Attention and Choiceless Awareness

Last year, somewhat like observing a large trout surface through shadowy depths of the lake at dawn, I realized that attention was a gift and because it was a gift, it could only be given away, and this “giving” was in the nature of  true creativity. It was in the nature of love because it led only to choiceless awareness.

In the wake of this insight, I became sensitive to where my attention went. I noticed when it drifted and saw that it did not really drift but rather was abandoned, set aside, and like a stray dog attached itself to anything that offered it a little comfort and succor. This almost always led to disappointment, anxiety, grief – all the hallmarks of conflict.

The truth is, we have an inherent power to give our attention anywhere and to anything, and we can do this in loveless ways or in loving ways. That is the decision we make; that is the lesson to which we are brought by A Course in Miracles: it brings us to the point of seeing with clarity this point of decision and it places us with a Teacher who can help us make the choice for love.

How does this happen? Attention given in a sustained and loving way transcends itself and becomes awareness. The semantics are not essential – you may attach other words or concepts to this process and that is not a problem. There are many ways to see this and to share about it. If we are starving and someone offers us bread, we are not going to argue that the plate on which it is served is the wrong shade of blue.

We discern, then, that attention is capable of direction. It is subject to choice. It can go here or there. It can be ignored or cherished.

But awareness simply is. There is no good or bad in it, no becoming in it, no judgment in it. Awareness sees the fact and brings nothing to it. It puts nothing between it and the fact – no filters, no conclusions, no ideals. When we are aware in this way, we are discerning between what is real and what is illusory, and giving attention only to what is real because we see at last that there is nothing else to give attention to.

So awareness is what brings choice to an end: it undoes choice. The logic of this is impeccable: what is one cannot have many separate ones to choose between. But we want to be honest about what we know through experience and what we have learned by reading or hearing the words of others. We want to be in relationship with God, not ideas about God, and we don’t want to appropriate someone else’s relationship with God. It has to be authentic. It has to be real.

So awareness in the sense I am using it may not yet be the fullness of our experience. This is not a problem. For a while, we move back and forth between the disciplined yet malleable energy of attention and the boundless love of awareness. In time, the former is precedent to the latter. But in eternity, in infinitude, even attention is an illusion.

So giving attention – to thought, to thought’s movement, to thought’s origins, to thought’s agendas, to thought’s thoughts – is a way of fostering awareness. It is a way of entering the flow of God’s thoughts and leaving our miserly own behind. There is no way to rush this process and no way to force it. One simply offers the gift – over and over one gives – and awaits the moment of acceptance.

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  1. Good morning Sean,

    I was just reading your blog and watching your video. I nice way to wake up this Saturday morning.

    As I was watching your video on attention and awareness, you said something about the line of separation becoming so thin……. This immediately brought to mind a couple of quotes from the course, one of which (the 2nd one) I do not think is used very often at all, but I do think points to the practical and also IMO ties into this discussion about attention and awareness.

    There is nothing outside you. That is what you must ultimately learn, for it is in that realization that the Kingdom of Heaven is restored to you. For God created only this, and He did not depart from it nor leave it separate from Himself. The Kingdom of Heaven is the dwelling-place of the Son of God, who left not his Father and dwells not apart from Him. Heaven is not a place nor a condition. It is merely an awareness of perfect Oneness and the knowledge that there is nothing else; nothing outside this Oneness and nothing else within. ~ACIM

    “Heaven and earth shall pass away” simply means that they will not continue to exist as separate states. ~ACIM

    Eric: So I have been thinking a little bit about awareness and attention lately. Here are some of my thoughts on it as of now.

    It seems to me that Awareness IS and attention is kind of like a focus of that awareness. Kind of like when I was a kid taking a magnifying glass to focus the sun’s rays into a more condensed beam of light. We can give specific attention through our awareness. The awareness itself is choiceless, but we can choose to where we focus this awareness. Writing this, I wonder if this attention could also be seen as perception? Maybe, maybe not, though thinking about the section in the course of the obstacles to peace, I kind of wonder. The part in which we send messengers of love or messengers of fear. This seems to be a type of focus of attention also.

