This common complaint came to mind recently in relation to the resistance I often encounter to my interest in looking at the basics, at how we tend to glide right past fundamental discrepancies – incoherence – in a rush to “Get on with it!” What came to mind was how this had been the attitude of surgeons and physicians when the concept of antisepsis was being pioneered. Rushing from patient to patient, wiping his crusty blade on a crustier leather apron, weighed down by the press of amputations yet to be done – “Lives to be Saved!” He would bridle at talk of stopping to wash his hands, “I don’t have time for this!”
Two seemingly disparate connections resonated with this image. The first was from a video of a Krishnamurti dialogue on attention. The second was the sense I’ve had for a while of considering practices pointing at finding coherence as a form of hygiene.
Krishnamurti was talking about attention. He made a distinction between attention and concentration. His statement struck me primarily for its matter-of-fact simplicity. What a basic, fundamental principal. Concentration focuses our attention on a single spot. Attention, on the other hand, is not bounded. We are so accustomed to seeing a part for the whole that we miss this sort of relationship. Behind all of our reductivist, linear, and polar striving is a devotion to – and a blindness to any alternative – to concentration.
We’ve had this command driven into our skulls. This might be the fundamental imperative of civilization!
Of course, as we concentrate on one thing – whatever is pushed into our view somehow – we have hobbled our attention. As it came to me early on in following Qi Gong, attention is really all we have. Nothing else is “ours” in the same way. Nothing else is at our command without any hard and fast limitation imposed upon us. So, this realization, coupled with Krishnamurti’s statement about the way concentration spoils our ability to attend, is at the heart of our abdication of being. It could be said this is a root of our falling into incoherence. After all, what else is it to in-cohere, to fail to hold together, than to lose sight of the whole and fall into some fragment, to become fragmented, to separate that which is whole?
By way of this image of the impatient surgeon the other part of this collided with the first part. Antisepsis is a hygiene. It has become the only working definition of the term we even consider today. But a hygiene is any set of habits that promote health and steer us clear of disease. There are mental hygienes, although they tend to have been infected by the antisepsis model and end up as pretty sterile and soul-less routines. Making then that much easier to discount….
The most pressing issue in mind these past few months – coincidental with the diminished output here on this blog – has been this question of attention. Specifically, How can we break into the attention of those who are trapped in concentration?
I didn’t have words for this question, not until just then as that sentence came into being…. But now, there it is. And as with most things dealing with basics, with the fundamentals, it doesn’t seem that exciting. Hardly any drama to it at all! But then, this is part of what makes the whole endeavor problematic. Hygienes are behaviors to avoid drama. No one ever paid to read about Life Outside a Time of Cholera.
Then Ego does love drama. Remember that your Ego doesn’t care whether you live or die, so long as you remain enraptured by it and enslaved to it! Suicides pay this ultimate price.
There are internal forms of bondage and those that present from outside. Shadows left to fester…. But just as with the hurried doctor, we rush ahead. “We have no time for this! There’s another fearful danger lurking! How can we fight it!”
And, looking at our public conversations – whenever wider events intrude on our private dramas – this is the limit of our discourse. Focused concentration and an almost willful seeming blindness to it all!
But just try to change this dynamic! Monomania is persistent! It will always find a way back in. The potential avenues for derailing any inquiry seem endless.
Endless, but not infinite. And, they do seem repetitious! It always leads back onto the same rutted road, taking us past injustices, leading us to righteous anger, and bringing us always back again to a new round of horrors unleashed upon the world.
What does this hygiene offer in its stead?
Krishnamurti goes on to describe how attention dispels fear. It’s not surprising that concentration inflames fear. We’re ignoring everything to focus on this one detail! Our organism rebels. It knows this is not right and its only way to tell us – when we’ve closed off every other, more subtle avenue of communication – is to flood our minds with fear.
