Use of Attention
Just as we have five outer senses, we have an inner sense. Or, we can say, we have five sense organs but one inner sense.
It is this inner sense that works through the organs—through the ear it hears and through the eyes it sees. But if properly trained, it can both see and hear inside.
The sense organs work through the paying of attention. Just as we have an outer sense and an inner sense, we have external attention which flows through the sense organs to give us the experience of the world outside. And we have inner attention, which we hardly use at all.
By working on the inner sense and training it to focus attention in our psychological spaces, we commence what is called self-observation.
Now we have let in a ray of light into our dark psychic nature. The first step in any spiritual journey is to bring that which lies in darkness into light. That is our thoughts, emotions, sensations and movements.
Before going further we must explain that seeing is not observing. When I drive to work, I see so many buildings on the way. I may have been passing by the same buildings for so many years. But if someone were to ask me to describe them, I would hardly be able to do so. I have seen them but not observed them.
Observation is active, seeing is passive. In observation, I take in an impression, in seeing I do not take in an impression.
An impression is a kind of food that has definite effects on my psychic structure.
All meditation techniques are for training inner attention. So when we talk about self-observation, we’re saying we have to make an active effort to see what is going on. Not just seeing and saying yes, I know that I get angry. I make an impression out of the anger and this allows me to study it and be free of it.
There are four types of attention. The first is zero attention—that is my attention level is very low. I am in a state of daydreaming or brooding. This does not mean I am doing nothing. I may be driving a car and daydreaming at the same time. I read a page of a book but after I finish the page, I realize that I do not remember anything. I was reading with zero attention.
The next state of attention is the attracted state of attention, when I am engrossed in a movie or some music, or in a thriller novel. My attention is held by what I am doing. There is no inner effort to hold attention. That is, I do not have to use will to hold attention. This is a state of hypnosis. We can call this the state of identifying with what I am doing. All the events of life hypnotise us and we relate to them through attracted attention.
The next state of attention is Directed attention. When we study for an exam we have to pay attention to what we are doing. To pay attention is a very good way to put it. Attention is a form of spiritual currency and if we want to grow spiritually, we must learn to hold our attention i.e. pay with attention.
Deeper understanding of anything in life can only come with Directed attention. Man dos not like to make the effort to hold attention. For that he has to use his will. So even if he is studying something where he has to pay attention, he likes to fall back to watching TV or daydreaming. He finds it difficult to make the effort to hold attention.
To stay for longer periods in a state of directed attention helps us grow our will. We pay by attention and receive by the power of will.
The highest state of attention is double arrowed attention. In this state, we divide our attention into two parts. We throw one arrow of attention on the events of life outside and the other arrow gives us an awareness of our thoughts and feelings.
All spiritual journeys start with divided or double-arrowed attention. We will talk of this form of attention later.
In the epic book, the Bhagwad Gita, Arjuna asks Krishna to take his chariot between the two armies, so that he can simultaneously observe both sides. This is divided attention.