Presence • Awakening • Consciousness • Self-knowledge • Evolution Vol 1, No 7 • DECEMBER 2004
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A publication of the Fellowship of Friends

Divided Attention

“Divide attention, and the moment is perfect.” Robert Earl Burton

Self-remembering is always simple and immediate. Wherever we are, whatever we are doing, it is just a matter of dividing attention and being aware of ourselves and our surroundings at the same time. This proves to be extremely difficult, however, because self-remembering has no momentum. Each few seconds we have to remember to divide attention again and be present where we are.

As soon as we forget about self-remembering, attention flows in only one direction at a time, either toward our inner thoughts or to something in the outer world. In the language of the system, we lose awareness of our selves and fall asleep. It is startling when, minutes or hours or even days later, we remember to divide attention. There is a feeling of suddenly waking up—of becoming more present and seeing what is in the present.

As Mr. Ouspensky explains, we cannot control consciousness directly, but we can induce it indirectly by remembering ourselves, and the key to this is divided attention. By holding awareness on two things—ourselves and something else at the same time—we promote a wordless state of presence in ourselves. The more we do this and the longer we sustain it, the more conscious we become.

Work on divided attention

The purpose of being in a Fourth Way school is to learn how to divide attention more often. The teacher introduces methods to promote and prolong divided attention, and the school environment reminds the people in it to remember themselves more often than they can on their own.

One of the methods we use in the Fellowship of Friends is something called the looking exercise. It is based on the fact that we usually do not see clearly what is right in front of us. We see things only vaguely as we rush through the present moment with undivided attention. The idea behind the looking exercise is to divide attention and be present enough to actually see what is in front of us. The effort this requires feels like focusing the lens of vision internally and externally at the same time. As soon as we realize that our vision has become cloudy again, this acts as a signal to once more divide attention and be present.

Suppose, for example, that you are brushing your teeth. Are you actually aware of yourself in a room, holding a small brush, feeling the sensation on your teeth? Or are you just going through the motion of brushing as you do something else or think about something else? In this case, using the looking exercise would mean dividing attention and trying to see more clearly where you are, what is around you, how your hand is moving, the color of the brush, and so on—all the while being aware of yourself seeing these things in the present. This same method can be used when you are opening a car door, washing the dishes, or riding in an elevator.

The difference in awareness produced by divided attention may seem small at first, but it grows in proportion to how often and how long we divide attention. The feeling of being present and seeing what is in the present gradually becomes more vivid and more profound. As Robert Earl Burton said recently, “Through divided attention, we architecturally build internal presence.”

Links of interest on our web site
• See videos of Robert Earl Burton teaching
• Review suggested reading about the Fourth Way
• See the web site in your language (home page menu)

Introductory lectures — monthly
We offer a series of free introductory lectures in cities around the world. To register:
• Call our USA information line (1-800-642-0212),
Find a center nearest you.

1— The foundation of the Fourth Way
• Self-knowledge · Levels of consciousness
• Man as a machine · Consciousness, will, and unity
• Obstacles to awakening · Three lines of work

2— The theory of centers (requires lecture 1)
• The 4 lower centers
• The sex center
• Higher centers
• The soul, the spirit

3— Practical ways to seize and prolong presence
(requires lecture 1 and 2)
• How to introduce and sustain self-remembering

Membership information
The Fellowship of Friends is a Fourth Way school with centers worldwide. Membership is monthly. For details:
Find a center nearest you.
• Email

• Call 1-800-642-0212.

Detail of an image on a gold clock. Collection of the Fellowship of Friends.

Thoughts on divided attention
In an ordinary psychic state I simply look at a street. But if I remember myself, I do not simply look at the street; I feel that I am looking, as though saying to myself: 'I am looking.' Instead of one impression of the street there are two impressions, one of the street and another of myself looking at it.
George Gurdjieff
Although controlled attention is very close to self-remembering, there is a difference. If you are conscious at the same time that you observe, the line of your attention will resemble two arrows, one showing attention directed on the thing you observe and another on yourself.
Peter Ouspensky
If one is not established in the present, then one is nowhere and nothing is possible. In this present moment, remembering oneself, one can put oneself in contact with a place outside time. We must squeeze all its contents out of each moment.
Rodney Collin
To attend to the matter before you with divided attention is the reason for existence in the universe. Each moment offers the same divine opportunity to be present. Dividing attention is objectively the only satisfaction possible for man. When we are present we are using our time well, whatever we are doing. Divided attention must accompany one throughout the day, regardless of the subject at hand.
Robert Earl Burton
See what is in front of you, and what is hidden will be revealed.
The mind often becomes plagued when the great work of remembrance is forgotten.
We are given this life for no other reason than to gain access to eternity.
You have to evaluate how you spend every moment: with presence or in negligence.
Shah Naqshband
Come, return, return to the root of your Self.

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