Pay Attention

July 20, 2008

In my meanderings around Saharasia and The Fall I also came across Eckhart Tolle, I think Dan may have linked to an article about him ages ago but anyway here’s a quote from a chapter of his book The Power of Now. (I won’t speculate on the issue of whether his appearance on Oprah is a good or a bad sign and nor will I bemoan – for long – that fact that his latest book is out on-loan at the local library and that I would have to wait for a further 13 people to borrow it before I could get a look).

The first sentence was written specifically for me I’m sure:

The good news is that you can free yourself from your mind. This is the only true liberation. You can take the first step right now. Start listening to the voice in your head as often as you can. Pay particular attention to any repetitive thought patterns, those old gramophone records that have been playing in your head perhaps for many years. This is what I mean by “watching the thinker,” which is another way of saying: listen to the voice in your head, be there as the witnessing presence.

When you listen to that voice, listen to it impartially. That is to say, do not judge. Do not judge or condemn what you hear, for doing so would mean that the same voice has come in again through the back door. You’ll soon realize: there is the voice, and here I am listening to it, watching it. This I am realization, this sense of your own presence, is not a thought. It arises from beyond the mind.

So when you listen to a thought, you are aware not only of the thought but also of yourself as the witness of the thought. A new dimension of consciousness has come in. As you listen to the thought, you feel a conscious presence – your deeper self – behind or underneath the thought, as it were. The thought then loses its power over you and quickly subsides, because you are no longer energizing the mind through identification with it. This is the beginning of the end of involuntary and compulsive thinking.When a thought subsides, you experience a discontinuity in the mental stream – a gap of “no-mind.” At first, the gaps will be short, a few seconds perhaps, but gradually they will become longer. When these gaps occur, you feel a certain stillness and peace inside you. This is the beginning of your natural state of felt oneness with Being, which is usually obscured by the mind. With practice, the sense of stillness and peace will deepen. In fact, there is no end to its depth. You will also feel a subtle emanation of joy arising from deep within: the joy of Being.

It is not a trancelike state. Not at all. There is no loss of consciousness here. The opposite is the case. If the price of peace were a lowering of your consciousness, and the price of stillness a lack of vitality and alertness, then they would not be worth having. In this state of inner connectedness, you are much more alert, more awake than in the mind-identified state. You are fully present. It also raises the vibrational frequency of the energy field that gives life to the physical body.

As you go more deeply into this realm of no-mind, as it is sometimes called in the East, you realize the state of pure consciousness. In that state, you feel your own presence with such intensity and such joy that all thinking, all emotions, your physical body, as well as the whole external world become relatively insignificant in comparison to it. And yet this is not a selfish but a selfless state. It takes you beyond what you previously thought of as “your self.” That presence is essentially you and at the same time inconceivably greater than you. What I am trying to convey here may sound paradoxical or even contradictory, but there is no other way that I can express it.

Instead of “watching the thinker,” you can also create a gap in the mind stream simply by directing the focus of your attention into the Now. Just become intensely conscious of the present moment. This is a deeply satisfying thing to do. In this way, you draw consciousness away from mind activity and create a gap of no-mind in which you are highly alert and aware but not thinking. This is the essence of meditation. In your everyday life, you can practice this by taking any routine activity that normally is only a means to an end and giving it your fullest attention, so that it becomes an end in itself. For example, every time you walk up and down the stairs in your house or place of work, pay close attention to every step, every movement, even your breathing. Be totally present. Or when you wash your hands, pay attention to all the sense perceptions associated with the activity: the sound and feel of the water, the movement of your hands, the scent of the soap, and so on. Or when you get into your car, after you close the door, pause for a few seconds and observe the flow of your breath. Become aware of a silent but powerful sense of presence. There is one certain criterion by which you can measure your success in this practice: the degree of peace that you feel within.

Shortly after reading this I was feeling particularly worried about some issue or other and managed to remember to shut the voice in my head down by focussing 100% on the task I was performing at the time – and it worked! The level of tension I was experiencing eased right off.

