We are attending all the time. Attending is the activity of sentience. We are attending with all of our senses constantly and simultaneously; inwardly and outwardly. Though most of our attending does not make it to the conscious level of attending. In the series of lectures “The Child’s Changing Consciousness”1, Rudolf Steiner likens the preverbal infant to a sponge that not only attends to and absorbs everything that their senses come in contact with, but are also attended to and absorbed by everything that their senses come in contact with. He theorized that there is no sense of separation, no I and thou, in the time leading up to the awakening to a sense of self or an “I”. One might say that the infant is perpetually loving the one they are with, but without freedom of choice. At some point (Many theorists including Steiner believe around the age of three.), through experiences of pain and enjoyment, the child develops preferences, attachments, and aversions and the capacity to filter out what they don’t have a preference for and to attend to what is preferential. They begin to develop the freedom to choose. This is the beginning of “I” consciousness.
This is a complex process, obviously. The development of these preferences are linked to the environment that the infant is swimming in and absorbing. According to Steiner this is the time when the human being embodies their conditioning or karma from previous lives and lays down the karmas or the habitual ways of thinking, speaking and acting for the present life. The vast majority of these imprints remain unconscious and affect how the human being is in relationship to themselves and the world for the entire lifetime and beyond. But what also remains is that original core beingness and ability to absorb and be absorbed by the entirety of the cosmos. It is this true nature, this total absorption that draws us toward and activates the practices of meditation and realization. In a sense it is always calling us, the “I”, the self, to attend to itself.
There are many obstacles, obscurations, and veils that lie on the trail, preventing consciousness from seeing and actualizing this true nature of beingness. Throughout a lifetime we have developed fears, aversions, hatreds, desires, attachments, passions and delusions that are mostly reactions that are not freely chosen, but are habits of thinking, speaking and doing related to those early imprints. These are continually reinforced and reconstructed through childhood and even as adults. In the midst of all of these habits we may also experience moments of awakening from the clouds of habit. Sitting on the edge of a canyon that stills all thought and desire. Meeting a spiritual friend who emanates ease, joy and compassion. Hearing music that undoes the thought stream and leaves us in awe. Seeing one’s infant child for the first time and not being able to turn away from the marvel of wholeness manifested in toenails and eyelashes and a piercing wail. This is that call to stop, and come home, to love and attend to the one you are and the infinite one you are with.
Then perhaps there is a curiosity about this thing that is beyond our normal consciousness, that keeps popping into our consciousness or experience. We may then be drawn to inquire of the spiritual friend about how they got to be how they be. Or we are drawn to return to the canyon’s edge. Or we are moved to choose to act with generosity, harmlessness, and peace. Or we train our voice and our hands to sing and play music that not only delights us, but others. Or perhaps we begin to see our reflection in the embodiment of the infant and we choose to move toward that. There are 84,000 ways of awakening to this and they are everpresent for our attention
At some point there may be an understanding that these experiences are not sustainable. They come and go and the habits of reactivity; desire, clinging, aversion and delusion keep returning. But the call is relentless and no matter how far we stray from the trail, or how many times we give up, stop practicing, or how many barriers we build, this selfless self that is absorbed in and absorbed by all of life, remains like the pulse in the blood, the breath, gravity, particle and wave. And so we return to attending.
We may also learn over time that stillness is the key to this attending. The experience is probably stillness of the body. That when the body is still it becomes like an empty canvas upon which the paint of our habitual way of being is splattered. Or a clear sky wherein we can see the clouds of confused thoughts and emotional suffering that gather in storms that bring a blizzard of snow. Gradually, we may begin to be able to attend to the canvas and the sky as well as the splatters and the clouds with loving attention. By loving and attending to the one that we are with, we are able to see the one that is hidden. By loving and attending to the one that is hidden we are able to see the one that is obscuring, obstructing or veiling.
As the attention in stillness of body becomes more refined we might find that choosing a single point of attention ( prayer, the breath, the pulse, emptiness, impermanence…) and engaging all of the senses including the sense of consciousness or “I” to attend to this point, provides a space for those unconscious imprints, of this life and those formed before this life, to be seen more clearly. And we may see how they obstruct, obscure or veil the trail that leads to the wisdom of all things. There may be a sense of overwhelm at the density of the imprints and the depth of the snow and ice obscuring the trail. We may give up, turn away, be drawn back into the desires and attachments, but the self that knows itself as itself, remains, never turning away, patiently inviting us to pick up the shovel of the practice of attending to just what is and start shoveling through the hard packed snow.
With these words I pay homage to all buddhas, bodhisattvas, sentient beings, and the totality. May these words not confuse, bring doubt, or harm, but bring ease and warmth and an end to suffering for all beings throughout all times and in all directions.
1. Steiner, Rudolf (1996). The Child’s Changing Consciousness: As the Basis of Pedagogical Practice. SteinerBooks.
Photo by Paulo Sousa: https://www.flickr.com/photos/paulosousafotografia/
Practicing in sangha, even virtually, supports the practice of meditation differently than practicing solitarily. The members of the Sangha of the Pandemic, invite you to practice with us. No experience is required. There is no cost. Everyone is welcome.
We practice on ZOOM:
- Mondays – Calm abiding. 6:30 AM Pacific Time
- Tuesdays – Body awareness. 6:30 AM Pacific Time
- Thursdays – Tonglen, 6:30 AM Pacific Time
- Wednesdays and Fridays – “Formal” Practice 7:00 AM Pacific TIme
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