William Segal – “The Force of Attention”

This piece was used by Cynthia Bourgeault as a core text  at the Calgary Wisdom School, April 2013

The Force of Attention

The role of a conscious human being is to provide the phenomenal earth world with energies which otherwise would not be effectively transmitted to the creations and units which make up our world. Just as right balance and interaction of energies bring unity, Being appears when harmony and equilibrium replace chaotic imbalance. Being is the universe under God’s eye.

Attention is the quintessential medium to reveal man’s dormant energies to himself. Whenever one witnesses the state of the body, the interplay of thought and feeling, there is an intimation, however slight, of another current of energy. Through the simple act of attending, one initiates a new alignment of forces.

Maintenance of a conscious attention is not easy. The movement, the obligations of day-to-day existence constantly distract. With no base of operations, no home in one’s organism, the attention serves random thoughts, feelings, and appetites which conflict and tyrannize each other.

Sensation of parts or the whole of the body can anchor the attention; provide it with a kind of habitat. The structure, becoming more sensitive, helps to unify attention, so it is less liable to veer into mental channels that consume its power. In turn, perceptions and sensations are quickened, insights are multiplied.

Opening to the force of attention evokes a sense of wholeness and equilibrium. One can glimpse a possibility of a state of awareness immeasurably superior to that of the reactive mechanism, an awareness which transcends one’s automatic subject/object mode of response. Freely flowing, the concentrative, transforming effect of conscious attention brings the disparate tempos of the centers to a relatively balanced relationship. Thought, feeling, and sensing are equilibrated under this vibrant, harmonizing influence.

Attention is an independent force which will not be manipulated by one’s parts. Cleared of all internal noise, conscious attention is an instrument which vibrates like a crystal at its own frequency. It is free to receive the signals broadcast at each moment from a creative universe in communication with all creatures. However, the attention is not “mine.” In a moment of its presence, one knows that it does not originate entirely with oneself. Its source surrounded by mystery, attention communicates energies of a quality the mind cannot represent. One needs to be at the service of conscious attention; one prepares for its advent through active stillness.

IN QUIET, tension free moments, man’s structure is open to energy flows which are ordinarily blocked. In turn, these energies blend with previously received materials, to serve the higher in a wordless, nameless exchange. Attention is not only mediating; it is transmitting. Giving and receiving, God speaks to man.

Receiving and giving, man speaks to God. Just as man’s structure needs to be vivified by the infusion of finer vibrations, those very same vibrations require the mixing of coarse material for their maintenance. Without the upward transmission of energies through the intermediary of conscious attention, the universe would give in to entropy. In man, the smallest deformation of a balanced attention closes down this two way communication.

Alone, the mind cannot maintain it. A relaxed body, too, is needed. Midway between micro and macrocosmos, man has his part to play. Returning to the body is a gesture of opening to the attention which, beckoned, is ready to serve its cosmological function.


From William Segal – The Structure of Man (Brat-Tleboro, Vermont; Green River Press, Stillgate Publishers, 1987).


Related blog entry here: https://www.contemplative.org/blog/the-flowingness-of-attention/


2 replies
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  2. Carole Pentony
    Carole Pentony says:

    Cynthia, this is a really useful elaboration on your articulation of gathered, undivided attention as a tensile energy field. It is also helpful that the role of the body clearly stated. Thanks for including in your blog!

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