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Find New Strength in Awakened Attention by Guy Finley

Key Lesson: Whether for its joy or sorrow, whatever we wish for another person comes true for us in the same moment we make that wish!

Imagine for a moment a woman who inherits an antique jewelry box from a loving grandparent. She puts the cherished keepsake on her makeup bureau, next to her own collection of rings and pearls, but never really pays it much mind. And there it sits. But what she doesn’t know is that her grandmother hid a priceless diamond ring within it, in a secret compartment. It’s hers to have, if only she knew where to look for it. But will she?

In many ways this is a story not unlike our own: for “hidden” within each of us, and yet in plain sight, is a power unmatched in its brilliance. What is this potential diamond of the mind that awaits whoever will find it? It is our ability to attend to what we will. Coupled with awareness, attention empowers us to unite ourselves with whatever we wish to know and be. Let’s examine this largely unexplored gift of ours.

We are all graced with an immense interior gift: the power to give our attention to what we will – to what enriches and serves us.

Continuing states of stress and sorrow are the result of having mistakenly placed our attention upon what punishes us, stealing from us our happiness as a result. Any time our attention is given to some thought or feeling, it animates that condition; our attention invests what it falls on with a certain kind of life energy. Another unknown phenomenon about attention is that when it is given to something – for instance, a timeless night sky – it facilitates within us a union with the qualities of that “world.” And this dynamic is in operation all the time: to consider something is to be connected to it. So, our attention connects, animates, and nourishes whatever we lend it to in life. And more than this, but as a part of its power, we have all witnessed the following:

You’re stopped at a red light, and you look out your car window at someone passing by. You follow him with your eyes – interested in something about his appearance or manner. As you remotely study this person, the power of attention moves through and across time and space and it “touches” him in some way. The next thing you know he turns around and looks at you!

This power can be used for good or bad. When we use it for practical work, or for honest self-observation, we use it to our own benefit. However, when this power operates on its own, within us, without our awareness of what it’s interacting with, it can cause many problems. Here is where the unattended mind becomes the breeding ground of self-defeat. For instance, any time our attention is placed, without our knowing it, on some way to escape ourselves, here’s what happens: more often than not we find out – too late – we got hooked up with some self-harming idea that ultimately led us to compromise ourselves.

This new kind of self-knowledge places us on the threshold of a wholly different, brighter life. If by being inattentive to our own interior life, we see how much of our unhappiness is self-created, then, we can learn to redirect our attention, placing it within what is right and bright. But, there is only one way to realize this reversal: we must work to see how wrongly directed attention works against us.

Perhaps a thought pops into your mind about a problem that’s been bothering you. Appearing with it is some emotional disturbance. Now the thought starts rolling, growing in its demand for your attention. Almost instantly it has defined what needs to be done, or what you are powerless to do. And both states accomplish the same dark end: You’ve unknowingly animated that thought and given it a life – and the life you’ve given it is your own! Here’s an example of how this scene might unfold:

A man is walking through his office when his boss walks by and gives him a blank look. The thought pops into the man’s mind that his boss is criticizing him or doesn’t like him. Now, as he starts to fear this idea – a negative picture produced by his imagination – his mind focuses its attention on this disturbing image. And the more he attends to this dark dream, the further into its labyrinth he descends, strengthening its presence and power to further irritate him. A heartbeat later, he has no doubt: the boss has it in for him! This thought grows in authority for him, tormenting him for the rest of the day and causing him to snap at his family when he gets home. And all of this suffering is born of what? The conjunction of a passing glance and a moment of misdirected attention!

Here’s the amazing thing about this illustration, and what we want to learn from it: this whole drama has been played out inside of the man – storyline, stage, cast, and leading characters. But he doesn’t see how this painful state is self-created; instead he believes it has been cast upon him by someone else – his heartless boss! So, what else can he do – being in the dark as he is to his true condition – but try to rid himself of his stressed feelings? How? By arguing with his boss, either outwardly or in his mind. The more he feels punished by the situation that he sees in his mind, the more he wants to fight with it. He’s sure his unwanted experience exists independent of his perception of it, but we can see he’s mistaken. His pain is a product of how he sees the event and then all of the misery that comes with resisting his own mistaken perception. He is quite literally lashing himself, and the more he resists what he thinks is happening, the more it happens to him! This is a good description of what I call the “circle of self.” In it we can see how the pain of our own mistaken perception produces the enemies it needs to keep itself alive.

