Attention Is Inseparable From Interrogation

Michel de Salzmann

Reading by Liz Helgesen (Download file)

Awakin FeatureOur attention is much more than we generally think. It is much more than a simple mental or cerebral mechanism. It concerns our whole being. If its potentialities are far from being fully actualized in our usual life, maybe it is precisely because it is not recognized as a multidimensional keyboard and as the unifying principle of our being. 

Paradoxically this basic act of knowing, which is attention, is only actualized when we don’t know -- that is, when there is a question. Its level and, so to say, its degree of “totalization” are proportional to our questioning. You have surely noticed that when a question is vital -- when it takes us in the guts, as you say -- it suspends all unnecessary movements, emotional and physical as well as mental. It clears the way for real awareness and sensitivity, which are components of my total power of attention. It is only between my not knowing and my urge to know that I find myself present, mobilized, open, new -- that is to say, attentive.

Attention in its active form is therefore inseparable from interrogation; it is essentially, in its purity, an act of questioning. This act is the privilege of our human existence. An animal contents itself with being. The responsibility of man is to question himself on the meaning of his being.

In our society, mainly concerned with production and efficiency, the drama is that our capacity for questioning, still so vivid in early childhood, is very quickly eradicated or pushed aside for the benefit of our capacity for answering. When a child has a real question, most of the time he is immediately given a stupid answer. In the best cases the educator goes to the dictionary to he sure his answer is accurate, but anyhow unconsciously, if not proudly; he closes the question. From school to the end of our life it is always necessary to answer. We are compelled to learn how to answer, If we don't know how to answer, we are just no good. So little by little we become some kind of model machine able to all answer to all situations with the necessary blindness as regards its own contradictions. [...]

Is it possible to keep alive in ourselves our most authentic and precious capacity, which is questioning? This is the whole problem confronting us, actually. But are we strong enough, free enough, concerned enough to really question ourselves while answering? [...] Can we at the same time neither affirm nor deny, neither resist nor follow, assume that we neither know nor don't know, that we are able or unable? Can we be acutely present to what is, without judgment or indifference, without any solution or escape? It would mean being aware on all fronts, renouncing the known for the unknown, withstanding the inevitable principle of repetition, staying still within our movement. 

From, "Two Essays," by Michel de Salzmann, a psychiatrist and a spiritual teacher revered within the Gurdjieff tradition.

Seed questions for reflection: How do you relate to the notion that our responsibility is to inquire into the meaning of our being? Can you share a personal story of a time when you felt free enough to question yourself while answering? How has questioning helped you in your life?

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5 Previous Reflections:

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    On Nov 29, 2018 William Elliott wrote:

    Well of course you lead to an essential question. What is aware at our essence and does it need to be attentive? Do we need to stay still or are we beyond the need to be stillness or not still? Unbound from that.  And is attention a human quality and not one of Being? Is Being attention? Or is attention just Being manifestedf thru the human mind? I thank you for the artilce it is refreshing.


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    On Nov 5, 2018 Sally Lee wrote:

    OMG , Don’t worry . Be happy, Accept the maze in your head.


    1 reply: William | Post Your Reply
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    On Nov 3, 2018 Jagdish P Dave wrote:
     What is the meaning of life? What is the purpose of my being here in this world? What hppens to me after I die? These questions often have come to me at different stages of my relatively long life. Glimpses of answers come when I keep my mind open knowitng that I do not have full answers.Such act of inquiry requires my total presence and my full attention to my being. I become quiet and still to listen to my inner authentic voice. Such a stance clears the way for real awareness and sensitivity. I tend to relate to what Michel de Salzmann Says," Paradoxically this basic act of knowing, which is attention, is only actualized when we don't know-that is, when there is a question." Recently, I had a dialogue with a lady a little younger than me. She asked me what will happen to her when she will die. I had thouht  about it deeply and have arrived at some understanding of my own question. As  I was responding to her question, I was also eploring with her by addressing and qu... [View Full Comment]

     What is the meaning of life? What is the purpose of my being here in this world? What hppens to me after I die? These questions often have come to me at different stages of my relatively long life. Glimpses of answers come when I keep my mind open knowitng that I do not have full answers.Such act of inquiry requires my total presence and my full attention to my being. I become quiet and still to listen to my inner authentic voice. Such a stance clears the way for real awareness and sensitivity. I tend to relate to what Michel de Salzmann Says," Paradoxically this basic act of knowing, which is attention, is only actualized when we don't know-that is, when there is a question."
    Recently, I had a dialogue with a lady a little younger than me. She asked me what will happen to her when she will die. I had thouht  about it deeply and have arrived at some understanding of my own question. As  I was responding to her question, I was also eploring with her by addressing and questioning different layers of this profound inquiry. This is  an ongoing process for me helping me to know what is the meaning of my being here in this world. It provides me a path to walk with awareness and sensivity.

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    On Nov 3, 2018 david doane wrote:

    We have the ability, not obligation, to respond to our being by inquiring into its meaning. Though I don't agree with Socrates that the unexamined life is not worth living, I definitely think it's worthwhile to inquire into the meaning of our being.  I usually feel free enough to question myself while answering.  I usually even enjoy it.  My most significant questions have only partial answers at best and trigger more questions, which I'm fine with.  My answers aren't complete but they become fuller over time.  Rilke said to love the questions, live the questions, and live into the answers, and I've become more that way over time.  Questioning has helped me in my life by feeding my hunger for knowing and providing meaning, fascination, satisfaction, and growth.


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