Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee - The Power of Attention

Read the full article: "Not Knowing, Non-Being, and the Power of Nothingness"
by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee 

The Power of Attention

In order to work with nothingness, we need the right attitude, attention, and intention. We need the right intelligence. We need to remember that attention does not need something as an object. Rather, attention is a receptive state of being.

In Sufism, attention is subtly linked to intention, which is an attitude of mind, an attitude of being, which carries with it a whole mystical tradition of adab. Adab refers to “courtesy of behavior.” From a superficial view, adab might look like simple politeness or a prescribed way of acting. But in fact, adab is based on the relationship between the soul and God—the way the soul is before God. Over time, this fundamental inner relationship that includes humility, respect, devotion, and continual watchfulness becomes part of our daily pattern of behavior—our way of interacting with life, with each other, with the path, and with the Absolute.

Meditation can be a foundation for this kind of attention, but there is a danger to making what is a fundamental capacity of the Self a special “practice.” The contemporary Tibetan Buddhist Rinpoche Namkhai Norbu tells a story about a 13th-century Dzogchen master:

The great Dzogchen master, Yungton Dorje Pal, was asked: “What meditation do you do?” And he replied: “What would I meditate on?”

So his questioner concluded: “In Dzogchen you don’t meditate, then?”
But Yungton Dorje Pal replied: “When am I ever distracted?”

Attention has to do with the practice of witnessing, described in the Mundaka Upanishad through the story of the two birds sitting on a branch of a tree. One bird eats the sweet fruit of the tree while the other bird looks on, without eating. This mysterious passage describes the aspect of ourselves involved in life and the aspect that seems not to be—the part that simply watches. Spiritual practices like meditation help awaken this “witness,” what the Sufis call the shaheed.

Witnessing is not an abstraction from life, but rather a multi-dimensional participation, a way to be of service. At its deepest, this quality of attention participates in the remembrance of the Absolute on all levels. Ibn ‘Arabi calls the mystic “the pupil in the eye of humanity,” through which God sees His own world. Without human consciousness, especially the awakened intelligence of the heart, the Absolute is not known, does not know Itself. This is reflected in the primordial covenant, when the soul of the not-yet-created humanity was asked, “Am I not your Lord?” and they replied, “Yes we witness it.” We aspire to remember and live the soul’s covenant.

Witnessing encompasses both presence and absence, for it cannot take place solely from within creation. If the witness were solely in the created world, the witnessing would be veiled by creation. It would be like the bird focused only on the sweet fruit. Rather, part of the witness remains outside of creation—the second bird that “looks on.” From behind the veils of creation, it can see and know the Real throughout all levels of reality.

In Sufi esoteric science the different spiritual centers within the heart embrace different levels of reality, and these centers, or “chambers of the heart,” each carry a unique spiritual consciousness. Each center of consciousness witnesses a different level of reality, from the outer chamber, qalb, which awakens us to our longing for God, to the inner chamber of khafi, which witnesses the dark light of the primal nothingness of non-existence, and then beyond into the innermost chamber, which experiences only Absolute Truth. Witnessing is a way of remembering the Real, and reminding the Real of its own divinity, that it is “Lord.”

At certain times, this quality of inner and outer attention needs to become more active. Something in one’s life will call us to be awake in a new way. This call will be different for different people. It likely will not be what we expect, what we are hoping for, what we want. Something at work, something in an ordinary day, or a thought or hint of something … An insight in meditation, maybe even a scent in the air or a gust of wind across a field. Something in life has a need for one’s conscious attention—it might last a few seconds, or a week or even a year.

In these moments if one responds with the right attitude, the right intention, then one experiences an active intelligence that is both present and absent. One becomes a doorway. Something can be born into life that wasn’t there before; an aspect of the Absolute can come alive for the first time.

It is part of spiritual training to be present and watchful, prepared for these moments where the worlds come together. If one catches these moments when the levels of reality are aligned, when the doors of grace are opening, when all one has to do is pay attention and be willing to follow, then the whole of life—inner and outer—changes.

Such moments come in our individual lives as well as in our collective lives—times when forces in the inner and outer worlds are aligning to support change, moments that require our full watchfulness and attention. As Shakespeare writes in Julius Caesar,

    There is a tide in the affairs of men,
    Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.
    Omitted, all the voyage of their life
    Is bound in shallows and in miseries.6

At this moment in our global history the tide in the affairs of men is turning. This turning, this evolutionary moment, needs our full attention. We can remember how to watch; we can remember how to catch these moments, how to see beneath the surface. Nothingness helps us be attentive. With one foot in nothingness, with one ear attuned to silence, we are infinitely watchful and undisturbed.

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