Being Present
Choose your language:
John of Damascus, attentive to his work, a halo of awareness around him
John of Damascus, attentive to his work, a halo of awareness around him.
June 2009

Awareness, Attention

In a moment of presence, awareness flows in and out in the same harmony as the exhalation and inhalation of breath. Presence unifies both awareness and its subject, both the witness and its participation in reality. By studying the energy of awareness, of attention, one will discover how to control and use it for consciousness. One has this energy in abundance, according to one’s health or state of mind, yet it is how this energy is applied that is the key to being present. Attention manifests on many levels; for example, the focus required for learning a skill, developing a concept, absorbing a fact, or the caution required for crossing a busy street. Attention can be used as a bond between the mind and a subject, or otherwise caught in fascination, or trapped in imagination. Its highest use is through a special effort to create presence, detaching it from the subject but sustaining its focus, and what seems impossible in imagination, is more than possible with presence. There are many examples of how attention adds to the subject. A chef’s love of cooking is one of the ingredients of a delicious dish. Lovers discover a natural, magnetic flow of attention between them. A dancer concentrates on a ballet jump, which in performance becomes a spectacular leap. And through consistent effort, the state of presence becomes aware of itself, independent from the sleeping state, independent from time, a ‘living soul’.


There is a delicate balance in using attention. Much of the time, one is unfocused, distracted by events or absorbed in the half-thoughts and fears, the random associative images of imagination. Observing this, one sets an exercise, an aim to be conscious of one’s hands for fifteen minutes. During the exercise, although the aim is a consistent reminder, one’s level of attention constantly fluctuates, deviated by another inclination, a desire, or a thought. Without an aim, attention is either drawn to the loudest, most obvious impression in the environment, or absorbed in empty imagination.

By observing how easily attention can be disrupted, one finds the real challenge to developing consciousness. Whatever distracts one’s awareness has power over the soul. At the same time, the origin of this limitation comes from within oneself. ‘A spiritual warrior,’ Abu Bakr writes, ‘has no outside enemies.’ One’s position is intriguing yet uncomfortable, consciousness and mechanics sharing the same skin, unlikely room-mates. Yet by accepting this, both are free to play their roles, the machine functioning much in the same way, consciousness developing independently. With discipline, aim and the appreciation of the higher purpose in one’s life, attention can be used to develop the fine material of an astral body. Consciousness is the birthright of human-beings, Gurdjieff claims; a human being can be twice born, first in the material world, and again in the conscious world.
Gather together my distracted mind, Lord.
John of Damaskos
Whenever the soul, paying no attention to external things, is concentrated in prayer, then a kind of flame surrounds it, as fire surrounds iron, making it incandescent.
The physical body exists for the astral body; it is specifically designed to produce presence and immortality.