our mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers. If you love someone, but rarely make yourself available to him or her, that is not true love. When your beloved is suffering, you need to recognize their suffering, anxieties and worries, and just by doing that you already offer some relief. Mindfulness relieves suffering, because it is filled with understanding and compassion. When you are really there showing your loving kindness and understanding, the energy of the Holy Spirit is in you.”10 It is why handmade things have a special healing power. It’s different when
10 “I am There for You”, from LIVING BUDDHA, LIVING CHRIST by Thich Nhat Hanh copyright © 1995 by Thich Nhat Hanh. Used by permission of Riverhead Books, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
Steven Maurice Droullard you hold something that somebody made themselves. There is some human attention in there. It’s different when someone makes the soup instead of opening a can. Attention can infuse things with love. Life becomes richer. It makes us happier. When you achieve the total release of your attention from a self-centered perspective - you will experience what some have called “the source of being.” This is a breakthrough moment, spiritual and mysterious, that happens unexpectedly. It can be achieved in many ways - sometimes by accident, sometimes by circumstance, sometimes through meditation. Let me relate my experience with this. It happened after I had been meditating for some time. Eyes closed, I was simultaneously concentrating and relaxed, to the point where I could divorce my attention from selfconcerns. A bright ring of light suddenly appeared in the foreground of my mental field of vision. I focused on it and the ring of light moved toward me. As it did so, I felt as 118
ONE STEP AT A TIME if large, soft hands were surrounding me, holding me in their embrace, warm and caring. A presence was there, very distinct and intensely sincere. From that point on, I no longer questioned the underlying nature of things. I stop attending to all else and visit it often. A presence is there and it cares. It awaits each of us. Learn to attend the present moment mindfully - use your breath as a beacon that places your awareness in present reality - and you will be with it.
Want to know more about the insights and ideas discussed in this book? Here is a chapter-by-chapter list of recommended sources to explore: CHAPTER 1 You can find several inner observer exercises on the web. Search “inner observer” on Google and try those that interest you. CHAPTER 2 The best definitions and explanations of “Spirit” that I have found come from
Steven Maurice Droullard common dictionaries. Here are the ones I find most helpful: • • • • • • A temper or disposition of mind or outlook The activating or essential principle influencing a person An inclination, impulse, or tendency of a specified kind A special attitude or frame of mind The feeling, quality, or disposition characterizing something <undertaken in a spirit of anger> A prevailing tone or tendency <spirit of the age>
Stephen Gaskin’s book of insights entitled “This Season’s People” (The Book Publishing Company) is an engaging exploration of Spirit. It relates the mystical insights of different wisdom traditions to everyday feelings and frames of mind that we all experience. Although published in 1976, the content is enduring.
RESOURCES CHAPTER 3 In his book entitled “Mind Time The Temporal Factor” (Harvard University Press), Dr. Libet explores how the brain produces conscious awareness and the time it requires to do so. Most notably, Libet’s experiments reveal a significant delay – the “mind time” of the title. CHAPTER 4 A substantial yet very easily read volume that covers the “eight mundane concerns” and other important basic precepts of Buddhism is “Tibetan Buddhism From the Ground Up - A Practical Approach for Modern Life” by B. Alan Wallace (Wisdom Publications). CHAPTER 5 For a detailed examination of ego and its ongoing effort to acquire attention, I recommend Charles Derber’s book entitled
Steven Maurice Droullard “The Pursuit of Attention - Power and Ego in Everyday Life” (Oxford University Press). CHAPTER 6 Search “Racism really does make you stupid” on Google for commentary on the study done by Nicole Shelton. Her research appeared in the May, 2003 issue of Psychological Science. “The Enneagram” by Helen Palmer is published by Harper & Row. CHAPTER 7 William James volume entitled “The Principles of Psychology” contains an excellent chapter (XI) specifically dedicated to “Attention.” If your interest was stimulated by my reference to the “old alchemist” insight into the psyche, I recommend “Anatomy of the Psyche - Alchemical Symbolism in Psycho-
RESOURCES therapy” by Edward F. Edinger (Open Court). CHAPTER 8 Eckhart Tolle’s “The Power of Now” (Namaste Publishing) is a wonderful review of the present moment, its potential and its inherently numinous nature. CHAPTERS 9 – 11 There is a very simple and very effective biofeedback device for anyone trying to get started with breath meditation. It is called a “RESPeRATE.” It is an FDAapproved medical device that has been clinically tested and proven effective as a treatment for high blood pressure, based on the effectiveness of breath meditation. The device makes it easy to achieve a focused breath meditation. It can be ordered online without a prescription at: http://www.resperate.com
Steven Maurice Droullard To learn more about Lt. Col. Dave Grossman’s work I recommend his book “On Combat” (PPCT Research Publications). CHAPTER 12 “The Inner Game of Work” by W. Timothy Gallwey (Random House) is an important resource. Tim makes vital attention skills practical and accessible by showing how they apply to everyday situation. You’ll quickly see how his lessons relate generally to effective attention management. He has written a series of “inner game” books covering consciousness skills as they apply to tennis, golf, skiing and music. CHAPTER 13 Dr. Richard Wiseman’s book “The Luck Factor” (Miramax Books) is an interesting review of many practical consequences of our attention habits. He recommends ways to improve attention habits, based on research he has conducted.
