On the First and Second Attentions
By ANTERO ALLI
"It is essential that you have Knowledge.
It is also essential that you escape the Known."
-- J. Krishnamurti
HOW THE TWO ATTENTIONS WORK
Two types of attention; "first attention" and "second attention". The first attention refers to that awareness linked to language, thinking and the automatic assignment of labels and meanings. The second attention refers to that awareness linked to presence, energy, and phenomena without any assignment of meaning or labels or thinking. Both attentions are important and necessary for different reasons. What we pay attention to informs the content of our minds; how we pay attention informs the quality of our consciousness.
The primary function of the first attention is survival -- figuring out how to find enough food, water, and shelter to stay alive. After immediate survival problems are solved, the first attention continues its automatic processes of labeling objects, people and situations in the environment whether it advances our survival or not. The first attention creates and projects meaning onto situations where no meaning may initially exist.
The primary function of the second attention is spiritual through the inner action of witnessing - without assigning labels or meaning to whatever is perceived. As the aperture of perception dilates and opens, we perceive more reality -- beyond our ideas of reality or what any given reality might mean. The second attention engages the inner action of seeing, of witnessing the existing conditions of things without assigning labels or meaning.
As more reality is perceived, we are exposed to a more direct experience of uncertainty and impermanence -- nobody can know the future until it happens and all of life undergoes its own cycles of change, death and rebirth in perpetua. As we awaken to impermanence, we face our mortality -- not just our own but the mortality of others'. Imagine how your social life would change once you're aware that everyone you meet will die, not just as an idea but as an experience. As we learn to permit more uncertainty, we face the unknown -- not just as an concept but as a reality.
Excess of first attention leads to tunnel vision, as excess of second attention leads to psychosis. Though the first attention is often the default (automatic) attention in modern culture, the second attention can develop through certain spiritual disciplines and it can also open up spontaneously during crisis, trauma and shock. The two attentions - once understood in their own context - can find ways to work together more often.
HOW THE TWO ATTENTIONS CAN WORK TOGETHER
These two attentions function separately and/or together at various degrees. Left alone, the first attention fixates awareness on survival issues -- such as security, status, money, daily problem solving, social problems. Left alone, the second attention fixates on "post-survival" luminosities such as ecstasy, rapture, clairvoyance, telepathy, inspiration, intuition, creativity, daydreaming.
The first attention expresses a function of physical sight and intellect; the second attention links to intuition with biological correlations in the pineal gland. The two attentions are linked in the way external sight is linked to insight and clairvoyance. Though both attentions are linked, their mutual interaction is rarely made conscious during daytime waking hours. Much like the Corpus Callusum, the ganglia connecting left and right hemipsheres of the brain, first and second attentions interact in the Unconscious all the time. Developing meaningful and conscious interactions between them involves a kind of double vision for: 1) seeing through appearances and into underlying infrastructures and essences and 2) developing truthful interpretations of these insights with language that doesn't merely explain but can somehow invoke the experience of the phenomena itself.
The first attention stabilizes awareness, just as the second attention destabilizes awareness. First attention stability depends on the pursuit of certitudes such as fixed beliefs, ideas, preconceptions, assumptions, and dogmas that explain, justify, and prove the existence of any given situation. Knowing what you know supports the experience of the first attention. The second attention is naturally unstable in its direct perception of uncertainty and unkowable phenomena. Sometimes, this instabiity can be felt as anxiety, a natural response of the nervous system to reaching our Anxiety Threshold, of how much uncertainty we can permit before acting like nervous monkeys.
Both attentions are strengthened in different ways. First attention can be strengthened by intentionally creating the meaning and context for any event we perceive. Second attention can be strengthened by learning to permit more uncertainty and by relaxing the desire to control outcomes. First attention secures itself by accumulating knowledge and making plans, as much as the second attention thrives in a spirit of discovery in the face of unknowns. If a message is the ordering of a signal, second attention gets the signal and the first attention interprets the signal into a message. The second attention absorbs luminosity and is light-sensitive; the first attention translates energy (light) through pattern recognition. The second attention acts like a radar dish receiving raw signals from inner and outer space; the first attention acts like a computer program translating raw signals into readable data and then, outputs that data.
IMBALANCE IN THE TWO ATTENTIONS
In public education systems and institutes, the first attention dominates our awareness with its labelling processes, abstract thinking, philosophy, mathematics, history, etc. These educational programs emphasize and exalt the first attention over the second attention which, for the most part, remains buried and ignored. Educational authorities (teachers) assign students the highest grades, and other symbolic rewards such as diplomas and degrees, for how much they know - how much knowledge has been memorized, retained, and retrieved. This exaltaton of the quotidian labelling mind equates not knowing with the shame of Failure -- what we may feel after getting an "F" on a test or on report cards. The "knowing mind" belongs to the first attention, whereas the "not knowing mind" links with the second attention.
The first attention can act as an anchor to the second attention, just as the second attention can act as a catalyst or shock to the first attention. The first attention can anchor and stabilize the second attention when we find or create words, images, and ideas that most truthfully represent the authenticity of second attention perception. The second attention shocks the first attention with the novelty of more uncertainty and an exposure to hidden variables of what we have not considered. If the second attention fails to become anchored in first attention interpretive processes, intuitive absorption of luminosity can overstimulate the nervous system; we become overwhelmed, or short-circuited, by excessive electromagentism. When the first attention consistently avoids uncertainty and unknowns, the thinking processes can become more mechanical, formulaic, and overly literalist. Eventually, over-literalization of thinking can result in claustrophobia, paranoia, and a slow death of imagination.
To accelerate perception, relax the desire to label and define everything.
While these labelling reactions may temporarily secure our sense of certitude,
their hypnotic influence can easily overwhelm the inner action of seeing.
Perception is not the same as thinking.
If basic survival problems remain unsolved -- when security, status and/or territorial needs remain frustrated or threatened -- survival anxiety naturally ensues. In an attempt to alleviate this anxiety, the first attention can begin fixating on absolutes as an, albeit unconscious, naive attempt to restore security. This habit of using certitude to replace security can also manifest in a nonstop mental loop of trying to make sense of everything resuting in a manic cycle of constant rationalizations. First attention cannot solve the problems created by the first attention. Attempting to solve problems with the mechanistic mindset that created them in the first place perpetuates a kind of mobius strip of mental looping.
The tyrany of First attention - the Monkey Mind - can be overthrown by shifting our focus towards the second attention. The second attention can be cultivated by relaxing the search for meaning. This can be experienced by relaxing the tendency to project, interpret, and/or assume meaning onto whatever is perceived, in lieu of paying closer attention to whatever presents itself before our very eyes. This shift can be expediated by refusing to label or name or narrate whatever you are perceiving or experiencing. By relaxing the imposition of meaning, we may be able to perceive the innate meaning of any situation or its inherent lack of meaning altogether.
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