Posts Tagged ‘Attention’

Attention and prayer

Wednesday, October 5th, 2016
“Absolutely unmixed attention is prayer.”
Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace
This closes a circle that I’ve been pondering. A friend has enlisted me in her research project on the nature of attention. Soon, she’s interviewing me about an example of bringing strong attention to bear on a concrete situation. The examples that came to mind were all times of extreme stress, mainly to do with conflict. In such times, I remember the most strongly what prayer can do. If something has disturbed me in the day and go to bed without addressing it, I wake at 3am and can’t sleep any more. If I manage to dwell in the problem, describing it to myself, trying to understand, and then taking up the attitudes of the fourth and fifth subsidiary exercises in a prayerful mood, I can get to a place that is beyond the mixed concerns that make my soul restless. I think this is what John Taylor was describing in The Go-Between God, which I’ve blogged about here.
Is this consciousness — which Simone Weil seems to have been striving for — what Jesus had? Constantly aware of the reality of the broken world, whilst not being deflected by it from his vision of the oneness of all things? Simone Weil’s life demonstrates that we’re not quite ready to bear such a consciousness yet — we veer over into fanaticism, described beautifully in terms of transpersonal psychology in this article.

Simone Weil – waiting and attending

Wednesday, October 5th, 2016

[Simone Weil] felt quite clear that it was her own vocation to be on the threshold of the church. She had frequently discussed Catholicism with J. M. Perrin, a Dominican priest she first met in Marseilles. He urged her to seek baptism. But shortly before leaving for New York she had written to him, saying, I have always remained at this exact point, on the threshold of the Church, without moving. It was the place where she made her spiritual home.

This sense of waiting on the threshold was a key element of her larger spiritual perspective, in which she stressed the importance of an attitude of attentive, receptive waiting. In New York she wrote in her journal: Waiting patiently in expectation is the foundation of the spiritual life. In her letters and journals she was slowly and hesitantly carving out an account of how attentiveness could enable spiritual growth. It was, she believed, the person of receptivity and openness who would discover the truth. Deep truth had a way of eluding those who set out to grasp it by willpower.

Simone Weil believed that this discipline of attention was necessary if we are to know God. But she also believed that it was necessary if we are to know, and to help, other persons. In this way her philosophy of attention seeks to unite contemplation and action. In an essay written before she left France, published inWaiting for God, she says, Those who are unhappy have no need for anything in this world but people capable of giving them attention. The capacity to give one’s attention to a sufferer is a very rare and difficult thing; it is almost a miracle; it is a miracle.