A particularly interesting aspect of Gurdjieff’s ideas is that rightly directed attention is creative or catalytic; that is, it promotes the production of the specific materials necessary to fully connect the centers, and it has a crucial action in allowing impressions received through the senses (also a source of fine materials) to be absorbed on an adequate scale... This controlled attention never occurs automatically and is the very antithesis of the overinvolved attention characteristically found in everyday living, in which the attention is hypnotically drawn to the outer world, so that almost no inner movements are experienced and no objective knowledge of them can arise. Unless the form of attention is changed and a special inner awareness is cultivated, exact knowledge of the inner conditions which govern voluntary changes of state is impossible.
Is there a vital synthesis at work in which a new force arising from the interplay of attention and consciousness links me to a timeless world? Why is it that at these moments there is a sense of recognition as well as of mystery? And the world, so different from the one I was in a few moments before, now fills me with questioning.
By conscious attention the impressions are assimilated. Gurdjieff looked on conscious attention as a catalyst. Automatic attention provides man with security; but conscious attention, or more precisely, an awareness, an attention that simultaneously includes both man’s outer and inner world, is the key to evolution.
When a man’s attention is not entirely taken by associative movements and these movements are allowed to die down, he experiences inner silence. This silence is either a passive state or one accompanied by an active attention, perhaps in the thoughtless form of a question without an answer... Such, for example, is the state of a man listening, trying to catch an almost inaudible sound as his whole body, feeling and thought are concentrated in the attempt to catch the sound.
Meditation is necessary—to establish an awareness of a centered attention, and of the state where the many I’s are naturally subordinated to its centered weight. They do not disappear, but simply cannot take the reaction too far, because the “center of gravity of attention” restrains them.
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These excerpts are from Christopher Fremantle’s book, On Attention: talks, essays and letters to his pupils, Denville, NJ: Indications Press, 1993, pp. 11–12, 39, 43, 56–57, 151.
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Featured: Fall 2013 Issue, Vol. XII (1)
Revision: November 1, 2013