So many of us use the statement “I just can’t stop thinking about “……” and it’s because we’ve been trying to replace one disembodied thought with another disembodied thought. I’ve mentioned in the past about how I’ve found rock climbing to be a good way to pull my mind of out a depression or stop that worrying voice but now I realise there is no need to go to such extremes, all I need to do is pay 100% attention to any real thing that is right in front of me.



  1. This relates to all systems of de-robotisation and esotericism. Buddhist’s call it mindfullness, which leads to detachment: “So when you listen to a thought, you are aware not only of the thought but also of yourself as the witness of the thought.” Detachment is very powerful; it’s helped me a lot, and also scared the hell out of me a few times.

    Gurdjieff’s methods of self-remembering and self-observation are similar, if not more “harsh” and full on. Many limbs of yoga and initiation into magickal orders are also first concerned with stopping the endless conditioned chatter-worry of the mind, so that it’s initially fragmented nature can be unified to create some notion of Will (in magick) or Union (in yoga.) Similar means to near identical ends.

  2. What do you mean ‘it scared the hell out of you a few times?

    When I try that I am truly amazed at how the thoughts that pop into my head drop away again if I just observe them rather than get involved. It’s weird how it feels like someone else is putting those thoughts in too. They’re pretty persistant, I felt like a crowd of people were shouting at me at one point, my brain was trying so hard to quiet the silence.

    The other trick my mind uses against me is to start commentating on how the process of watching the thoughts is going – and isn’t that a weird sentence to write?

    Yep, not thinking is definitely hard work

  3. What do you mean ‘it scared the hell out of you a few times?

    Sometimes I’ve “detached” myself from feelings of fear, and the experience of standing alongside them was even scarier than the normal feeling alone. It’s hard to describe. Probably it wasn’t possible to really detach from such a strong feeling, or I didn’t go far enough, thus further worrying myself. I don’t know. I’ve had this experience a few times in the past, but not so much anymore.

    It’s weird how it feels like someone else is putting those thoughts in.

    This is precisely what Gurdjieff and many others have claimed: man is a plurality of almost autonomous selves, each speaking in the name of the Whole, with different agendas, and unfortunately, usually totally unaware of the other selves.

    And because of this, man cannot “do”; things only “happen” to him, depending on which Self or I is running the show. It is precisely because there is no permanent “I” that, according to G., the average person does not in any respect possess “Will” or “Consciousness.”

    (I can say from experience that the more you self-observe, the more clear these concepts become.)

    These things you seem to be grasping are concepts recently revealed to me (by a shiny new self within me!) as the fundamentals of esoteric transformation, key pillars in the understanding of oneself, and hence the world.

  4. […] stumbled upon a blog entry at Reality Sandwich from Charles Eisenstein which I really like. In the comments from two posts back Dan touched on the issue of whether we really have true free will and here,  […]

  5. Interesting. I’ll have to try on some of these thoughts.

    But being a very contemplative introvert type since I can first remember, i have to say that almost everything said in the original post is what comes natural to me. I have always wondered at the new-age types who immediately tell me I need to learn to change my thinking to this or that because it has been such a revelation for them and so of course no one else could ever have achieved the same state of mind on their own.

    Poets and great fiction writers do the same thing. How else can they so well observe their own thoughts and feelings, and imagine their characters and their thoughts and feelings and the inevitable self-reflection that the characters do throughout the story?

    I think it takes more than these mind experiments to truly change an aspect of yourself. If any layers need to be peeled away, begin with the layers of self-deception that we build to protect ourselves from conscious awareness of who we really are, the best and the worst of ourselves. Approaching meditation and such to “clear your mind” is little more than technique of escapism from the self. It might be nice to do once in awile, but it you’ll still be the same asshole. Except now you’ll be an asshole who thinks he/she is enlightened and better than everyone else.

    It is an illusion to think there is a core nothingness. If you see nothingness, that is a construct of our all-too-clever mind that seeks to protect itself from pain.

    Nothing less that raw sustained courage will get one beyond what they are today. The first step is facing our real selves.

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