The human is a creature always distracted. Even when we are studying, we are never present to the act. Concentration is not awareness, merely a slightly more intentional form of identification.
Try this experiment. As you read these words, try to be aware of your left foot. Whatever you do, be sure to never forget that you have a left foot.
Simply to say in your head 'left foot' or to clench the toes will not do. And if your foot is shoeless and sockless, touching the foot won't do either. The sense of touch is a sense like hearing. It is not awareness.
So this is not a mental exercise. You are asked to become aware of your foot existentially. Either be aware of the skin of the foot - the actual skin sensation - or become mindful of the foot by sensing it from inside. What is needed here is not a wilful gritting of the teeth. It is much more like relaxation. Something we are not used to at all.
And, if you try, you will soon see that what is suggested is far less simple than the description.
Because no one has ever taught us to be aware of ourselves intrinsically. Our parents and teachers know nothing about it. There are no courses at technical college dealing with self-sensing. We have been taught to live in our heads - to think our lives. And what little attention we have for self-awareness is sucked away by our ever-dominant, random, reactive thoughts. We either think - or experience. In other words, to experience is not mental. It is an awareness involving the whole of ourselves.
So are you aware of your foot now? No. Because you were almost immediately distracted by these words on a screen.
Your Left FootYes, your left foot. Take a moment to explore it.
The foot has a sensitive sole, five toes, a heel, an instep. And it's attached to an ankle. Can you be aware of each in turn?
Start with the sole. Visualise yourself stepping onto gravel. The gravel is rough, sharp. And the sole needs to know this and protect itself by walking as gingerly as possible.
Visualisation is not thinking or representing things to yourself with words. It is a more intelligent process because it does not require sub-vocalisation - the definition of everything we do. So there is a chance that you now have a vague impression of the sole of your left foot. Can you sense the fabric of sock against the skin? The pressure of the shoe?
Now, the toes. Begin with the big one. Can you be aware of it as a separate unit? The nail area, the first joint. The top of the toe. The tip. The sides. The underside. Then the whole toe?
The big toe should be more accessible in this process than the smaller ones. Don't rush it. If you wish to know your toe, as if from inside, it is not a matter of a moment's effort. It is a slow, intentional study. It could be a minute or ten before you are really in touch with your big toe.
Then try the next toe the same way. Now it will be harder.
You see that relating to your foot in a significant way is a more rigorous study than you thought.
You have, of course, stopped reading this to practise what is suggested? No? Too impatient? Or is your precious self far too important to spend time on something so useless?
But in this study, the seemingly least important things are the most vital, significant of all.
Your foot, remember?But you didn't. You read the last paragraph oblivious to the task. Because we have never learnt to split our attention - to do one thing while attending to another.
P.D. Ouspensky represented this act as a two headed arrow.
<-----------I am aware of my toe while -------> at the same time being aware of what is necessary in outer life.
Are you ready for the next step? Of course not because you have barely attempted the first.
But life doesn't wait for us to catch up. Having failed the first test, you are now presented with something harder. That's how things are.
Stand in front of another person. There will be a conversation - probably social. Don't try this when the interaction is important.
You stand there and they stand there facing you - and you talk.
When they ask you a question such as, 'How are you today?' you respond.
'Not too bad,' you say. Or whatever you say. But, at the same time, can you be aware of the skin of your face in the same way that you tried with the foot?
<---------the skin of your face.
----------> your response, to the other person.
Why try this?
Because, perhaps for the first time in your life, you will then have a new impression of yourself and your world.
Instead of just reactively talking to another person it will be...
<---------------YOU in front of -----------> ANOTHER.
Once again simple and fiendishly difficult, because how long will you be able to sustain it?
If these exercises interest you, there are many more.
Of course, if they don't, then forget you read this immediately. Because this line of enquiry is not for you.
Do you still have a foot?
Talks With Al is available on Buzzword. You can also contact Gina to discuss such matters here.