The Power of Attention

Last weekend we conducted a webinar on the practice of self-directed attention which we teach to provide critical support when the results of the act of the inward looking begin to unfold in your mind.

In the opening of that webinar, I tried to convey insights and understandings that I felt would be useful.

I started out by answering five common questions about the looking and its results:

Is the practice of self-directed attention the same as Buddhist mindfulness meditation?

Not really. The main difference is that in Buddhism, mindfulness meditation is part of a comprehensive program that seeks to bring about a radical transformation of the mind. The practice of self-directed attention that we recommend serves a mind that has already undergone a profound and fundamental transformation, and is growing increasingly able to engage in skillful and mindful responses to life.

Is the practice of attention a matter of avoiding unwanted thoughts and feelings?

No, not really. The practice of self-directed attention is intended only to develop strength and discernment in the use of attention so that you will naturally learn to recognize what needs your attention, what does not, and what to do about it.

Is it really possible to control attention?


Does focusing attention bring about altered states and mystical experiences?

It’s possible that it could be put to that use, but from my point of view, there is no real point in seeking mystical experience. Human life is full of ordinary mystery, and more than mystical enough for me.

But that’s just me, and if you are naturally drawn to mystical experiences, you will certainly discover more direct and effective methods to bring them about, once your mind is healed.

Is self-directed attention a form of self-inquiry?

Yes. The act of looking at yourself that we encourage is the pure essence of self-inquiry, freed from the mystical and metaphysical trappings that have, in my view, crippled it since its first appearance long ago.

The idea of self-inquiry first appeared close to three thousand years ago as an insight in the development of the Upanishads, which are themselves a collection of insights and methods for attaining transcendence.

The understanding that the mind is a naturally occurring evolutionary and psychological phenomenon is at the heart of the act of inward looking, and that understanding would have been next to impossible even to imagine in those times.

When you look at yourself in the manner we advise, you are, in a sense, trading in your old mind for a new one, free of the atmosphere of fear that ruined the old one.

After a brief period of sweetness, you will enter what we think of as the recovery as your mind regenerates from a lifetime of psychological misery.

This regeneration will happen whether you let it play out on its own or take authority over it yourself, and it can be quite confusing and distressing.

We offer a set of techniques that make the entire process much easier and more effective, but even then it won’t be easy. In fact, it will most likely be the hardest thing that you will ever do.

You don’t have to take our advice in this. You can look at yourself, cross your fingers, and let the process unfold on its own, hoping for the best. But if you decide to just let things unfold as they will, you will endure the misery of growing a new mind in what was once the home of fear with no practical understanding of what’s happening, and not a clue what to do but endure.

And you will endure it in the same way we have endured everything from the beginning: hating the misery, believing that there is nothing to do, and resorting to the good old practices of denial, self-hatred, distraction, and blaming.

You will nevertheless arrive in the end at the same fresh relationship with your life that we promise, but you will likely have no real idea of what happened to you.

You might even discover the power of the use of attention in the intelligent and self-reliant navigation of your life, and in the end you might do just as well as those who decided to take the process in their own hands from the beginning.

But most likely, since the recovery from the disease of fear will have unfolded without your conscious involvement, you will have little if any interest in trying to understand it.

On the other hand, if you choose to be actively involved in your own recovery, the process will be shorter, much less painful, and profoundly more satisfying.

Even then it will be hard.

Even then it will be probably the hardest thing you will ever do.

But it will be YOU doing it.

And it will be YOU consciously developing the self-reliance that will serve you for the rest of your life.

Your active involvement in the unfolding of the results of this act will deepen your understanding of human misery, the solution to human misery, and the almost mystical role of self-reliance in a sane mind.

If you are actively involved in your own recovery process, your results will be fundamentally better than if you are not. And what you see and learn will enrich and help the recovery of all who come after you.

There is one thing more that you need to keep in mind if you are to understand the actual nature of our work. You will learn nothing here that will free you from the difficulties of life.

We offer no system that will give you a life in which there are no troubles, no failures, no losses, no pain, and no confusion.

What you will learn here is how to become sane, self-reliant, and intelligent in your relationship with your own life, as it unfolds.

And as it turns out, against all odds, a sane, self-reliant, and intelligent engagement with the irrepressible dance of life is vastly more satisfying than all the mystical transcendence in the universe.

The instructions on how to look at yourself are freely available on our website.

Thank you for reading this post.

I wish for you a sane and useful life.

Be well.

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