Turning Attention Upon Itself
Meditation, in it’s purest sense, is about one thing only: turning attention upon itself. It may sound easy, but it is a mysterious process by which you intuitively discover how to converge attention onto an objectless state of awareness. This article sets out to break this direct method down into an understandable practise of turning attention upon itself.
From day to day, the mind is consumed by thoughts. For the sake of this article, you could consider a thought as an object, because it is ‘something’ as opposed to ‘no-thing’. A thought is an event, that attention momentarily becomes consumed by. Attention is consumed by thoughts, one after another. Attention also becomes consumed by direct sensory input. You could be happily walking down the street thinking about how kind you boss was today and then somebody shouts at you from a car: ‘idiot’. Your attention is first consumed by the ‘idiot’ event and afterwards it may be consumed by thoughts and feelings about the event. This could go on well into the evening and next day. It’s like a feedback loop of speculation entitled, ‘Why did that person call me an idiot?’
All of these thoughts and feelings are extra events. Objects of attention. They don’t lead you anywhere other than further speculation, and speculating is a great way to waste your energy! Forget about how the world should be or the difference between right and wrong. The realm of speculation seems to have its own gravitational force, in other words, it is very hard to break and seems to pull attention into it. As author Eckhart Tolle may suggest, thinking is our greatest addiction. This is what makes meditation so elusive in the early stages of practise. It seems such a struggle to be mindful with such a great pull into thinking.
What we may not realise however is that objectlessness, has it’s own gravitational pull, and when the scales tip in the other direction, resting attention upon itself becomes purely effortless.
Normally when practising mindfulness, we are advised to keep attention only on what appears here and now. This includes not only direct sensory input but also internal thoughts and feelings. However, rather than allowing attention to get consumed by thoughts, attention goes to the appearance and disappearance of thoughts. In other words, thoughts are seen objectively, and not ‘believed’ to have any implicit meaning. This is good advice, but mindfulness is only a stepping stone to the purest form of meditation, in which attention rests in objectlessness.
So let’s first take a look at the word attention and what it points to. Attention itself is not an object. It is not a sense input, nor is it a thought or a feeling. Attention is that which knows all of these things. You could consider attention to be that which is aware of any ‘thing’, but when you try to find attention itself, when you look for ‘that’ which is aware, all you can find is the knowing of itself, no particular object, no-thing, just pure knowing/being.
Stage 1 – Become aware of being aware
At first, you simply become aware of being aware. Already, that is the tiniest glimpse of objectlessness. It may seem to last a split second before thoughts analyse the situation. But continue to be aware of being aware for a moment. When thoughts appear, simply be aware that you are aware of the thoughts.
To make this stage easy for yourself, during meditation, ask yourself the question, ‘Am I aware?’ That may sound silly, but actually, by asking the question, you are simultaneously checking that you are aware. How do you know you are aware? Simply because you are aware of being aware.
It is a very subtle shift in focus, and thoughts may instantly jump in and say something like ‘Of course I’m aware’, or something similar, but before that thought, there is a definite gap, in which you are confirming, through the simple act of direct acknowledgement, that you are aware. Don’t overlook this as it is of fundamental importance, despite it’s profound simplicity.
Stage 2 – Look for the source of awareness
Once you have established that you are definitely aware, and also that you can be aware of being aware, the next stage is to look for the source of that awareness. Thoughts will say it is coming from a brain, or from eyes, or from a body, or from consciousness, but in direct terms, these are still just thoughts, this is still just speculation.
The more you continue to search, with awareness, for awareness, the more elusive it seems to become. This is no surprise as thoughts want to find a something, but awareness is not a thing. Keeping searching all the same. Let the elusiveness of awareness silence you into bewilderment.
It becomes so mysterious the mind can no longer comprehend, and this is where the scales have the potential to tip in the other direction. When they do, it becomes effortless rest in the non-dual nature of consciousness, without attention getting drawn into dualistic thinking. Such effortlessness could be a few stages off yet however.
Stage 3 – Let go
It is not just the mind that has to let go of speculation, but also the nervous system and every muscle and fibre of your body that may be holding tension. While it may not be necessary to let go in order to maintain non-dual awareness, total relaxation is an inevitable by-product of such a practise. You are more likely to rest in objectlessness if there is nothing you are holding onto. Let it all go, it’s all meaningless. Trust in silence and dissolve.
Begin by relaxing your optic nerves. Don’t allow your eyes to flicker or focus in the slightest. Allow this stillness, once attained, to spread through the ear canals and all the way down the spine. Once that total relaxation is reached, let go of the concept of owning a body. Label nothing that appears and disappears, rest only in the knowing of the awareness of all things.
Stage 4 – Keep to the centre
This stage is most elusive and difficult to conceptualise. It is discovered only through practise and intuition. It is however the stage that has the potential to take you all the way to absolute self discovery. The centre, or ‘middle path’, is not a way of life, it is an energetic porthole into objectlessness, discovered only by the maintaining of attention upon itself. I use these descriptors as a way of conceptualising the ineffable and can offer no science to back them up. The science is in your discovery, as you search for the source of your awareness.
Of course the centre is not a fixed point, as an object, such a the flame of a candle would be. It cannot be measured by science. It is an energetic converging of yin and yang, due the the fact awareness is centred in non-duality. For some, this just won’t make sense, or the ego will stand in the way of its discovery. The scientific model assumes the existence of a subject/object relationship, and thus one’s dependence on science may be frustrated to a halt as it is discovered through meditation that no such relationship exists. Once discovered, keeping to the centre is simply about allowing all objects that attempt to divide consciousness, to be known only as consciousness itself. The ‘centre’, ultimately, is objectlessness. The centering of energies is a byproduct and makes it continually effortless to maintain objectlessness.
Final stage – Keep to the centre during activity
Even when the previous stages become effortless during meditation, there is a final step. That involves never losing the centre, regardless of whether you appear to be meditating, working, interacting etc. Usually any kind of human interaction will scatter your energy, the centre is lost. You need to meditate again in order to reacquaint yourself with objectlessness. It is only when you no longer lose the centre, regardless of what is appearing in awareness, that you are able to reach your true potential. Even though objectlessness may be deeper and more profound during meditation, it is known throughout interaction and everyday living as the borderless canvas in which all appears and disappears. Life is seen as a work of Art.
The final stage is usually a lifetime’s work to perfect. But you can start right now. Rest attention in the objectless awareness, despite whatever may appear to appear and disappear.