Attention is responsive: it is alive. When it is given to what is external, it is responsive to that: flashes of lightening, chickadees in pine trees, the rise and fall of conversation. When it is given to what is internal, it is responsive to that: the interior landscape which is vast and shifting, consciousness pulsing like an endless sea.
Here I am distinguishing between responsive and reactive. The suggestion is that reaction is not intentional but conditional, and in that sense shallow, and that response is intelligent and skillful and discerning, and in that sense, deep. It is not the foam spitting from atop the wave, but rather the gathering current far below, which draws the wave into being.
Attention, whether it is shallow or deep, reactive or responsive, occurs within space and time. It’s not it, whatever it is, but it can make contact with it, in part by recognizing its own limits.
We can discover the limits of attention by looking for that which directs it. At its most responsive, to what is it responding? I am talking about the four a.m. hour, after the walk, sitting quietly with tea, the gap between thoughts spacious and still. To what – to who – is attention responding?
We cannot reach the director! We cannot see the seer. That is what I am learning: that is what I am seeing. The sense that there is a self back there – hidden away, deep in the center, running the show – is pervasive but essentially false. What remains? What is when we are not?
I wrote a long and wordy post yesterday that I was reluctant to post, because 1) it is bluntly critical of Ken Wapnick and 2) it visits a proposed nexus between post-structuralism and A Course in Miracles. I am concerned about offending people with the first point, and losing them with the second. But this morning, trying to see stars through the thin icicles extending from the house eaves, I figured, what the hell.
My desire to not enter the social politics of the ACIM community is well-intentioned but dishonest. And it is important to be honest, even if it makes us look shallow and vain. How else can we deepen except by seeing how shallow we are? And really, God – and that which is of God – is beyond our ability to impair. So I am creeping out onto what feels like thin ice here.
It is important to share the stuff we don’t want to share. I struggle a lot with this: I am very sensitive to appearing uncertain and I am deeply attached to being the smartest guy in the room. So it is important in my writing that I own what I don’t know which, in part, means exploring what I do know, or think I know.
For me, despite his helpfulness (which I want always to acknowledge), Ken Wapnick is a symbol of intellectual pride and arrogance. When I don’t look into that symbol, I am ignoring my own relationship to those qualities. I am ignoring the way in which Ken Wapnick is – or bears – the projection of my own internal arrogance. I hope that in doing this – thinking out loud in a relatively public way – I am not being a total asshole, but it’s possible. It’s one of the risks, certainly.
In terms of the post-structuralist stuff – Barthes, Derrida and so forth – they, along with the New England transcendentalists of the 19th century, are my intellectual spine and heritage and trying to talk about self, reading, creating, first cause, the Absolute, God – the whole divine et cetera – without tapping that reservoir is like eating pie with your hands tied behind your back. You can do it but it’s not nearly as elegant and thorough.
Anyway, please forgive my stupidity and shallowness, and thank you for being here. I am figuring things out at this site, is all – talking out loud and gulping the occasional dialogue that arises therefrom. My practice – the four a.m. walks, the poetry, the gift of attention – is informed thusly, and I am never not grateful, though perhaps I am not grateful enough.
One step after another, each revealing – each making possible – the next . . .
In a sense, it is not so hard to be honest when you realize that whatever happens is okay. It might be fun or hard, interesting or discouraging, but from the perspective of attention, it’s all the same show: life unfolding or emerging. Life flowing. You can’t really screw it up; you can only think you can screw it up.
Why be honest then? Because our lies obscure what is true. The egoic self is accumulated dishonesty – wishful thinking, mad desires, repressed dreams, projected fantasies, and all of that – and raising it to the light (which is a metaphor for looking clearly in an interior way) is how it is undone. We don’t have to do anything else besides look, which is kind of counterintuitive and frustrating, but still.
Sometimes when I look at this site, and the way I have approached A Course in Miracles over the years, I think I would do it differently. Be more private, less wordy, less ambitious. But so what? This is what is. Right now, this is it. And so step by step – however faltering, however misguided – I keep reaching for that light of which we are all composed, its dim luster growing brighter by the day, which brightness owes not to me but to us together: writing and reading and talking in order to get clear, in order to see that we are okay, more than okay, because it is finished, we are home and the rest is just the flotsam of realization even now falling away.