“The whole of life lies in the verb seeing...To be more is to be more united.”
Teilhard de Chardin
Maybe such devotion in which one holds the world
in the clasp of attention, isn’t the perfect prayer,
but it must be close, for the sorrow, whose name is doubt,
is thus subdued, and not through the weaponry of reason,
but of pure submission. Tell me, what else could beauty be for?”
It would have been easy for me to miss her. After a hectic morning of getting the kids off to school, followed by a flustered freak-out at the lopsided equation of the mountain of work before me and the shortened week, I sat at my dining room table with my laptop out, my attention as scattered as the LEGOS all over my floor.
But then….something, some presence brought my attention into coherence.
I looked up and there in my back yard was a beautiful deer, her long graceful legs cautiously moving until she stood directly before my window.
I had the urge to jump up and grab my phone to take a picture (for what, exactly? To prove it had happened??) but I couldn’t move. I was enraptured by her gaze and presence. It felt to me as though she was offering me something: an exchange began to take place, and as I returned her gaze I realized we were entering into a deeper dimension of presence…two species of life on this planet sharing a deeper communion: our being.
I was reminded of this passage of Teilhard’s at the opening of the prologue in his magnum opus, “The Human Phenomenon”:
“One could say that the whole of life lies in seeing—if not ultimately, at least essentially. To be more is to be more united—and this sums up and is the very conclusion of the work to follow… But unity grows…. only if it is supported by an increase of consciousness, of vision.”
It seems that this evolutionary path of convergence that we’ve been exploring—the work of attraction, frustration and creation—also entails another necessary ingredient to develop an increase of consciousness: attention.
Attention, the handmaid of presence, is the first step for learning how to more fully inhabit the “now”, allowing for a more embodied capacity for a deeper kind of vision, a more energizing relationship with what we are doing and whomever we're with.
While we think we know what we mean by “attention”, the question is:
do we know how to wield our attention?
When we think of the word “attention” it often conjures up images of a teacher yelling, “Pay attention!” in class when we were caught passing notes, our heads whipping around, our eyes gluing themselves to the black board. “Attention” is something that we relate to work or learning, and yet most of us still operate with our “attention" firmly switched to “passive” mode. We work on something until something grabs our attention. We scroll through posts on social media until we see something flashy and say, “oh, that caught my attention.”
Even the phrase “pay attention” connotes a definition of attention as something burdensome that costs you, that you have to “hand over”. And while this moves us into a more active practice of “Attention” (indicating that we have the power to control it), the Spanish use of attention is closer to how I understand this spiritual capacity. In Spanish we say: “prestando atencion”, which means “lend your attention” or “loan your attention”.
The act of lending your attention indicates that your attention is never something that leaves you, but rather an activating force you bestow on something, therefore placing you into an energetic relationship of exchange with that which you are offering your full self to.
Perhaps the single most useful tool that I’ve learned in the last several years has come at the hands of Cynthia Bourgeault’s teaching of this Gurdjieff based understanding of “Attention”:
"Energy flows where attention goes.”
I remember Cynthia sharing with us how she taught the concept of attention to her grandson by telling him his attention was like a flashlight in his heart, a laser beam of light that he could direct and turn on and energize whatever the light was pointing at.
Long after the deer moved on this morning, the exchange that had occurred stayed with me. No longer scattered, my attention remained recollected within me, and like a beam shining out of my heart I was able to enter into the requirements of my day with a focused presence that not only energized my work but in turn energized me.
According to Teilhard unity grows in accordance with this deeper form of seeing. We can infer that what he is describing is a capacity of what some describe as "heart perception," a vision that perceives from the whole rather than out of constant differentiation. Or as T.S.Eliot describes in East Coker of his Four Quartets,
"We must be still and still moving
into another intensity for a further union,
a deeper communion."
The ability to be agents of unity capable of a deeper communion can only begin with a transition to "another intensity" of an inner unity that results in coherent seeing: a gathered attention, the fruit of which is presence.
Contemporary sufi teacher, Kabir Helminski, sums it up this way:
"Whoever makes all cares into one care, the care for simply being present, will be relieved of all care by that Presence which is the creative power."
What if we began to understand our attention as a truly creative power that we can wield in service to unity and evolution?
Can you hold the world, “in the clasp of attention” as Mary Oliver describes…entering into a heartful exchange of energizing presence with whatever is on your plate today?
Here’s a little video I made with the above quote from Mary Oliver’s poem “Terns”. I realized that even this simple menial act of preparing food and eating can be energized by attention.
What will you loan your energizing force of attention to today?