Quality of Attention

We often know when we are being looked at, even from behind. This has been proved repeatedly in mass experiments; and it’s something we each have felt. It doesn’t happen always, but the statistics are indisputable. We often know when we are being watched.

What is the quality that distinguishes the times that we do, from those where we don’t (know that we are being observed)?  Intensity surely is partly responsible. There is a difference between a casual glance and a powerful gaze. We need then to beware an intensity that intrudes, that breaks into privacy. I also believe that the type of focus is important. If you like, the intention or quality, of attention. There is a difference between a young man’s gaze at a girl, a boxer’s focus on his opponent,  and a mother’s rapt enwrapping of her infant. (Winnicott’s “maternal reverie”).

Lord, grace  this day with your restful gaze. Let me look at those around me unintrusively, respecting silence and privacy – but with something of the lilt of your enfolding joy.

What is clear, at least to me, is that living is  meeting. Thinking, no matter how clever, is futile if there is no engagement. (When all is done and all is said/ that all takes place inside my head). Attention, the meeting of minds and souls, is the stuff of life. Martin Buber (Ich und Du) distinguishes engagement of I-It (Ich-Es) from I-Thou (Ich-Du), and more – he invites us again and again to live by whole-hearted meeting rather than by withdrawal behind a barricade of ideas. He calls this living the “speaking” of the primary word I-Thou, rather than the emptiness of the primary word I-It.

“To be sure, many a man who is satisfied with the experience and use of the world of things has raised over about himself a structure of ideas, in which he finds refuge and repose from the oncome of nothingness. On the threshold he lays aside his inauspicious everyday dress, wraps himself in pure linen, and regales himself with the spectacle of primal bein, or of necessary being; but his life has no part in it. To proclaim his ways may even fill him with well-being.

But mankind of mere IT this is imagined, postulated, and propagated by such a man has nothing in common with a living mankind where THOU may truly be spoken. The noblest fiction is a fetish, the loftiest fictitious sentiment is depraved. Ideas are no more enthroned above our heads than Resident in them; they wander amongst us – and accost us. The man who leaves the primary word unspoken is to be pitied; but the man who addresses instead these ideas with an abstraction or a password, as if it were their name, is contemptible”

Lord, you are present when I I address all that I meet as Thou. This day,  let me speak the primary word I-Thou in all of my looking.

 

 

 

 

On Composure

From “On kissing, tickling and being bored” Adam Phillips

The writing is a pleasure of itself; so much so that I suspect sleight of hand, the magician’s smile. Composure is proposed as a defence against and in the face of – “the cumulative trauma of development”. As Freud would have it, composure is part of the ego’s defence against the body – “a form, largely unconscious, of vigilant self-control”. Winnicot perhaps would view it as an affect of the mind, itself a defence against the uncontrolled environment that faces the infant; a form of self-reverence with the mind as substitute for mother.

Beautiful. Elegant. Revealing. What though, of the magician and his context? Is in not in the nature of an analyst to view development as a accretion of trauma; therefore to see all aspects of the psyche as defensive? This is not to blame, or take issue; simply though to point out that most writing about the mind has come from those treating mental disturbance – from Freud onward.

Instead of starting from Ruskin, “to compose, is to arrange unequal things”, where would Jung has begun? Perhaps in balancing opposites – anima and animus – and allowing for the potential of their resolution into a new state. In his language composure would perhaps have been a state evoked by integration, rather than a shield against inevitable trauma.

I would dearly love to know what Adam Phillips thought. Whatever it were, it would be a delight to read, and in itself worthwhile.