One way that I approach the challenge of teaching the art of creating a conscious holding environment is through a practice that I call sacred attention. Attention, as with awareness, can be understood as a relationship. It is the relationship between the one who is aware, or the "awarer" (whom we know as "me" or "I"), and the object of awareness.
Generally, we are unconscious of the power we have to influence the quality of our attention - the actual way in which we, moment by moment, offer our attention. When it comes to the quality of our attention, we are like a child who, when he or she initially picks up a hammer, just smashes away at the nail without having yet understood that there is a way to hold a hammer and hit a nail that uses no excess energy and affords an extraordinarily high degree of accuracy. In our ordinary consciousness, our attention clumsily and often even aggressively hammers away at our experience, making judgments and demanding that things be different.
Exploring the Power of Awareness & the Quality of Our Attention
Until we begin to explore the power of awareness, we haven't the least idea that we can, moment by moment, offer our attention with a quality of exquisite receptivity and softness, no matter what the circumstance may be, and in so doing significantly transform the experience. Exquisite receptivity is a refinement of attention that automatically brings us into presence, because to be aware of the quality of our attention is to be in the present.
Attention is not merely a passive medium linking us, as aware beings, to what we are aware of: it is a dynamic, mutable medium. But before we can influence the dynamic of our attention, we first have to understand what it means to "offer" our attention. One way to do this is through the practice of sacred attention.
To teach sacred attention, I ask people to make an intentional effort to open to the present moment with a quality of exquisite receptivity and welcoming. I begin by asking them, as they invite this possibility, to become aware of their breath. This immediately tends to bring our awareness into the present. I then suggest that the breath can be used to sustain our attention: we can adhere to breath awareness and attend to each breath as a means of choosing a new relationship to the present moment.
I suggest that each time they breathe in, they experiment with the sense of being exquisitely receptive to the fullness of the moment, which of course means to their own sense of self as well. After a while, I suggest that with each inhalation they are not only being exquisitely receptive but also opening to this exact moment as though it were their beloved, and they the lover. This adds a quality of feeling, or felt attention, to their relationship to the present. Correspondingly, I ask them to, with each exhalation, imagine the most profound sense of relaxation and acceptance and of resting themselves in the presence of the beloved.
Opening Up to a Sense of Connection and Love in the Present Moment
The in and out of breathing becomes a cyclical movement of attention that opens us to a sense of connection and love in the present moment. As we breathe, we begin to experience an alteration in consciousness. The quality of the light becomes more vivid, and the air seems to grow more dense. It is an atmosphere that we naturally tend to experience as sacred. Invariably when we are reverent and conscious of our attention in this way, we experience our minds becoming still and the space both within and around us becoming suffused and energized with presence and love that seem to be holding us.
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The experience of this kind of presence is common to all religions and known to anyone who enters into deep contemplation. When we consciously direct our hearts and minds in the name of Jesus, Mary, Buddha, Adonai, or Allah or toward Spirit, the Universal Source, or the White Light, the actual movement of attention is always the same. We reverently open to something we consider universal and ever present, in the immediacy of the Now. In effect, what we are doing is returning to the beginning of ourselves.
We Have Been Holding the Key to Our Own Freedom All Along
We have been holding the key to our own freedom all along without realizing it. It lies in the quality of our attention, moment by moment. Energy-awareness work, and specifically a practice like sacred attention, teaches us how to create a sense of living presence at any time through a shift in the quality of our attention.
Although energy work is generally taught in relationship to healing, I purposely refrain from emphasizing healing. As a physician, I initially learned energy work specifically as a complementary healing modality, but as I explored it I began to understand the fundamental power of awareness itself.
I believe that when we do emphasize healing we tend to take the vast potential of unconditional attention and, once again, collapse it into the smaller awareness field of survival fear. Then the energy work becomes a means to an end in which there may be success or not, and we have missed the deeper understanding: it is the quality of our attention that opens the door of the present into the awareness field of love and wholeness. Healing energy is simply derived from this greater presence.
