Touch 6: Attention is Hope

Tuesday, 11. August 2009

continues from here

When I originally wrote this in 1989 I was so aghast at my initial exploration of what I’m now calling Step One that I continued elaborating it for an overwhelmingly long time and never really embraced Step Two. So this time, bright and early in the narrative, here comes the first notes of that new theme, on the flute perhaps, leading in the strings before the cello takes it up and raises it to heaven…

If you have accepted the truth of step one this will be a lot easier to enjoy; if not you will be left asking “so what?”, just as complacent as you always have been, just as hopelessly trapped in the mesmerising memes that have controlled your life so far. Step one is that you accept that reality is what is says on the can and continues largely immune to your little life: your actions, your plans, your fame, your accumulated wealth, your brilliant ideas and finally your pain and decay. In philosophical terms, step one is Determinism: trapped by your genes, the memes and rules of society, diverse laws of the universe and the largely appalling behaviour of other people.

The note that calls back whenever Determinism strikes is of course what the religious call Free Will and for them it is a gift that God gave them in order to punish them for being Original Sinners and not keeping His Laws, none of which bears any relation to the brilliant and fertile freewill we do actually have: we are completely free, really, be joyous for it is so, but not how you imagine it…

You think being free means you can think what your like, do what you like within reason, develop your creativity, become popular and successful, make sparkling comments or profoundly poetic utterances to impress your hierarchical groupings, free yourself of your “issues”, develop your good taste and install a wet room in your home. To modern (wo)man, freedom largely means self actualisation, the very thing that is almost impossible within the laws of reality, yet the thing we talk about, think about, read about, ogle at and cream over for almost all of our lives…

That stuff is all illusion, yet you absolutely do have freedom in one crucial function and it derives directly in an elegant Kantian manner (like everything else) from the fact that your nature is to be self and other conscious. You notice things in a way that trees do not and dogs can only wonder at. You reflect. Incoming experience finds a willing plaything when it arrives at you. You, alone of all the living things we know about are able to return something amazing back to the world: your attention.

Mostly, as Step One shows us, your attention is narcissistic, egotistical, addicted to the pornography of your own ambitions. But as life wears you down and disappointment replaces hope most people find ways to slew their attention to induce narcotic pain relief: drink, drugs, obsession, stamp collecting, political ideas, cordon blue grande cuisine, the poetry of some obscure unknown who must have held the real truth because he was just like little you. Anything will do, really, so long as it is not to much reality. Religion is always a good one, but world music mysticism might be cooler, and let’s not forget your own creativity, oh yes: that fabled realm in which you will achieve the zipless fuck to last for all eternity…

Werner Erhard, by the way, stopped at about this point in a mass of confusion, as do all the other gurus. That’s why their ideas are so cloudy and their followers so goddam gormless. There is no output to the lessons they teach. Once Eckhart Tolle has told you to be real-here-now, you have only yourself to blame if you’ve still got a bad case of civilisation and its discontents. He doesn’t care, because like all other gurus he is just trotting out the memes in his own brain so it looks like he solved the problems of existence and really is The One.

So, for the first time ever in the whole of your life and the whole of human existence comes the one central truth that no one has ever quite understood which is that freedom is super available to you in paradox to your utter lack of ability to exercise control but that freedom comes shackled by another paradox, namely that you only have the freedom to do one thing, which is that you can notice. You can blind yourself as much as you do but you can also open your eyes and notice more, and more, and more.

The more you hear the richer are the sounds of the spheres and the more you listen and appreciate will be the beginning of your greater love for other people. The more you appreciate the more you will celebrate. The more you feel the more passionate will be your feeling. The more you taste will bring you nourishment beyond what you ever dreamed was possible. We know this from the start of every love affair, yet within six months it has usually been tidied away in a closet along with the other “issues” we have to deal with. We can see this from watching young creatures at play and wistfully remembering when our own lives were a great adventure in fascination and fun. Before the controls controlled us and made us into controllers.

Nobody needs a theory or a guru or a method, really. You just need to notice that you are not noticing (step one) and then begin to cultivate your skill as a noticer (step two). Attention, and where you place it with what intensity with how much purity and accuracy, is the central theme of existence for us because that’s how we are built: as the first creature capable of that level of intelligence. Will we ever achieve that potential, or will we continue full of sound, fury, style and petty attempts to triumph over life as the intrinsic cancers under the surface slowly eat us alive, the cancers we never notice until it is too late…

Because that’s the bad news: when you first start noticing there’s a lot of grime on those shining surfaces in the designer kitchen, there’s a lot of contortion and obscurity in the labyrinths of the mind you are using to notice. The instrument needs adjusting and some of what you see will be almost too shocking to handle and may seem like your fault, which will make you recoil and beg the torment of reality to stop before you get through to the promised land you set out for. And then you can do what you’ve always done: make excuses and embroider the story to conceal from yourself another nail of resignation in the coffin of your own aliveness.

So there is some way to go yet, and we need to discuss in detail what is and could be happening to strengthen ourselves against turning back. I have only peaked into that garden myself because it is impossible to go alone and I’ve never found anyone willing to come, only mockery and abuse and high-handed sneering at my “arrogance” from people so arrogant they think themselves able to change reality at will…

Ideally this would be a dialogue in which we share the burden but I know that’s never going to happen so I will continue, day by day, illustrating aspects of the possible journey, making up your part in the discussion as I have done so far by so arrogantly addressing you as “you” as if it’s your fault and I’m talking down to you, heaven forbid. Yes, I do fucking mean you, and if you were fit to lead this adventure you’d have started it. The difference between me and whatever idiot guru you are actually following whether you realise it or not is that I’m showing you how it’s done and telling you the whole truth every step of the way. I’m starting from nothing, alongside you. I’ve already had my cancers and my heart goes out to those who have yet to endure them.

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