Our attention is the greatest gift we can give to the world.
But pure, unobstructed attention implies openness—a rooting into the now, especially when our cherished beliefs are questioned, or our character is put to the test.
It is interesting to watch the surface-level mind succumb to doubt or a rigid defensiveness. It feels as if we have literally leaped back into a fortress and barred the doors so that what sustained us our entire lives—the stories in which we believe—remain the rulers of the roost.
I often see this when someone’s faith or political beliefs have been put to the test. If you need to yell or grab your gun, you probably don’t really believe whatever it is that runs your life. But if attention is the main avenue, then we don’t’ have a fortress to run back to. There is just mind, wind, trees, and someone else who is on his or her path, following whatever they might espouse or feel comfortable clinging to.
People do a lot of interesting things when their cherished beliefs are challenged. They might start a war, gossip, grab their metaphorical or literal guns, laugh, walk away, yell, drink a deep drink, or engage the challenger with an open mind. Vastness always seems to be an interesting route when this happens because it swallows everything and allows life to be as it is. You don’t need to tell people they are going to hell, you can just work on not going there yourself!—if, of course, hell happens to be part of the story that holds together the fabric of your life.
I always think it is interesting when someone believes in something and in order to support it, heads straight to the storyline itself and cites it as a way of reaffirming the belief. It’s nice to recall, but it is dead compared to our experience of the moment. It could be a much more powerful thing to speak about how we directly experience religion, spirituality, belief in this life. That kind of religion, that kind of belief system, is alive.
In the same vibrant way a spiritual tradition can come to fruition through experiencing it in the present, our unobstructed attention sheds light on the inherent sense of intimacy in life that is always here. We can say that we own land, cars, trinkets and so forth, but in the context of our deaths, they are ephemeral—ghosts with no meaning outside of survival.
Our time, our energy, our ability to be here, now, with what comes into our lives, is the greatest gift. If this is the case, then we might want to take some of the precious energy we use to hold up our cherished beliefs and defend against those who might question them, and use it to regain our capacity for attention. We could be doing our fellow man and the earth that gave us life a great service when we practice to peel away our ingrained opinions.
Why? Instead of being lost in fantasy-like thought worlds or worrying about how much candy will be in the after-life, we could give back to the miracle that is here now: life, love and the grandeur of natural earth.
Ed: Brianna B.
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