Letter # 11 -  Attention

To make sense of our personal and public world we require a specific

utensil. It is called attention. The power to focus is an attribute of

attention but it is much more than that. Attention is the ability to see

beyond the surface concatenation of happenings and realise the

beginning, middle and end of the chain. Attention catches the entire

sequence and realises the consequences of the string of events in

whatever form it may be. Attention is not so much an act but a state of

mind. It is free of content and unaffected by manifestations. Attention is

transformative. It is the key to liberation.

That is why Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi repeatedly emphasised the

importance of self-enquiry. By focusing on the primal question Who Am

I? we return to the source of our thoughts and automatically develop the

power of attention. By doing so, we fearlessly confront the wave after

wave of thoughts and feelings, which we did not originally pay attention

to when they first manifested and had created unbeknownst to us, an

influential furrow in our memory. These ruts would then influence us in

ways we cannot control or understand. It is as if there were more than

one person inside us, all competing for dominance. This explains why at

times we behave in ways that surprise us as much as they do others

who observe our, say inappropriate, behaviour or language. We can

make fools of ourselves without recognising why. We do not know who

we are.

Bhagavan Ramana would be compassionate when people complained

to him that when they began practising self-enquiry, their mind’s

confusion was worse than ever. This is normal, for all those pent-up,

unresolved issues are like a jumble of clothes thrown into a cupboard

because they do not seem to fit or are inappropriate. Nonetheless, they

pile up, distract us, and haunt us, until we deliberately inspect them and

throw out all that is divisive.

Thought is energy and it leaves a trace in our minds. The overriding

purpose of attention in the traditional Yoga schemata is essentially a

means to purify the aberrations and unwitting tendencies of those mental

tracks which disturb us. In later Letters, we can explore the eightfold

path of Yoga which is the royal highway common to all the various

techniques of Yoga that address the distinctive capacities of individuals.

The practice of Yoga in its most subtle form roots out the original causes

of suffering. It heals the distortions and redirects the patterns so that

they are in harmony. For example, a childhood trauma that may have

disturbed us for years and skewed our responses to a certain situation

or type of person is clinically revealed for what it is, without

embellishment or falsification. There is no one general panacea for all

the ills of everyone. There are however precise paths tailor-made for

each individual. Ultimately each creates their own yoga based on these

general principles. We are not clones of each other. Ramana Maharshi

never demanded that anyone be other than themselves. He did not

create an institution that moulds the individual to act and behave exactly

like everyone else. There was no dress code. There was no one

religious practice. Whether you are single or married or a renunciate, the

challenge in essence is all the same. Who Am I? The path delineated by

Ramana Maharshi is open to all whatever their background and their

development is unique.

When I first came to Arunachala it wasn’t possible to hold my attention

for more than a few seconds and then my mind would wander off

unknowingly or more often than not, wilfully veer wildly from one

emotional time bomb to another. Because of the unresolved force lying

hidden in the emotions, I could not but be aware of the roller coaster ride

but was powerless to stop it. After some weeks of slowly and

deliberately focusing attention, the act of asking Who Am I? had set off a

process over which I had no control. There would be times when I would

get up from meditation in the Old Hall shaken by the intense movie

which had unfolded. It was like being in a washing machine and spun

over and over till the last remnants of dirt were dissolved. It became

easier with repetition but the initial months were quite traumatic. I do not

know why I continued in the face of the intense pressure but then again

what was the alternative? Once we embark on the path there is no going

back. Why? Though it is hard and mostly unrewarding at first, there were

times of sweetness and sheer tranquillity which overrode all the

destructive tendencies which ran riot in the depths of the mind. Those

minute crystallisations were manna which fed and nourished me in the

darkest moments. I knew as all who follow the path of Sri Ramana do

that we had come upon that pearl without price and nothing could shake

the conviction that this is what we had yearned for all along.

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