In this chronic state of disintegration we remain trapped in a vicious cycle of ever escalating fear. None of the “solutions” pouring out – the innovations we constantly strive after – do anything to reassure our organism that it is not being led from bad to worse! Whether we are willing to attend to its concerns or not, it continues to feel them. It’s just that our organism loses any trust in its mental partner. Our Ego-bound mind drives a wedge into a whole being and leaves the body fearful for its/our life.
But if we let go of this panicked urgency and turn our attention to attending, to attending to it all. To listening, to seeing, to feeling all that enters into our perception we reforge a relationship with the organism that holds our mind within a physical form. Unlike the forms we are accustomed to, where to be part of something we need to separate from something else this us is no longer in opposition to anything. This first reintegration fosters connections rippling outwards as a realization develops that all separations are illusory.
We cannot attend fully and continue to be afraid. Just try it. Just think back to any situation in your past in which a clear and present danger brought you to an inner clarity as opposed to the mass hysteria Ego insists is the only possible result of its potential overthrow in an “ANARCHY!” of the senses. There was calm. Actions arose as they were needed. Attention gathered salient and necessary information and we were open to it without reservation. You don’t need anyone to convince you of this. It has most likely happened at least once in any life exposed to hazard. And there is no other kind!
How can such a conversation happen?
A related point is how Ego’s sense of superiority defends the status quo. Another aspect of this resistance – and it is there in all of us – is a distrust that anyone will listen, or conversely, that anyone is actually seeking a dialogue and not just cloaking some agenda of their own in the guise of an open conversation. Throw all this into the mix and the tremendously successful run of destructive monomanias that plague us at all levels from our own neuroses to the collective insanities of hatred and war are not at all surprising.
The question remains. How can we break into the attention of those who are trapped in concentration?
The pieces of this puzzle are on the table….
8 thoughts on “I haven’t got time for this!”
Very clear and very relevant to a conversation I’m having elsewhere. Thanks.
Thank you Jeff. Good to hear from you again.
I’ve been reading a collection of letters between Wendell Berry and Gary Snyder. Gary makes reference to a Japanese form of Buddhism called shikantaza. The goal is to have no goal in mind, just sit. Something that sounds like I could make time for….
Thanks for another challenging read.
Thanks for taking the time to comment.
As to the Zen…. the difficult part to understand if we’re just reading/thinking about these kinds of changes is that “having no goal in mind” starts to look like a goal too.
Having no goal in mind is not “just sitting.” It’s not “just” anything. It’s being open and attentive so that we are able to do what needs to be done when it is needed.
I hope this is helpful, although it is important to have an ongoing practice that is physical and mental in nature. I have found Qi Gong to be that practice. There are others. We tend to live in our heads. You can’t think your way out of that.
I understand that distinction. The unsaid part of my glib answer is that Zen, like most systems of thought and religions fragments into schools. Each school of philosophy/religion adopts a slightly smug position in relation to the other schools of thought, if we are lucky. If we are unlucky then they resort to war to make their points. I like the impulse of Zen, much like I like the impulse of most religions. It’s the details that leave me with an understanding of how we have made a needlessly complicated world. For me, and I’m not being glib here, the less I concretely understand the more I understand. As Wendell Berry would say, embrace the way of ignorance.
BTW I got a big belly laugh out of “Life Outside of the Time of Cholera.”
Krishnamurti was quite impatient with all religions. The way I put it is that they take some great raw material and then repackage it as an extension of business as usual.
“…the less concretely I understand…” That’s pretty much the ground under my current and upcoming posts! Part of it is the diminishing returns of amassing knowledge without wisdom. It’s long ago become a displacement activity. The actual results – once we take off the rose-colored-glasses of Progress!™and take-in the unintended consequences and externalities – have resulted in the Enormity we stand under today. Is one more study going to make the difference? The next killer app?
But I wouldn’t call it ignorance. Ignoring something is a passive aggressive act. It still ties our attention to what we are ignoring. It’s a matter-of-fact clarity that takes everything in and acts when necessary.
Hard to start a successful religious franchise with that for a tag-line!
So happy you enjoyed that dark little joke….