Attention is the most basic form of love; through it we bless and are blessed” — John Tarrant, director of Pacific Zen Institute
Recently a friend lent me some old CDs by spiritual teacher Adyashanti. It is a recording of a retreat he did in 2005 on the subject of “Spontaneous Awakening.”
Maybe like you, I’m a ravenous consumer of any consciousness-advancing information like that, old and new. I’m able to listen to teachings on the subject over and over and never tire of it.
In this recorded set, there was a 20 minute guided meditation that led the listener through allowing your conscious attention to go where it wanted to go. Adyashanti guides you in to simply notice what your attention naturally is drawn to and just allow it to noodle around as it naturally wants. The allowing is key. The watching takes real focus and concentration!
I’ve played around with this meditation for a few months and the more I do it, the more remarkable I realize it is. Something deep changes in me when I can stay present enough to follow without losing track, and let my attention be free to go where it wants to go.
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This summer I also got big lessons on what love is. I learned how scared I am to really receive Big Love.
I learned how I subtly armor myself and find all kinds of tricky ways to keep strong love at a distance because it is not safe. And if I want to be strong enough to receive it, I learned that underneath everything, loving MYSELF is the big power move. And once made, it’s a move I can’t take for granted that I’ve accomplished once and for all. I have to remember deep self love over and over — practicing it until I really get the hang of it.
I learned that Love is a field that exists, like gravity or air, and (unlike gravity or air) I can choose to immerse myself more and more deeply in it . . . or not. But to step in, I have to give up (that is to die to) a lot of very important (and often quite invisible) self preservation strategies. It’s scary as shit. I learned there is a vast ocean of Love that is always there — so, so much of it that I am wealthy beyond imagining in the abundance of love — if only I’m willing to wade in and un-defend my heart.
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This past spring I was busy writing about ‘right relationship.’ Writing away, I discovered that in my experience when things are in right relationship, it inevitably generates a really good feeling in me. I mean sweet, yummy good, pleasurable in the body, like a really excellent meal or a gorgeous sunset or being with someone you dearly love.
I have used this metric in my lifelong profession as a graphic designer. When I design something, I am sensing the size and position of elements on a page and how they are influencing each other dynamically, and a host of other complicated mini-relationships of meaning and visual hierarchy and more. I can’t do this all cognitively, rationally. Because the systems involved are too complex and too subtle, I have to also rely on this quiet, inner sense of pleasure I get in my body which signals ‘right relationship.’
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In her book The Four Noble Truths of Love, author Susan Piver points out that love is a form of attention. When you love something or someone, you pay attention to it. Simple. She writes,
“To shine the light of your awareness on your beloved is not only the foundation of love, it is love. Without the willingness or ability to do so, love is simply not possible. In this sense, the ability to understand, modulate, and discern where you attention is and how, should you wish, to shift it may be the most important factor in being truly loving.”
Who and what do I pay attention to, and how?
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So here I am, sitting on my meditation pillow, eyes closed, practicing allowing my attention to go where it wants to go.
I notice that when I stay present, watching, letting my attention move here and there, it feels good. My body relaxes and a sensation of pleasure arises. It’s a deep sense of safety, of being seen without any judgment or commentary. It’s the profound pleasure of both freedom and being held, all at once.
Slowly it occurs to me I feel like a loving parent watching a child; just being there, not trying to discipline the child or get it to do or be anything. I’m just watching and allowing, being totally present. And the child knows it.
You know how happy a kid is when she knows she’s being lovingly watched, and being completely allowed to be herself?
That is exactly how I feel when I can stay present and give myself this kind of loving attention.
Kids crave that kind of attention.
I think we all crave it.
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Attention. Love. Self.
If we are at a turning point in our humanity that will require us to stop treating each other like objects to get our needs met, and to start seeing each other as allies who we can genuinely love and respect for just being fellow humans, and if the basis of seeing and so treating each other with love and respect is rooted in our ability to authentically love ourselves, how immensely critical might it be to learn to pay attention to ourselves in a way that is allowing and present?
It may be the most important way we could ever bless the world.