    Also, it’s hard to say about being aware of our thoughts. Are we giving “attention” to them or is Awareness being Aware of itself. I think I am splitting hairs here a bit.

    For the moment, I’m going to combine the two, just so I don’t have to say this is what this is, and that is what that is. I think the course really tries to get us to see how much we are not being aware or giving attention when it says:

    You are much too tolerant of mind wandering, thus passively condoning its miscreations. The particular result does not matter, but the fundamental error does. ~ACIM

    Miracle working entails a full realization of the power of thought and real avoidance of miscreation. Otherwise, a miracle will be necessary to set the mind itself straight, a circular process which would hardly foster the time collapse for which the miracle was intended. Nor would it induce the healthy respect for true cause and effect which every miracle worker must have. ~ACIM

    Thoughts seem to come and go. Yet all this means is that you are sometimes aware of them and sometimes not. An unremembered thought is born again to you when it returns to your awareness. Yet it did not die when you forgot it. It was always there, but you were unaware of it. The Thought God holds of you is perfectly unchanged by your forgetting. It will always be exactly as it was before the time when you forgot and will be just the same when you remember. And it is the same within the interval when you forgot. ~ACIM

    Eric: I’m going to add some passages from the HLC Edition, because I find these to be wonderful passages that have been edited in the FIP edtion in understanding thought, attention, and awareness at a very practical level.

    Everyone experiences fear, and no one enjoys it. Yet it would take very little right-thinking to realize why fear occurs. Very few people appreciate the real power of the mind, and no one remains fully aware of it all the time. However, if anyone hopes to spare himself from fear, there are some things he must realize and realize fully. The mind is a very powerful creator, and it never loses its creative force. It never sleeps. Every instant it is creating and always as you will. Many of your ordinary expressions reflect this. For example, when you say, “Don’t give it a thought,” you imply that if you do not think about something, it will have no effect on you. And this is true enough.

    On the other hand, many other expressions clearly illustrate the prevailing lack of awareness of thought-power. For example, you say, “Just an idle thought,” and mean that the thought has no effect. You also speak of some actions as “thoughtless,” implying that if the person had thought, he would not behave as he did. While expressions like “think big” give some recognition to the power of thought, they still come nowhere near the truth. You do not expect to grow when you say it because you do not really think that you will.

    It is hard to recognize that thought and belief combine into a power surge that can literally move mountains. It appears at first glance that to believe such power about yourself is merely arrogant, but that is not the real reason why you do not believe it. People prefer to believe that their thoughts cannot exert real control because they are literally afraid of them. Many psychotherapists attempt to help people who are afraid, say, of their death wishes by depreciating the power of the wish. They even try to “free” the patient by persuading him that he can think whatever he wants without any real effect at all.

    There is a real dilemma here which only the truly right-minded can escape. Death wishes do not kill in the physical sense, but they do kill spiritual awareness. All destructive thinking is dangerous. Given a death wish, a man has no choice except to act upon the thought or behave contrary to it. He thus chooses only between homicide and fear. The other possibility is that he depreciates the power of his thought. This is the usual psychoanalytic approach. It does allay guilt but at the cost of rendering thinking impotent. If you believe that what you think is ineffectual you may cease to be overly afraid of it, but you are hardly likely to respect it. ~ACIM

    Eric: I know I am kind of veering off from your blog and video on this subject, but I think that it does kind of tie in with this attention we’re talking about. Like you were saying about sitting on the couch, vegging out on mindless, violent TV. It causes us to lose awareness/attention of our awareness. We become lost in ourselves letting the mind wander. It’s kind of like an attempt to dissociate ourselves from ourselves. To separate ourselves from ourselves. To escape that which cannot be escaped; the mind, awareness itself.

