Thursday, February 28, 2013

The first thing.

I received an email this morning from +Mani Saint Victor with links to a couple of journal abstracts about mindfulness-based stress reduction, aka MBSR (duh). Here they are:

Reading those reminded me of an anecdote that I read somewhere once, and that I didn't, and don't, remember well enough to recite verbatim. So I gave Mani my fancified version, composed on the fly:

The disciple, wanting to cut to the chase, asked the Master, "What is the most important thing in the world?"

"Attention," came the reply.

The disciple doubted that, of all the things a person could do to improve their lot, or to find peace, or to serve others, attention was the most important. But he did not want to challenge the Master, so he asked, "What, then, is the second most important thing?"

The slightest hint of a smile appeared on the Master's face as he replied, "Attention."

The disciple squirmed with discomfort. He was getting nowhere. Either the Master had misunderstood him, or the Master was losing his faculties - no, he did not believe either of those things. A third explanation seemed more likely: that the Master had offered him a riddle to be solved. And so he spent some time in deep thought, trying to imagine what conceptual trick might be at play. But when he had wearied his mind without resolution, he gave up the attempt.

Still certain that the good life required more than the Master had answered, the disciple said timidly, "Master, I would rather doubt my own sanity than your wisdom. And it may be that you know me to be unprepared to receive more. But I hunger to live wisely and well, and dare not fail by failing to ask a question whose answer could make all else clear. Is there a third thing, a third key to attaining the blessed life?"

There was no smile this time; the old man's eyes narrowed and his face became stony as he leaned forward and whispered, "Attention."

In that moment, for the disciple, all else fell away but the Master's voice, his face, his eyes. He did not notice the crackling of the small fire on the ground between them, or the shadows flickering on the walls of the cave in which they sat, or the miniature vortex that gathered a group of leaves at the cave's entrance and brought them inside.

And then, as the Master's single word sank into his soul, he did notice. He noticed all those things and more.

And the Master saw, and he smiled.

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