The essential tool of MINDFULNESS is attention – not the weak, unstable reactive attention that is part of our autonomic functioning, but a strong, stable and volitional attention cultivated in such disciplines as meditation.
Active attention = mindfulness and awareness, and this is the key. Attention in this sense, is not intellectual or physical. It is energy based - the same kind of energy that powers our emotions.
ACTIVE Attention is used to dismantle the wall that separates us from who/what we are. This wall consists of conditioned patterns of perception, emotional reactions, and behaviors. This wall has many components: conventional notions of success and failure, the belief that: “I am a separate and independent entity”, reactive emotional patterns, passivity, an inability to open to others, and misperceptions about the nature of being.
Dismantling these habituated, conditioned patterns, will not necessarily be a smooth or easy process – as a result of the fact that things don’t unfold in a neat, structured progression. Attention is the one principle on which we can always rely. Abiding in active attention, we meet every problem/experience we encounter in life and in practice in the same way and bring attention to that which arises in each moment with each breath.
Attention then, acts on the wall of habituated patterns in the same way that the energy of sunlight acts on a block of ice. Heat from the sun raises the level of energy in the water molecules, until they can no longer remain in the compact crystalline structure of ice. The crystal breaks up, and the ice melts into water. In the same way, ACTIVE attention penetrates habituated patterns and raises the level of energy so that these patterns have to break up. The energy locked up in these habituated patterns is released and is then used to power attention to higher levels. Step by step, moment by moment, breathing in, breathing out - ACTIVE attention increases in energy until even the sense of separation dissolves and we open to the mystery of being.
This process lies at the heart of all religions, but unfortunately through institutional settings, the vitality and immediacy of the lived experience is gradually covered over and lost.
A Catholic contemplative David Steindl-Rast, once pointed out: “dIrect experience of the mystery of being manifests in three ways: a practice that supports opening to the mystery, a celebration of the experience, and a way of life that arises out of understanding and insight.
When we are awake and present to the mystery of being, intention is determined by direct awareness that knows the situation, not by conditioned patterns and agendas. Thus, direct awareness code involves knowing and acting on the intention of the present.