One book of Jiddu Krishnamurti’s lectures refers to the Flame of Attention, pointing out that the meaning of the word “attention” is a reminder of the perils of constant watchfulness – you must be “at-tension”, so at any moment you can react in a myriad of ways to any number of encroaching or interrupting signals. This peripatetic vigil, if not conducted carefully, can result in a huge, and probably considering the likelihood of perilous events pretty low, mostly hyper-prioritized and undue stress on the attendee. There is always the danger of micro-managing, even oneself. The trick, I think – and probably both Montaigne and Krishnamurti would agree – is to be aware, rather than attentive. To be conscious, if not fully cognizant. The Buddha and so many other spiritual guides suggest the same: to be in the world, but not of it, you must be fully open to the information constantly being presented, but you must learn to observe it and let it go. The instant I discovered this in Montaigne, the word mindfulness immediately came to mind. There is however so much psychobabble currently about mindfulness (in theory and practice) that it is in danger of becoming a parody of itself.
Pay attention, but don’t get lost in the details. That’s a hard thing for an ADHD hunter-gatherer to accomplish, particularly in our “busyness is holiness” and “look busy, the boss might be watching” Protestant-driven culture of work for work’s sake. We spend a lot of time talking but very little effort thinking about just breathing. Just this morning, I said to myself, until you change the way you hear, you can’t change the way you listen. Until you change the way you listen, you can’t change the way you see. Until you change the way you see, you can’t change the way you think. And until you change the way you think, you can’t change the world.
One of the duties of a Bard, as traditional defined in Celtic culture, is serving as the historian, the memory, of your own culture. This includes not only where it is today, but where it started, how it traveled the path from there to here, and what indicators point to where it might be in the future. A lot of emphasis is placed on remembering things: verse forms, definitions, cultural events – the usual hows, whys and wherefores. As someone trained in that tradition (I first became associated with official Bardic business as a member of both the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD) and Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF) pagan (more accurately, neo-pagan) traditions. The ADF was not for me, but I did manage to digest and complete the OBOD’s Bardic grade lessons and complete the required initiation. Among a lot of pretty useless information (if only because it involved attempting to reconstruct a system based on a fantastic, romantic interpretation of a long-past reality, from a language and culture with which I had insufficient familiarity), there is at least the idea that someone is responsible for keeping an eye on everything that’s going on. This appeals to my distrust of cultural specialists; that the history of one thing should be detailed and kept “sacred” completely separately, and in isolation from, each other thing’s history – that there should ultimately be at the top a mere conglomeration, but no real sense of synthesis or, to borrow Buckminster Fuller’s term, synergy, has always seemed to fall flat.
Falling flat – now there’s an interesting concept. I immediately think of Hamlet’s mournful, “oh, how flat and unprofitable are the things of this world” and I want to say, “well, things are flat because you lack perspective.” Perspective, however, is not just the ability to see things from varying points of view. It is the desire to do so – and the belief that just as Ramakrishna put it, A lake has several ghâts. At one the Hindus take water in pitchers and call it ‘jal’; at another the Mussalmâns take water in leather bags and call it ‘pâni’. At a third the Christians call it ‘water’. Can we imagine that it is not ‘jal’, but only ‘pâni’ or ‘water’? How ridiculous! The substance is One under different names, and everyone is seeking the same substance; only climate, temperament, and name create differences.