RESOURCES CHAPTERS 14 -15 “The Habit of Living” by Ernest Mastria, Psy.D. (Ocean Publishing) is an interesting review of the relationship between intelligence and attention habits. He describes cases in which he has employed his newly developed method of Attention Training to relieve patients from anxiety attacks and obsessive compulsive behavior. Martin L. Rossman, M.D. developed the Academy for Guided Imagery with Dr. David Bresler. His volume, “Guided Imagery for Self Healing,” explores the nature of our consciousness as it relates to the way various portions of our brain actually work and communicate. Since imagery is the natural language of a major part of our nervous system, learning to receive and understand internal imagery messages is an important skill. This book is a good introduction to the process. The academy established by Bresler and Rossman offers training in their techniques for professional
Steven Maurice Droullard counselors. Tapes and lessons are available; go on line to: http://www.academyforguidedimagery.com
“Flow - The Psychology of Optimal Experience” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is an excellent examination of the difference between in-the-moment flow awareness and ordinary awareness. Anxiety and boredom are conditions suffered by people who do not access “flow.” Moving awareness to the present moment and learning to live and work there is the remedy. CHAPTER 16 “The Attention Economy - Understanding the New Currency of Business” by Thomas H. Davenport and John C. Beck (Havard Business School Press) is a good study for anyone who wants to investigate the emerging attention economy and its dynamics. 128
RESOURCES CHAPTER 17 When attention is freed from thoughts, preconceptions and preoccupations it is then available to begin to notice what exists prior to and apart from our thoughts. This is the horizon of the mystical or numinous experience and it is a natural part of reality, which is available to all. Rudolf Otto’s “The Idea of the Holy” (Oxford University Press) is a helpful introduction to the subject.
LECTURES I teach a course in “Attention Mechanics” as part of the University of Philosophical Research master’s degree program in Consciousness Studies. Ten hours of detailed recorded lectures are available on the subject. They can be ordered through the administration office at (800) 548-4062. The university web site is http://uprs.edu
Steven Maurice Droullard
Remember - all these resources can only point you in the right direction. The final and most important resource is your own attention. It alone has the capacity to leave the universe of thoughts and books and tapes behind, and connect with the experience of reality and its underlying numinousness. All you need to do is make your attention available to the present moment in which the numinous resides. The rest will happen naturally.
Nothing I have learned or done would have occurred without the inspiration, participation, love and support of others. My parents Maurice and Betty were the first to love and enable me and I am grateful for their solid examples. Good women dignify and civilize men; when they are allowed to. The intelligence and discipline of my dear wife Alessia has consistently lifted me above my beastly nature and made me a reasonably acceptable member of society. Her loving attention nursed me through life threatening bouts with cancer and fungal pneumonia. I would have been a lesser animal who suffered a shorter existence without her.
