Work begins with the control of attention.
One thing we can control in ourselves, is our attention. Our degree of attention in any moment is a function of what part of centre we are operating from. Attention can be cultivated and controlled with practice, will, and effort. Work with attention is very important in self-development.
Attention and Parts of Centres
Each centre is further divided into parts, i.e. each centre has a mechanical part, an emotional part and an intellectual part. We are told that we can know which part of centre we are using by studying attention.
With no or very little attention we are in mechanical parts, for example when something becomes effortless. When our attention is held by the subject, i.e. when we are interested or excited about something we are in emotional parts. When we hold and direct our attention with effort and will on what we are doing, thinking about or feeling, we are in intellectual parts.
On the whole we operate mainly from mechanical parts of centres, and for some functions like driving that's appropriate. However, because we use mechanical parts with little or no attention for most daily tasks, we often make mistakes in what we're doing. For example we forget an important ingredient in the cake mixture, or muddle up the photocopying and staple the wrong sheets together. Consequently, we often expend more energy than necessary trying to correct our mistakes or becoming negative at the extra work we have created for ourselves, which with more attention we could avoid.
Developing Attention and Higher Parts of Centres
Although all parts of centres form the machine, there are degrees of mechanicality from more to less mechanical. Using intellectual parts means less mechanical, more intelligent, more awake and operating with a finer energy. Whereas using mechanical parts means more mechanical, less intelligent, more asleep. Therefore, part of work on oneself is to try and be in intellectual parts as often as possible. This requires directing one's attention with effort and will and holding it on the activity at hand.
How can we try to develop higher parts of centres? Some examples for three of the centres are given below:
Lifting a chair and placing it softly and making sure it's straight requires more attention than dragging it noisily across the floor, perhaps banging it into other furniture.
Working on handwriting. I especially work on dotting my i's above the i instead of half way a long the word and trying to make the distinction between my n's and u's clearer.
Embarking on a DIY (do-it-yourself) task, consider which tools you are likely to need and lay them out and arrange them in the best way to do the job. This requires visualising what you intend to do, rather than hastily starting and discovering you haven't got the right tools, or that you have to interrupt the job to fetch different things as you need them. This saves both time and energy.
Think about how you can apply this to other moving-centred tasks.
Listen to classical music and putting your attention on it, try and feel the effects it has on you, what emotions it evokes, what pictures it evokes, for example waves or rolling countryside.
Try and listen to your own tones of voice (and others), how they can sound hurtful and blunt at times. Try and work with changing your tone to a more appropriate one.
Try and recall painful events in your life as they actually happened, without distorting what you or another person said. This requires great inner sincerity with yourself.
Try and show considerateness for other people. For example, if you're reading a book with someone, move the book over so they can read it easily too and hold it upright so they're not reading at an angle. When you can see what you can do to help another person and do it, it helps to reduce the 'me' or 'mine' or 'self' aspect of small emotions.
Read a book that stretches you and which you have to hold your attention on in order to follow it.
Try and recall what you have read in as much detail as possible.
Attention is like a Muscle
Initially, when you try and hold your attention on something, it may feel that you are using more energy than before and subsequently it's tiring. That perception is correct as you have to use energy to keep attention. However, attention is like a muscle and the more you flex it the stronger it becomes and the easier it is to hold it.
In relation to attention:
This is work, and work needs energy - it saves waste of energy in another direction. Doing things without attention will mean a greater loss.
P. D. Ouspensky
External and Internal Attention and Impressions
Another idea in this work is that impressions, if taken in consciously, are a source of food to produce higher hydrogens. An important part of work on oneself is trying to do this through both external and internal attention.
To observe a bus or a tree external attention is necessary. This is not the same as 'seeing' a bus or a tree in which no attention is needed. We might see same tree every day but couldn't describe it. To observe a tree is to look at it like an artist, observe its colour, shape, type of leaves and bark. This is taking in new impressions and requires directed attention.
We should endeavour to study daily sights, ordinary impressions in detail and increase the conscious intake of impressions. For example, by noticing someone's elegant appearance and the impression it makes on you, you might become more attentive to your own dress, ensuring your clothes are neatly pressed or adding a small brooch to your jacket. This changes the external impression to one that is more refined and it could also change the internal impression of how you feel about yourself.
I've also noticed how impressions affect how attentive I am. For example, sitting in an elegant room with fine furniture and beautiful music, help me to be more attentive, for example, not to clatter my cup on the saucer or to listen more carefully to the music or conversation.
We also have the possibility of inner attention which is usually quite undeveloped in us. Thus, our inner life is a bit like the buses and trees we see in outer life, a rather vague, confused picture which we aware of but do not observe and therefore don't know it in any detail.
The aim in the Work is to develop our inner attention called Observing I. Just as external attention increases our consciousness of external objects, internal attention or self-observation increases our consciousness of inner objects, such as thoughts and feelings. However, self-observation is not an end in itself. It is a tool to help us separate from our many I's, not put all our feeling into the I's, because what you observe internally helps you to not identify with it.
The development of internal attention or Observing I leads to the development of our consciousness that eventually leads us to an increasing sensitivity to Higher Centres and what they are communicating to us all the time.
Attention and Working with Identification and Imagination
Directed attention for 5 minutes, putting consciousness into every part of the body beginning with the face muscles will give definite results at any moment when it is done to prevent some difficult period of being identified.
P. D. Ouspensky
Another example is when you know you are experiencing a negative emotion, direct your attention on to something, for example, smell a flower, look at it's colour and so on, to try and push out the negative emotion, that is, to occupy the space with an intentional emotion so that there is no space for the negative emotion to occupy.
When you observe that you are in imagination, you will often find that the imagination stops.
If attention is fixed on something, imagination stops.
P. D. Ouspensky