June 2, 2009

Paying Attention

The spiritual part of the human being, i.e. soul, mind, spirit, etc., reveals its spiritual nature most simply insofar as it is not bound by time and space. Unlike the body, which (apart from the most extraordinary phenomena) can only be where it happens to be in space and time, the mind, soul, and spirit do not have to be in the same place as the body. Through memory, the mind can place itself in the past, or it can be present to the future through imagination. The inner attention can be somewhere else apart from where our body is; somewhere we have visited perhaps, or would like to go.

That our spiritual nature is not bound by space or time is the means of prayer at the most basic level. We can 'raise heart and mind' to God and be present to the Ultimate and Infinite rather than the contingent and finite things of this world. We can take a peaceful walk and work through our memory, allowing our heart and soul to travel through time in search of a greater understanding and acceptance of the present. These uses of our spiritual power are very good and salutary things, and help us to be more human.

But this powerful faculty of our spirit is also dangerous and the occasion of many pitfalls. The ability of our soul and inner attention to be somewhere else can be misused. We can go through our days with no attention to the moments that God puts before us. The grace of God unfolds before us but we miss it because our soul is somewhere else. To be sure, we might be about something very pious in our mind and soul, like preparing a homily or a pious blog post, but we are nonetheless failing because we are not mindful of the present where God is always revealed in a privileged way. If we are naturally bright and a good multi-tasker, we can even seem like we are listening to someone or working quietly, but all the time we are going over something else and talking to ourselves or running 'tapes' in our head and not really paying attention. And then we find ourselves unhappy and we don't know why. We are unhappy because we have spent all our time living in an unreality.

6 comments:

pennyante said...

"To be sure, we might be about something very pious in our mind and soul, like preparing a homily or a pious blog post, but we are nonetheless failing because we are not mindful of the present where God is always revealed in a privileged way."

I'm a bit confused... when you are preparing that homily or writing that post, that moment IS the present for you. God is acting in your mind and heart at that moment.

However, I do have a question. Could you write about some strategies to use when you find your mind wandering during prayer. Sometimes that is when the tape winds and thoughts of the day interfere with prayer.

Thanks..

Geo said...

In humility is the greatest freedom, as long as we have to compare our shadow (the self you think is important) with those of others, you've begun to trade in unrealities, and there is no joy in things that do not exist.

As you point out active listening is very important and so few of us have even tried to master this skill. I hope this quote on humility helps folks here on this blog as it has helped me. I believe selfishness is part of original sin as it has its roots in pride and this, as you know is what started the fall of lucifer and man.

--My paraphrase from Thomas Merton's "Seeds of Contemplation"

Brother Charles said...

Thanks for the comment, pennyante, and for letting me know when I need to clarify!

For someone like me who preaches most days and who blogs, etc., it's easy to be distracted from the moment at hand by several reflections rolling around in my head at once, even at times when I am trying to pray or need to be attentive to someone.

I'll work on the post about distractions at prayer and the wanderings of the mind!

LM said...

go vote for Brother Charles!
http://www.catholicnewmediaawards.com/

Brother Charles said...

Thank you LM, as always for your encouragement and support!

Thanks too, Geo. That book has such an enduring influence on me, my style and my sense of faith.

pennyante said...

I'm a Merton fan too. I was very much influenced by his autobio, Seven Storey Mountain. I've read it three times: once in my late teens; once probably in my 30's somewhere and then in my 50's somewhere. Each time I got something different out of it... I supposed because I had matured along the way... I've read "Seeds..." also. But a long time ago...