From our vantage point, we can see how the man’s unattended mind first animated a fearful thought, which leads to wrongly feeding it with his own life. We can also see that nothing can change for him until he sees the truth behind his trouble and withdraws his consent from it.

We suffer because we consort with painful thoughts and feelings, thinking somehow that not wanting them makes them go away. But our unconscious actions betray us: first, by animating what makes us ache, and then by binding us to that relationship through our resistance to it. Here’s a simple way of saying these last few ideas: Not wanting our negative states actually nourishes them! I can almost hear the question that comes next: “Wait a minute! You can’t be saying these dark thoughts and feelings are good, and that we should want what’s hurting us, are you?”

Of course not! Negative states have no right to exist in us as they presently do. And that’s just the point. We literally give them a place to live in our psychic system – feed them, as it were – by trying to rid ourselves of them in the usual ways. But there are other ways of dealing with pervasive dark states besides resisting them, suppressing them, or trying to change the conditions seen as being responsible for them. Instead of these acts of willfulness, we choose in favor of watchfulness. Rather than struggling with dark states, learning to be quietly watchful of them does two things at once: first, it separates us from being wrongly identified with our own thoughts about that troublesome state. Second – by the light of our newly liberated attention – we catch a glimpse of a powerful insight whose light helps set us free:

If we mistakenly give any negative state its “life” – then the opposite must hold true: we can consciously withdraw that same life any time we so choose!

Here is a simple exercise to help you get started with this new kind of seeing that is the power behind freeing you. Several times each day, whenever you can remember to do it, deliberately disconnect yourself from your own thinking. Choose awareness of your thoughts over being absorbed in the sensations they produce as they carry you along to get what they want. The aim here is simple: reclaim your attention in order to be where you are, and then just quietly notice all that you can about yourself. The light of this new order of awareness empowers you to catch and release what your own unattended thoughts had been busy cooking up for you, using you as stock! Each time you remember to reclaim your attention in this manner, with it you regain your life. And here is a bright bit of encouragement to help you get started. The words that follow are those of Simone Weil, a brilliant French writer, activist, and lover of the Light: “Even if our efforts of attention seem for years to be producing no result, one day a light that is in exact proportion to them will flood the soul.”

(Excerpted from The Essential Laws of Fearless Living, Weiser Books, 2008.)

Guy Finley is the best-selling author of more than 36 books and audio albums on self-realization. He is the founder and director of Life of Learning Foundation, a nonprofit center for self-study located in southern Oregon where he gives talks four times each week. For more information visit www.guyfinley.org, and sign up to receive a free helpful newsletter emailed to your desktop once each week.

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10 Responses to “Find New Strength in Awakened Attention by Guy Finley”

  1. Naveel says:

    It is strong pointer towards the truth… the truth according to many masters can not be conceptulised but can only be itself. someone said “truth is a pathless land”. therefore words can only indicate beyond them towards pathless land. Human have not conceptulised thier vast greatness so far…they become surprised reading and listening the truth about them. Most hardly believe that their essence being is so infinitely greater than anything else they ever imagined to be magnificient. Human now need to awake from the dreadful pas..old limited concepts of self. Writing like these are like pieces of puzzles directed to end the illusion of self.

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  2. Neil Owen says:

    Now THIS is a good article, plain and simple it speaks to what is real without all of the spiritual nonsense so prevalent these days in “Secret” seekers. Never heard of him before, so thanks for finding this fellow…and for sharing this writing. I am going to look into his works. Much appreciated!

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  3. Sniper-at -Heart says:

    Just a thought, I get the whole “…what you put your attention on manifests” thing, I really do. Here is the rub. I also know that you have to put emotion to your attention, that is the catalyst. So how does someone like me, who has no emotion to speak of, create anything, good or bad? Also, there is something to be said for picking up on other people’s energy. The guy in the story imagined that his boss didn’t like him. Did he imagine it? Or did he pick up on a vibration of bad feelings? I know I’ve done it. I had a co-worker whom I had no connection with whatsoever. To me, she was just a blob. I did not talk to her for any reason that was not work related. I started to pick up on feelings from her, which was easy, since I had no feelings about her one way or another, she was becoming hateful towards me. I just kept doing what I was doing, which was nothing, and one day she blew up in my face accusing me of being racist (she was from Mexico) and thinking she was a “stupid Mexican”. I was shocked. I never even toyed with those ideas. I told her I did not think that but she was free to believe anything she wanted to. She immediately started spreading these lies to her friends who also gave me bad vibes, and I didn’t even have to be looking at them to feel it. Now here is the point. I did nothing to bring this on myself. She was operating like the guy in the story, but I am the one who took the brunt of her problem.I didn’t give it out, why did I get it? I still didn’t really feel anything about her or anyone else for that matter, only some irritation when they would lash out at me. I just reported them to management and went about my business. If you get back what you give, then why didn’t she just stay professional and essentially ignore me? I am essentially a cold person and I really can’t help it. I just don’t see the world with passionate eyes, I never have. *Sigh* Oh well. I’m just thinking out loud, figuratively speaking.

