21. CIRCULAR ATTENTION
We act as true individuals only when our own mind takes command of our life. This depends on our psychological- heart or Kardia acts as a ˜container' to integrate our life-processes. This makes it possible for us to develop new faculties and abilities. This, in its basic principles, is psychologically similar to the evolution and formation of our ordinary physical body, except for the fact that to attain it, personal efforts are needed.
This is because the psyche finally becomes integrated only when we have become aware of ourselves at a different level, that of self-consciousness. Before integration, we get only flashes of this consciousness when our solar-plexus comes to life. This often has to do with certain exercises, but that's not the only way to get to it.
When that sort of thing happens as a result of exercises or prayer, so that one becomes alert in a certain way, this is what the philosopher P. D. Ouspensky describes as ˜like a cat', a creature whose actions and perceptions are properly integrated in a form based on the sensory-motor center. For us, we begin to find, when we are in that condition, that we have more awareness of ourselves and are less subject to mechanical distractions. This is when the sensory motor process comes under control of the nous. But the difficulty of modern man is that we allow the controls to get slack.
Some kind of threshold must be crossed because this is an irreversible process, having nothing to do with life as we know it. After this, we would live in a world of fire. I can't say more about this, but if you could hold onto this condition, all kinds of things would happen to you. As one of our friends said recently, all of us are probably experiencing what Boris Mouravieff calls ˜the soul in conception', but it has not come to term yet. The soul is still 'growing underground'. When it is visible in a person, it shows as perceptible changes, which have required hard work before they are reached.
This is how our attention goes deeper as we begin to develop what Palamas once called ˜circular attention'. (Gr: kyklike kinesis) But what is circular attention? It is two-pointed attention - attention integrated with self-awareness.
Saint Gregory Palamas put it that: "To maintain our attention in total stillness in which the nous remains entirely withdrawn into itself? In this condition, we no longer become so easily ˜carried away' by thoughts or events, so we learn to act with attention, but then to turn back immediately and attentively to ourselves. This is the beginning of true contemplation, which I would describe as something that turns prayer into a means of learning truth and so changing oneself. The significance of this is encapsulated in this teaching from the early fathers: "For myself, I listen to the father who says, truly, ˜Woe to the body which does not ingest nourishment from outside itself, and woe to the psyche which does not receive grace from above itself!' For the body will perish once it has been transformed into an inanimate being, and the psyche, once it turns away from what is proper to it, will be caught-up with mechanical life and mechanical thoughts.