    I was going to share some of my person spiritual experiences, but this has already gotten quite long. But I do want to share something from William Samuel, because I think it ties in to what you are talking about with awareness and the line of separation thinning and the quote about Heaven and Earth passing away.

    Samuel talks about Awareness a lot in his book I told you about and I think it ties in nicely with what you’re saying and the course. He says that we don’t have awareness or come into awareness, but that we ARE Awareness itself. The problem, he says, is when we try to separate ourselves from awareness and then make it a possession to do our bidding. We try and use awareness to bring to us what we deem to be “good” and protect us from what we deem to be “bad”.

    He also states how we use awareness to say this is me and then there is a world “out there”, but he asks the reader that if we are Awareness itself, then that tree “over there” is not outside of us, because it cannot be outside of Awareness. There is nothing that can be outside this Awareness. Nothing. We can only choose to think it is and when we attempt to separate ourselves from Awareness and then make it into a possession. We then make life into a possession and (seem to) become the fraudulent imposter. The “I” that is separate. Separate from Awareness. Separate from Life. Separate from God.

    But as he emphasizes, we cannot be separate from Awareness. We cannot posses it either, for that is what we are. Awareness itself. And like the course, Samuel states that we have to listen to what he calls the “still small voice”, The Holy of Holies. What the course would simply call, “The Holy Spirit.”

    The Holy Instant is said in the course to be a miniature of Heaven. And Heaven is said to be merely an awareness of Oneness and nothing outside this Oneness. We can look around and see that while there may appear to be things, that there is nothing outside our awareness. We give attention to specific things or ideas, but they all reside in this One Awareness. There is no time or place this is not, though often times with our “habit” of thinking, aka the ego, it can seem this way.

    There is a passage about the Holy Instant that I also think is relevant to this conversation. It says:

    You could live forever in the holy instant, beginning now and reaching to eternity, but for a very simple reason. Do not obscure the simplicity of this reason, for if you do, it will be only because you prefer not to recognize it and not to let it go. The simple reason, simply stated, is this: The holy instant is a time in which you receive and give perfect communication. This means, however, that it is a time in which your mind is open, both to receive and give. It is the recognition that all minds are in communication. It therefore seeks to change nothing, but merely to accept everything. ~ACIM

    Eric: This comes back to Samuel talking about awareness. When we try and possess it, we try to make it do our bidding in accepting “the good” and rejecting “the bad”. But when we can truly see there is nothing outside this awareness, then we can accept everything. This is not in an apathetic way. I think it is the beginning for each of us to take responsibility with what is within awareness, rather than trying to dissociate ourselves or what is perceived within awareness as separate. And I think that on a very practical level, this echoes the books from J. Krishnamurti: “You Are the World” and Tara Singh’s: The Future of Mankind: The Branching of the Road.


    1. Thanks, Eric.

      I like the image of the magnifying glass intensifying the sun’s rays – and that as a metaphor for what is happening with attention and awareness.

      You mentioned splitting hairs – I hear that. I feel like in talking about the way that I am, I am getting close to making it about semantics more than anything else. It doesn’t feel like levels of awareness to me – awareness IS, as you put it – and attention is something else. It is more of a doing in it, somehow.

      I like this expression: “The awareness itself is choiceless, but we can choose where we focus the awareness.” That makes a lot of sense to me.

      I do think that ultimately it is a matter of awareness being aware of itself – as paradoxical or mystical as that may seem – but I also think that before we reach that state of awareness, there is something else – what the course calls sleep, or maybe we could say grogginess or something – and THAT state is where we are doing the work right now – trying to undo or let go of that which obstructs the simple flow of awareness.

      The mind-wandering quote has always felt essential to me in terms of understanding what we are doing here and now in practical terms with the course. It is absolutely a form of dissociation. Eckhart Tolle touches on this in his own way when he says that simply to be aware that one is not aware IS awareness.

      Samuel’s characterization of this stuff feels very apt to me. I have ordered the book; I am looking forward to it.

      Thanks again, Eric – talk to you soon.


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