Whatever We Are Aware Of, We Are Also More Than
Not long ago in one of my gatherings, I found myself facing a dilemma. For a week we had been inquiring into the "architecture" of our untamed emotional states, what I also call "the monsters." These emotions, including despair, hopelessness, and a sense of impending dissolution, tend to engulf us and submerge our sense of self. But if, when not actually caught in them, we examine and describe how they make us think and feel about the future and past, or about ourselves and others, we use the power of awareness to differentiate ourselves somewhat from these states.
This is not easy work to do, because to scrutinize these daunting monsters in detail is, to some extent, to energize them; they feed on attention. Even brushing the edges of these feelings is threatening. We want to pretend they are gone and will never come back. But they do come back, and even if we manage to keep them at bay, they lurk nearby, requiring us to ceaselessly energize our survival structures.
Bringing our conscious awareness to these abysmal feeling states when we are not actively caught up in them can help us to remain consciously present later when we find ourselves ensnared once again. Trying to intellectually understand, interpret, or explain these states is not the point. We need only see what specific stories they engender and how they make us feel about ourselves, others, life, the past, the future. Whatever we are aware of, we are also more than.
A Wiser & More Compassionate Way To Respect The Power of The Untamed Emotions
In the retreat I mentioned, we were at a stage where much of the work had been done in the form of writing answers to specific questions about the experience of these untamed emotional states, and people in the group had written volumes. I was uncertain how best to bring the work to a close. In the past I had at times used a ritual fire - we had cast into the fire something that symbolized the limiting or negative traits we wished to transform. We could also toss in a river or the ocean something that represented what we were ready to let go of, to symbolize its return to the universal consciousness. But in view of what I had come to understand about the intrinsic wholeness of the psyche that inherently includes the monsters, neither ritual seemed appropriate.
We cannot simply let go of untamed feelings or metaphorically burn them or cast them into the sea, because that kind of metaphor is itself a form of rejection. It is in effect a kind of violence toward these feelings, in which we are actually dividing ourselves. We are making the circle of our consciousness smaller by excluding them, rather than transforming our capacity for relationship to them and, in the process, increasing our circle enough to let them in.
What then is a wiser and more compassionate way to respect the power of the untamed emotions? After a dream composed of troubling imagery took me to a place of difficult self-reflection, I became so vulnerable that I spontaneously held myself in sacred attention. After that, it was obvious what I wanted to invite the participants to do.
I asked everyone to bring all the pages they had written and place them on a table in the center of the room. Then we gathered around the table and entered collectively into the state of living presence. In this way we invoked a conscious holding environment that included our darkest fears. The ritual symbolized a new relationship to these primal fears, one that created the possibility of a more conscious, nonreactive attention.
Printed with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA.
©2007. www.newworldlibrary.com or 800-972-6657 ext. 52.
This article was based on the book:
The Mandala of Being: Discovering the Power of Awareness
by Richard Moss.
Many people obstruct their innate potential through repeated patterns of emotional struggle and suffering. This practical, hands-on guide explains why and how people habitually fall into this trap and provides a program, easily incorporated into everyday life, that frees them from this destructive behavior. Drawing on his three decades of teaching consciousness, Richard Moss plays the role of wise shepherd, accompanying and encouraging the reader on a journey toward the genius within and away from fear and other limitations. Most importantly, he offers an always-available compass that directs readers back to the true self, and into the magic of the present moment.
About the Author
Dr. Richard Moss is an internationally respected spiritual teacher and visionary thinker. He is the author of The Mandala of Being: Discovering the Power of Awareness and other books on conscious living and inner transformation. For thirty years he has guided people of diverse backgrounds in the use of the power of awareness to realize their intrinsic wholeness and reclaim the wisdom of their true self. His work integrates spiritual practice, psychological self-inquiry, and body awareness. You can visit him online at http://www.richardmoss.com.