Strengthening the muscle of attention

Strenghtening the muscle of attention WCCM+

In this episode, Laurence Freeman reflects on the challenge of the attention deficit in the human mind. An especially acute problem of our time. Early Christian teachers saw the attention deficit as being akin to the meaning of ‘original sin’. Meditation does more than improve our capacity for attention, however. It expands our capacity for love. 

This podcast is part of the Levels of Consciousness and the Fruits of the Spirit Series held in 2021. You can listen to the full first talk of this series or read a section of the transcripts of the episode below. By subscribing to WCCM+ you can access the videos of the full series. 

Attention: The Middle Way, the Narrow Path

“I’d like to say what an inspiration has been to be able to see the response we’ve had to this concept of taking this year as a year to reflect on the meaning of health. And to see how this has been taken up and enriched and deepened by many of our national communities, an increasing number. 

As you may know, Dr Barry White, Irish doctor who has been pioneering the introduction of meditation into the Irish medical profession and is setting up a contemplative healthcare system here in Ireland, is giving a series of monthly talks on health, which has had a huge enrollment. It was wonderful and took us by surprise but wonderful response. Over the next nine months, he’ll be talking about different aspects of health. And at the beginning of his first talk a couple of weeks ago, he outlined his general view of health and placed meditation at the centre of it.

He’ll be talking about different aspects and some practical advice on health and how to be healthy such as exercise and sleep, and nutrition and how to deal with suffering and difficulties in life. But at the heart of it all, he has this very clear, spiritual understanding of the centrality of meditation as a healthy practice. Meditation as a practice that leads to wholeness. These retreats that we’re beginning now, eight of them during this year for the national communities, form part of this deep reflection on health and wholeness. We can’t turn on the news. We’ll open a newspaper today without being confronted with the pandemic and the difficulties of disease and the disruption it makes, the anxiety it produces. So it’s very timely that we should be reflecting on the meaning of health as a contemplative community.

I think a contemplative community is one that pays attention to the world that it's living in, and to the difficulties, the challenges, the trouble, and the divisions that it lives among.
Laurence Freeman
Laurence Freeman OSB

Whether it’s political or social, whether it’s social injustice or economic injustice, whether it’s the persecution of minorities or whatever it may be. We should, as contemplatives, be aware of this, but aware of it in a way that doesn’t make us distracted from the centrality of the spirit. And this, I think, is the gift that we can hopefully contribute to our contemporaries and to our societies which is the gift of meditation as a way of being able to pay attention and out of attention, as we’ll see later, comes compassion. 

If you’re truly attentive to someone, you are loving them. And the key quote probably of our retreat on the Muscle of Attention is Jesus’s teaching ‘Love one another as I have loved you’, pay attention to one another as I pay attention to you. So the contemplative response to the crisis that we are going through globally is a very important component. 

A Crisis to rebuild a better world

I think of our coming through this crisis in a healthy way and being able to rebuild a better world with more healthy attitudes and more healthy ways of treating the environment, of understanding social justice and human rights, the care of the young, the meaning of education, the meaning of health and the meaning of democracy. These are all things that make us human and aren’t in a separate category from the rest of our spiritual life because they are what make us human. And it’s these qualities of freedom, of respect for others, of tolerance, of other points of view and of commitment to justice in all its forms.

Just as we see in the life of Jesus, that it’s this, that makes us fully alive.

And we glorify God by becoming fully alive. ‘The glory of God is the human being fully alive’, says saint Irenaeus of Lyon. The fullness of life is lived in our families, in our societies, in our churches, in our institutions. Of course, in the depth of our own spirit, in community.

I hope that this time of retreat will be the beginning of a deepening of our, reflection on the meaning of a contemplative response to the crisis, the opportunities that we face in this crisis. And that we can each of us bring to our communities in the Philippines and all the other national communities, we can bring the fruit of this gift of meditation and the fruit of our community into contact with the needs of our world.”

Watch the full series by subscribing to WCCM+

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