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  4. Rich says:

    Dear Sniper at Heart,you say you have no emotion but in your reply I feel like your expressing a depressing feeling of self pity.Im not an expert rather Im just telling you what I FEEl when I read this.It’s like your saying you’ve never had any feelings so there is nothing that you can do about it which is a perfect example of what you should try to catch yourself doing without judging yourself at the same time.I think you did at one time have passion but its been so long you have forgotten.The really great thing is that you came here to this site bc something inside you wants to feel good again.Anyway I would not have responded to this if I didnt read your message so in essence you CREATED my response!!! Be Well,Richie

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  5. Ann says:

    This is an excellent article, thank you for introducing me to Guy Finley. Dear sniper-at-heart you describe your colleague as ‘a blob’ no wonder she is uncomfortable around you although I take your point that she imagined that your disinterest was due to racism and this was untrue and unfortunate. It is terribly sad that you could be in someone’s company day after day and have no interest in who they are and feel no need to form any kind of relationship even one made through friendly professional interaction. Her friends probably joined her in her misconception because they also felt rejected by you. I agree with Rich that you are expressing emotion here so you are not the ‘cold person’ that you have judged yourself to be but have simply blocked off conscious access to your feelings for whatever reason. It’s great that you have found this site and are reaching out now and I wish you all the best. Ann

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  6. Madeleine says:

    Thanks for the great article. I was battling just last night with one of those fly-away emaotional thought processes. And knowing that it was negative and that i shouldn’t be thinking these thoughts did not stop them from flooding my brain….I tried meditating, but I still came back panicking.
    I eventually stopped the defeating cycle by admitting that i was scared and that there was a problem but that there were also allot to be thankful for….
    I’m going to try noticing me next time….

    And for sniper-at-heart…..you really do have allot of emotion in that writing. so don’t kid yourself. Perhaps that Mexican women simply mirrored how you yourself often think others hate you (maybe because of your lack of emotion) when in fact they just want to get on with their own lives and their own issues….

    Even if you don’t have responsibility for her actions you still have a choice how you would react.

    Enjoy

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  7. Kathleen says:

    Love it. Thank you. I find that when I also ACCEPT the thought – “oh there that is again, judgment, disappointment, sadness…” it helps tremendously too!

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  8. Clare says:

    Sniper-at-Heart, it sounds like you’re loaded with emotion, perhaps plenty of emotions of disappointment, mistrust, and hurt making it difficult to let others in. Maybe your female co-worker has been identifying with you and wanting to make a connection, but feels frustrated in her attempts and has taken it quite personally. Beneath her accusations, it sounds like she really just wants you to like her. Could it be possible that beneath your self-described “cold” exterior, you, too, are just wanting to be liked, but are wondering how to attract that? You may have a wonderful opportunity here to not only makes amends with her, but also make a friend. You could let her know that you’re sorry about her hurt feelings (this is different than taking responsibility for causing them)and would like to understand more about what gave her the impression she had of you. Listen to understand rather than to react and let her know the real you is simply shy, reserved, and guarded. Showing some vulnerability provides a way of connecting on a sincere level because it allows the other person to open their heart to you. If they don’t soften with that approach (which is unlikely), you haven’t lost anything. But, by trying it you may gain something very valuable. Whatever you decide, there’s, indeed, a warm heart masked by a detached facade that really deserves exposure–for yourself and for others. All the best.

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  9. min says:

    Wow. Excellent article by Mr. Finley. I have questions with regard to “whatever we wish for another comes true for us”.
    Sometimes others do things to us that is very hurtful, we may wish something horrible to happen to them at that moment and later either regret it or realize we did not mean it. I am not sure if I am clear on what you are saying? Do mean if we wish something bad for another it happens to us in this life time or another life time?

    Min

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