Yourself with the Listening Attention
the door to the ancient temple in Delphi were inscribed the words, "Know
Thyself". These words describe the process by which we separate from our false
state of ignorance and rediscover true Being. But how do we initiate this
process, this grand work of spiritual discovery? What tools should we choose to
come to know this thing we call 'ourselves'? If we are to engage in the pursuit
of self-definition we will need to use the best tools available. To stalk our
'self ', we will need something above or behind this personality to best observe
with, something of a different order. Using the personality to observe the
personality simply doesn't work. It's like trying to lift a plank while standing
on it. This self we wish to come to know is a constantly changing, moving
target, a veritable chain of reactions and patterns, seldom still, but always
within our sight. To observe it we will need something calm and constant.
Something that looks but doesn't react; a seeing that listens.
Spending time alone, in a quiet environment, can be a good way
to start this practice of self-observation. To be free of the routines of work
and family and the expectations of society is calming and conducive to beginning
the art of introspection. We can let our guard down a bit. Also, our own
personality is partially absent. The part of us that interfaces with others is
no longer needed and we can relax. This state of lack of attack can be quite
useful for sneaking a look at ourselves. Since other people do not have to
be dealt with, we can devote all of our energy to watching the only person that
remains: our self. The social personality is a tool whose job is to deal with
social survival. It has been made to do this, in and by the social context, and
is only answerable to that context. To try to use it for examining the self, as
we normally use it to examine others, will not work. It may not be the best tool
we have to better know ourselves. A hammer is only a fitting tool when combined
with nails and wood. To observe the files in our computer, we need something
with a subtler touch. A listening attention is needed, a looking without
speaking, an interior silence which observes but does not place
Eckhart Tolle gives a good example of the type of attention we
need. He asks us to try a little experiment, to close your eyes and say to
yourself, 'What's my next thought going to be?' then become very alert and wait
for this next thought, just as if you were a cat silently watching a mouse hole.
What thought is going to pop out? As long as we are in this alert silent
watching/listening, no associative thought pattern interferes with our
observing. Let's take the experiment a bit further and put ourselves in the
context of the hunter or stalker. Our goal is to stalk ourselves. The
personality and ego are our game. We wish to observe them, not observe
through them. Our game is very smart for it knows what we are thinking, even
before we think it, for it has had control over us for years, perhaps decades.
The only advantage we have is our simple, pure awareness, something the ego
lacks. We must become very still and alert, as if we were in a room with a large
beast, which can only grab us if we move, feel, or even think. As long as we
observe without placing meaning on our observation, we are invisible, and can
watch the beast, freely and calmly. If ever the thought comes to us, "Hey, I'm
watching myself" or, "Wow, look what I'm doing", we have lost the thread. We are
then reacting, not observing. Watch for this 'I' thought. If the feeling of 'I'
and its sense of being the 'doer' come into the scene, the listening attention
is lost, and you're off the track.
first we will only be able to watch ourselves during quiet times, such as
meditation. While our quarry is relatively still, we are not confused by its
movements and are able to hold our attention steady. Later, we can observe when
the personality is more active, and can keep from being thrown off balance.
It's good to learn to swim in shallow quiet waters, before taking on the
waves. Once the basic feel of the listening attention is found, one can progress
from observing oneself in quiet times to watching the body and mind as they
perform small repetitive tasks. Eventually the awareness will become free enough
to observe the self, or `person', in complex actions such as conversation. As we
begin to see more and more of ourselves, we gain a certain freedom. Its value
does not lie in the modifying of our behavior into a more efficient, flattering
form, but simply in becoming free from the hypnotic identification with our
pattern. We begin to see we truly do not do and never have. We only
matter how determined we are to stalk this strange person we call ourselves, we
will continue to fall asleep and be swept back into the state of identification.
One tool we can make use of to counter this is what might be called 'alarm
clocks'. We create little habits that remind us of our task: which is to watch
silently. We place these alarms throughout our day. An example is meditating at
a fixed time. The body will become used to this and remind us it's time to turn
inward and observe. Another is books or tapes we find to have value. These can
serve as alarms by their presence, as well as by their content. One of the best
is a group of fellow seekers, who can serve as mirrors of our current state and
help snap us back on track. As with anything done with regular routine, these
alarms will become less useful with habit, and new ones will be
Another trick is to practice what is called 'inner stop'.
Whenever we sense we are becoming obsessed with a thought pattern, fantasy or
habit, whether of anger, self-pity or desire, we can say to ourselves, 'Stop!"
Just as a loud unexpected noise can stop the conversation in a room, so can this
command silence the noise in our head.
last pointer is what might be called developing 360-degree vision. This is best
described as having a two-pronged awareness. One arrow is pointed outwards,
towards the relative world and the 'person'. The other is aimed inward, towards
our source. Our quarry, or what we might call the person, can only look out.
We have a distinct advantage in being directly connected to that Infinite
Silence within and its unlimited patience and wisdom.
to know ourselves eventually crushes the ego, in that we find we are not what we
imagined ourselves to be. We begin to see that the person we think we are
is purely mechanical, a robot. Honesty and courage will be needed if we are to
accept what we see, and perseverance when we find our task difficult and wish to
retreat back into imagination. This process of dis-identifying leads to
ego-death, as we separate from our pattern. The simple act of clearly seeing the
person we were for what it truly is, is enough to bring about its death. We find
we have become that which witnesses experience, where before we were experience,
creating more and more experiences in an endless mechanical pattern. We are no
longer the wily animal we have been tracking, which becomes cleverer with every
experience, but instead something free, eternal, and indescribable.
1. There is an easy trap to
fall into when we first engage in self-observation, and that is to create, or
visualize, an observer who observes. We are then back in the same comfortable
game we were in in the first place: that of the personality reacting to the
environment in an endless pattern. There is no sentience in mechanical reaction.
In describing observation, we are not talking about visualization or
imagination, but the simple act of looking without reaction, of looking
through the personality, not with it. We have been taught since birth
to create and then identify with a separate thing we call ourselves. This
reaction pattern continually recreates itself as the person who
2. Right Intent. We can only
use the listening attention for gaining self-knowledge, knowledge of our own
mind. If ambition, ego, or greed comes into play, we have degraded into
visualization and are lost. We must want only to scrutinize the self and
observe the mind. We must not, and will not be allowed, to take advantage of or
gloat over our success. We can take the example of Joseph Sadony to heart. After
using his psychic gifts to provide a friend with profitable information in the
financial market, he lost his powers for one year to the day. He never again
traded his Connection for profit.
3. We must have a stable
and clear emotional state to succeed. Emotional problems cannot be of a level
that spin us out of control. The capacity to walk a straight line, without being
sidetracked or continually distracted, is imperative. If we attempt to go
into inner silence only to find we are full of unconscious emotional turmoil,
then these problems must be dealt with first. To take responsibility for
ourselves and to support ourselves, to harbor no excuses; this is the good
householder, the level from which we begin. No victims or perpetrators are
found in the journey through the valley of death. We must first become a healthy
moral animal before we become the hunter, or the beast will hunt