Saturday, July 01, 2006

The Pattern of Attention

This was a post on the Wilber Forum in response to some questions there, reposted here for continuity to this whole consideration of acausal patterning and our relationship to the deeper pattern that is the source of observed patterns.

The basic idea is that one's attention is the pattern, is the "karma", is the underlying conditional structure of one's experience. Normally we are not attentive to how our attention moves. We see objects and interact with them, and assume that is our "given". What's not readily seen is that these are not "given", these are chosen by us through primal karmas of attention, meaning simply our habits of attention. When we try to analyze our pattern, we generally analyze these objects, whether they be people, circumstances, activities, body characteristics, thoughts, etc. This kind of analysis goes nowhere, because it is attention itself that is the pattern, not our circumstances. The circumstance merely reflects the underlying patterns of our attention that we are drawn into.

At a certain point, one ends up being attentive to attention itself. This is where it gets interesting. Noticing attention moving out, positioning itself in a world of objects, begins to bring about insight into ourselves, meaning the ability to see attention as our core determining factor in experience. We begin to see that all our movements of attention are simply distractions from what we are, and they create a false sense of self based on the objects they create and become obsessed with. THe patterns of attention become more obvious because we are less caught up in them. And the important factor then becomes self-attention, not attention to objects and worlds.

As for analyzing conditional attention itself, the only real effort I've given to that in any kind of systematic way was with astrology. It gets a bit complicated, and someday I'll write out my ideas and methods there, but it's not really essential at all. Astrology is just one of many ways one could go about it. Simply paying attention to any pattern and its correspondences will yield results. The problem with many patterns, however, is that they have causal relationships with us that make it harder to isolate the deeper pattern. I've used the analogy of a tree before to make that point that if you examine two leaves that are close together, and traces them back to a common root, one doesn't get very "deep" into the tree, just a few branches back. But if you look at leaves that are on opposite sides of the tree, their own commonality is the trunk of the tree. So distant patterns that have little causal relationship are the most useful.

And this in my view is what makes astrology useful as a pattern to compare to our own patterns of life and mind. COntrary to what many astrologers have claimed, it's not because the stars and planets emanate forces and energies that somehow effect human beings. It's because they are so distant that they have almost know effect on human beings, certainly not in any direct way. Because they have so little in common with us, and are stripped of virtually any causal possibilities, whatever correspondences they have with human minds and lives go very deep, closer to the source patterning, than most other patterns we might encounter.

As for hierarchies of attention, certainly one could describe such things. But none are actually higher or lower than the others, even if we say they are. They exist in cycles of attention, getting larger or smaller, dying, becoming extinct, like the eddies of water as the tides come in and out. We might spend millions of years evolving into Gods in the scheme of things, but even this doesn't last, and eventually even the Gods fall to earth. Wilber's hope is that stages are permanent, that once one advances to a certain stage of perspective, a certain wholeness and inclusiveness, this becomes permanent. This isn't so. Attention doesn't stay in one place, or on one course of ascent or descent, forever. We can put our attention wherever we wish, and attain that level of knowledge and expertise, but it remains only as long as our attention stays there. If we wander, we lose it. And we always wander. Wilber is trying to build permanence out of wayward attention, and it doesn't work. True, for a time it does, for a few years, even a few decades, maybe a few lifetimes. But eventually we die, and attention wanders onto something new.

I'm not saying Wilber's stages are right or wrong, only that they only seem right or wrong from a particular perspective. From the uber-perspective, from the position of the Witness, they are just one possible way of describing things. They represent Wilber's own perspective, his own particular pattern of attention, hope, aspiration, fear, desire, and mind. I have my own. There are similarities, to be sure, and if I were to describe my astrological patterning ideas, some of those similarities would come out. I built my system on attention itself, and how attention moves through cycles of development, growth, and decay and death, endlessly searching for itself. Attention is like a dog chasing its own tail. It goes on forever until it begins to recognize itself.

Ultimately that's the pattern that has to be recognized - that we are chasing our own tails, thinking it is an "other". That's the story of narcissus. The way each of us does it determines the world as we know it. If you want to see your own pattern, notice where your attention goes, what it seeks. If you want to see the primal pattern of which even attention is just a modification, you have to look at attention itself, at its root. This is what self-enquiry is about - going beyond the patterns of our mind and attention, and examining the root of attention, its source.

And yes, it is possible to see the root pattern, the uber-pattern, but it requires going to the root of attention and beyond. It is not perceivable through attention, but it can be known prior to attention. The Witness is the sign of it, but not the method. As Kela noted in another thread, Witnessing is not attention, it's not what we do when we put our attention on something, or even when we just sit back and notice what is arising. That's being the observer, not being the Witness. As Kela says, Shankara and the Upanishads define the Witness as That which observes all states and things. Practicing beign the Witness is absurd. We already are witnessing everything. THe problem is, we don't know that we are doing that, that we are the Witness. So self-enquiry is necessary. We can't be the Witness by trying to witness, but we can by finding out who we are. That self-enquiry helps us see that we are the witness. Whereas trying to witness keeps us fixated in attention. And self-enquiry is basically just self-attention, being attentive to self rather than the objects of self.

