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I had the good fortune to chair a lecture last week delivered by a man whose work is at the forefront of online communication. He was speaking about attention. Before exploring what philosophy has to say about the importance of clear sighted attention, he spoke of the methods employed by those who produced material for the internet which is designed to attract and hold our attention, and how by so doing they manipulate our thinking. He described the benefits of our personal computers - a point that I cant help but concur with especially as I’m using one at this very moment. He did, however, go on to describe how our addiction to our mobile phones and laptop computers leads us to mediate our connection to life through these devices. To demonstrate how things had changed in this respect he showed us the photos above. The first shows people gathered in Vatican to hear the Pope before and the other after the advent of the iPhone. It was a lecture that certainly made you think.
Another thing I did last week was to go to the Van Gogh exhibition at Tate Britain and again it was full of people who, rather than standing and reflecting on the power of the paintings, were taking photos with their mobile phones in order to see a reproduction at some other time.
To see the world through these devices can in many ways widen our view. It can also narrow them down. It’s not only what we produce. There is all this other stuff. We end up seeing the world mediated through the material to be found on our iPhones. Suffering from sensory overload we find it hard to find the space to quietly reflect. Yet to discriminate the value of what we’re taking in requires us to do just that. To appreciate the beauty of life requires the same calm reflection. The message that came out of the lecture was that we must give ourselves that time and space.
As an antidote to an overloaded life the idea of Slow Time is becoming fashionable. Stopping and quietly reflecting in the way described in the poem by Wordsworth in the reflection below is a thing that allows for a full unmediated connection with the world around us. We should give ourselves the time to do it, time to reflect.
Very best regards, William
INTIMATIONS OF IMMORTALITY
Time to reflect, certainly, but what exactly is reflection? What is reflecting in what? In so many of the great philosophical traditions there is the concept of ‘the mirror of the mind’ or ‘the mirror of the soul’, and in this mirror is reflected both the forms of creation and the light of consciousness - that fundamental power which allows us to recognise anything . The light of consciousness is, in the normal run of things, sucked into all those desires and concerns that captivate our minds. We are usually so involved with them that we forget the light which illuminates it all, the light of consciousness. When we reflect, however, we are taking our attention away from all those things that possess us to rest in this inner light.
This light is cool and clear, calm and all embracing. This light of consciousness is the very substance of love. Although it illuminates everything that arises in all our minds as individuals, this is not an individual consciousness. Consciousness has no limits. Therefore, when in a reflective state we act from this consciousness, it is the sense of unity that we experience, and although we see creation in all its variety, perhaps more vividly than we normally experience it, there is also an awareness that underlying the variety is unity.
The following is an extract from Wordsworth, writing as he often does, reflectively, he speaks of consciousness as ‘the mighty being’:
It is a beauteous evening, calm and free;
The holy time is quiet as a nun
Breathless with adoration; the broad sun
Is sinking down in tranquillity;
The gentleness of heaven is on the sea.
Listen! the mighty being is awake
And doth with his eternal motion make
A sound like thunder - everlastingly.
Times like this have their appeal. Many desire to experience the greater depth and happiness that are associated with such times. Are there not moments in all our memories just as vivid as this, moments that contain in their way, more than a touch of bliss?
According to Plato it is the function of both poetry and philosophy to awaken memory, memory of the supreme happiness which transcends time and place. He claims that although the soul has journeyed forth and finds her home in time and space, she always carries with her the memory of her own innate reality. It is not for nothing that Wordsworth called the collection of poems from which this extract was drawn, ‘Intimations of Immortality’. By reflection we may illuminate those eternal principles of beauty, love and joy, and by so doing allow them to become our reality.
Adopt a more reflective state of mind. Constantly come to yourself. Rest in the light of your own inner consciousness rather than being sucked into the next big involvement. Treat life as a journey of self discovery, not a soap opera, or if you like soap operas enjoy them as spectacles, remembering that reality lies elsewhere.