The Gift of Attentiveness

by on Tuesday, 27 December 2011 Comments

At the beginning of a new year, what wish do I want to express for myself and for the people whom I know and love? Let me think… Maybe, you’ll consider my wish to be rather unambitious (but think twice); I just wish all of us to cherish and nurture a tiny little virtue – a virtue often neglected: Attentiveness. Attentiveness to what? Well… to nothing in particular. Pure attentiveness. Attention to anything that may happen, to silence as well as music - to the changes that are occurring within oneself, society, the cosmos… Or, maybe, if such attentiveness is truly to be assigned an object: attention to the current of life that runs within the depth of my inner being.

There are privileged moments when the breeze of the night, the smell of incense or an unexpected moment of solitude will suddenly free us from our occupations. Our social Self is no longer our center. We calmly descend into depths that we had not explored yet, discerning layers of feelings and existence that challenge the way we used to perceive ourselves. This might happen indeed at specific, privileged times, but it is always prepared by long periods of maturing – periods that may have been marked by troubles and sorrow as well as by peace. Things just happen within us because we have been attentive, even if we were not fully conscious of the attentiveness we were exerting. Pure attention is not truly an effort we make - rather it is a state into which we enter. And the abyss of life opens up at some point, so that we may penetrate the inner grottoes, and contemplate the running water that bring us to our Origin.

In keeping with the water metaphor: Looking at the sea from the shore, till the waves have become the very music of our soul, may tell us something about entering pure attentiveness. The peace that comes from our surrendering to the current of life makes the same sound as the waves do. Taken into the interplay between the waves, the sand and the wind, we experience the innermost and outermost of our Being – what is more external to me than the external world, what is more internal to me that my most secret thoughts, all fuse into One…

In the ordinary situations of our life it is often very difficult to sense this secret world that inhabits us. We rather feel prisoners of a courtyard of bricks and mortar, and have to take solace from the rarefied foliage of a lonely tree… Still, Hope helps us to grow in the virtue of attentiveness, so as to make us able to fracture the closed walls of our courtyard. Here is my wish for you, dear readers of Renlai and of eRenlai: in 2012, may you be rewarded of your efforts at patience, hope and attention, so as to experience anew the current of life that runs deep within the universe, within humankind, and within your own souls…

Painting by Bendu

Benoit Vermander (魏明德)

Benoit Vermander lives in Shanghai. He teaches philosophy and religious anthropology at the University of Fudan.

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