As for the cosmic level of all this, that only opens up when one stops trying to develop oneself. What is being developed except attention itself? When does that ever end? Yes, one can develop attention through all kinds of stages, but they are endless. Wilber thinks that they end in enlightenment, but one can't ever get to enlightenment through the developmental stages, because enlightenment is merely the knowledge of who you are right now, not what you might become. Attention is the enemy of self, unless it is turned towards self. THe process of turning attention to self doesn't go through the stages Wilber presumes are necessary. THose are stages of attention and perspective. Turning attention to self destroys our perspective, it doesn't "mature" It. This is why in the course of such "development" one knows less and less, not more and more. One's perspective collapses and empties, rather than expands and includes.

If development is the goal, then of course something like Wilber's quadrants are part of the map. But there's so much more out there, and it can be arranged in all kinds of hierarchies. And yet none of that gets anyone to enlightenment. Getting rid of that is what works. Not intentionally, of course, but merely by turning attention to self it will occur naturally. So this is what I would call the liberating relationship to the patterns of one's attention. It's a relationship of renunciation, of turning away from the patterns and towards self-awareness. It's not so much trying to be the Witness as it is being onself, and naturally witnessing because that is how self functions in relation to attention. But it doesn't witness objects themselves, because it sees there are no objects in themselves. There is only attention. Attention is what creates objects, although we don't easily recognize this. So one witnesses attention, not objects. People think being the witness means watching your thoughts, or the objects, in the room, with some kind of dispassionate detachment. Wrong. It means witnessing attention itself, and noticing its patterns. Objects are not paid any attention to, or they will distract one from noticing oneself as a creature of attention.

Okay, enough for now. Maybe I'll get into more of this later, and some of the astrology stuff also. I think i've already starting answer the question Bobby had about non-dual practice, but it certainly needs amplification, and reference to the real teachings of the realizers. Also, I think I'll give a description of my own "vision-logic" view of the ultimate reality. Sounds like fun, eh?


Anonymous said...

At an insight meditation retreat (based on vipassana method), the teacher used the image of what happens when we are in a pitch dark room and use a flashlight.

Where that beam moves as we shift it around defines our field of experience.

And our overall pattern of pointing and swirling a flashlight beam will, in aggregate, generate something that could be called 'You-the-practitioner's-experience-of-who-you-are.'

If we were to give 6 different people a flashlight that is tied to a recording device and put each person in a pitch dark room for a half hour, each person would probably generate a different pattern of pointing that flashlight.

To make it even more intriguing, we could do the experiment by giving one group of subjects the task of finding something in that pitch dark room--a little gold star hidden somewhere on one of the walls.

That would correspond to the task of finding your true self--the task of some of the spiritual traditions.

Another group of subjects would not be given the task of finding something. That would correspond to traditions where there is nothing permanent to find, and nothing to attain.

It would be interesting to see if the two subjects generate different ways of positioning their flashlights--different ways of using their attention.

Finally imagine a group of subjects who are told there is no goal, but there's a gold star on the wall of the chamber. Would they find that star any sooner than the subjects who are told to look for it?

Anonymous said...

Finally, I thought I'd once heard of a book written by a guy who survived a stroke.

The title was, 'I Thank My Brain for Remembering Me.'

I tried a google search and came up with nothing.

But-if we consider that a brain is an attention device, what we do with our brains generates a pattern we call 'me.'

And if we use our brains a particular way, certain neurological paths get trained and kindled.

If we get angry all the time, we find it easier and easier to get angry--and this pattern becomes a trap. Our fuses get shorter

(Which shows why the cathartic pound-the-walls primal scream therapies of the 1960s and early 70s did not have the kind of beneficial effect people hoped they'd have.)

Anonymous said...

Hi Broken Yogi,

I have been reading your theory on synchronicity, attention and pattern wiith great interest. There seems to be some amount of thruth in in and I am still looking at it to determine how much. May be your answer will help me with this.

You say that within viewpoints or levels there is causality but in between different levels and viewpoints there is synchronicity. This stays somewhat unclear for me because of a couple of reasons. First I find there is a difference between a viewpoint and a level. So what is your definition of a viewpoint? You had the different pictures of the tree example, but there can be different levels within each viewpoint like having black and white, colour or infra-red pictures. So I would make an important difference between them.

We can also see this when the tree would be moving because of the wind. I could see the movement, hear the sound of the leafs and smell the odour of the blossom. These are all different levels within one viewpoint, won't you agree? Or are they all different viewpoints in your book? The fact is that there is causality from the wind to the smell of the blossom, sounds of the leafs and sight of movement.

And when I take it one step further, f.i. because of the nice smell and the sounds of the leafs my mind relaxes. Is this a different level or no? From your previous posts I would say yes? So you would say the relaxing of the mind is synchronicity although the wind seems to be the cause of the mind relaxing?

I would like to see some precise definitions on viewpoints and levels and some clarity on where causality ends and synchronicity begins to determine how much truth your theory contains.