Steven Maurice Droullard William Randolph Hearst II and Arthur Lantz Jr. are friends with whom I have shared long philosophical conversations through decades of growing and learning. They have challenged me in important ways and helped me refine key insights. Important educators don’t just offer information; they open doorways to greater realities. Stephen Gaskin, Prem Rawat, Mahatma Rajeshwar, Dr. Obadiah Harris, B. Alan Wallace, Robert Frager, Ph.D., Lionel Corbett, M.D., David Bresler, Ph.D., Debashish Bannerji, MSC., Amit Goswami, Ph.D., Michele Papen Daniel, Ph.D., Jonathan Young, Ph.D., Harold Dean Brown, Ph.D., Marcia Emery, Ph.D., Vesna A. Wallace, Ph.D., J.A Green, Ph.D., R. Shellenberger, Ph.D., Janelle B. Barlow, Ph.D., Pierre Grimes, Ph.D., Robert Ellwood, Ph.D., Daniel C. Matt, Ph.D., Culver Nelson, D.D., Jeffrey Mishlove, Ph.D., and Father James Frerkes have been such teachers to me. And this book has the special touch of two true artists. My superb editor, Noel 132
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Greenwood, has spun straw into gold. Friend and photographer extraordinaire, Ira Meyer, gave me permission through irameyer.com to use the wonderful image on the cover. Thank you all. Steven Maurice Droullard
The University of Philosophical Research
In 1934 the Philosophical Research Society was founded for the purpose of providing the public with access to the depth and breadth of the world's wisdom literature. The Society focuses on the study of human consciousness as it may be known and understood through the best of science, philosophy and religion. The Society founded the University of Philosophical Research in 2001. A renowned wisdom literature library is part of UPR, which is virtually unique in the United States. It consists of nearly 30,000 items, including many rare and original works from the 15th to the 18th centuries.
Steven Maurice Droullard
- Thales (635 BC - 543 BC)
"He who knows others is learned; He who knows himself is wise."
- Lao-tzu (6th Century BC)
"Wherever we go, whatever we do, self is the sole subject we study and learn"
- Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
The ancient wisdom traditions teach that the visible world is but a reflection of higher, non-material principles, and even though these principles are represented in matter they are themselves not material but belong to the world of ideas, the subtle and spiritual realm.
The University of Philosophical Research These wisdom traditions work therefore from the center out, they are based on the timeless truth of all ages. Esoteric knowledge is as old as humanity. From the beginning it guarded the sum of all wisdom accessible to man—wisdom about cosmos, nature and man. Its teachings are ever true, ever applicable, never outdated. The wisdom approach upholds that all knowledge is always here and man has to develop towards its comprehension. MISSION To be an institution of higher education and research in the lineage of the great wisdom schools of the past, dedicated to the pursuit of self-knowledge and its application in all fields of life. DESCRIPTION The University of Philosophical Research is dedicated to providing graduate137
Steven Maurice Droullard level degree programs for students wishing to integrate the values of an idealistic philosophical education. The tradition out of which UPR grows is shaped by such seminal thinkers as Pythagoras, Plato, Socrates, Lao Tzu and all the philosophers of history who perceived an intelligible world with progressive, dynamic and emergent properties of consciousness. Towards this end UPR has developed its graduate programs, presented through distance learning curricula by a world-class faculty of gifted teachers, who draw freely upon the entire cultural, spiritual and scientific heritage of humanity with a view towards synthesis and integration. The emphasis is not solely upon objective acquisition of information, as important as it is, but upon participation in the process of learning that leads to knowledge. It is in conscious participation that understanding and meaning emerge and are translated into wisdom. Many institutions of higher learning today are focused upon the 138
The University of Philosophical Research acquisition of information which leads to skills development and hence to “making a living.” The University of Philosophical research aims towards “making a life” and becoming more fully human and “making a world” or providing the inner tools for consciously shaping civilization’s future.
UNIVERSITY OBJECTIVES Student assimilation of knowledge in the fields of philosophy, comparative religion, psychology and the cosmology of modern science for self-knowledge, regulation and integration in every walk of life. Student acquisition of universal values - as necessary for the attainment of cultural harmony and the ability to vitalize these ideas and ideals in solving the personal and collective problems of modern humanity.
Steven Maurice Droullard
Approval Status The University of Philosophical Research has received final approval to operate as a degree granting institution from the State of California Bureau for Private Postsecondary and Vocational Education. A complete university catalog is available online in pdf format at uprs.edu
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