And now for a little Mental Drill in Attention, that you may be started on the road to cultivate this important faculty.
Exercise I. Begin by taking some familiar object and placing it before you, try to get as many impressions regarding it as is possible for you. Study its shape, its color, its size, and the thousand and one little peculiarities about it that present themselves to your attention. In doing this, reduce the thing to its simplest parts–analyze it as far as is possible–dissect it, mentally, and study its parts in detail. The more simple and small the part to be considered, the more clearly will the impression be received, and the more vividly will it be recalled. Reduce the thing to the smallest possible proportions, and then examine each portion, and mastering that, then pass on to the next part, and so on, until you have covered the entire field.
Then, when you have exhausted the object, take a pencil and paper and put down as nearly as possible all the things or details of the object examined. When you have done this, compare the written description with the object itself, and see how many things you have failed to note.
The next day take up the same object, and after re-examining it, write down the details and you will find that you will have stored away a greater number of impressions regarding it, and, moreover, you will have discovered many new details during your second examination. This exercise strengthens the memory as well as the Attention, for the two are closely connected, the memory depending largely upon the clearness and strength of the impressions received, while the impressions depend upon the amount of attention given to the thing observed. Do not tire yourself with this exercise, for a tired Attention is a poor Attention. Better try it by degrees, increasing the task a little each time you try it. Make a game of it if you like, and you will find it quite interesting to notice the steady but gradual improvement.
It will be interesting to practice this in connection with some friend, varying the exercise by both examining the object, and writing down their impressions, separately, and then comparing results. This adds interest to the task, and you will be surprised to see how rapidly both of you increase in your powers of observation, which powers, of course, result from Attention.
Exercise II. This exercise is but a variation of the first one. It consists in entering a room, and taking a hasty glance around, and then walking out, and afterward writing down the number of things that you have observed, with a description of each. You will be surprised to observe how many things you have missed at first sight, and how you will improve in observation by a little practice. This exercise, also, may be improved by the assistance of a friend, as related in our last exercise. It is astonishing how many details one may observe and remember, after a little practice. It is related of Houdin, the French conjurer, that he improved and developed his faculty of Attention and Memory by playing this game with a young relative. They would pass by a shop window, taking a hasty, attentive glance at its contents. Then they would go around the corner and compare notes. At first they could remember only a few prominent articles–that is, their Attention could grasp only a few.
But as they developed by practice, they found that they could observe and remember a vast number of things and objects in the window. And, at last, it is related that Houdin could pass rapidly before any large shop window, bestowing upon it but one hasty glance, and then tell the names of, and closely describe, nearly every object in plain sight in the window. The feat was accomplished by the fact that the cultivated Attention enabled Houdin to fasten upon his mind a vivid mental image of the window and its contents, and then he was able to describe the articles one by one from the picture in his mind.
Houdin taught his son to develop Attention by a simple exercise which may be interesting and of value to you. He would lay down a domino before the boy–a five-four, for example. He would require the boy to tell him the combined number at once, without allowing him to stop to count the spots, one by one. “Nine” the boy would answer after a moment’s hesitation. Then another domino, a three-four, would be added. “That makes sixteen,” cried the boy. Two dominoes at a time was the second day’s task. The next day, three was the standard. The next day, four, and so on, until the boy was able to handle twelve dominoes–that is to say, give instantaneously the total number of spots on twelve dominoes, after a single glance. This was Attention, in earnest, and shows what practice will do to develop a faculty. The result was shown by the wonderful powers of observation, memory and attention, together with instantaneous mental action, that the boy developed. Not only was he able to add dominoes instantaneously, but he had powers of observation, etc., that seemed little short of miraculous. And yet it is related that he had poor attention, and deficient memory to begin with.
If this seems incredible, let us remember how old whist players note and remember every card in the pack, and can tell whether they have been played or not, and all the circumstances attending upon them. The same is true of chess players, who observe every move and can relate the whole game in detail long after it has been played. And remember, also, how one woman may pass another woman on the street, and without seeming to give her more than a careless glance, may be able to relate in detail every feature of the other woman’s apparel, including its color, texture, style of fashioning, probable price of the material, etc., etc. And a mere man would have noticed scarcely anything about it–because he would not have given it any attention. But how soon would that man learn to equal his sister in attention and observation of women’s wearing apparel, if his business success depended upon it, or if his speculative instinct was called into play by a wager with some friend as to who could remember the most about a woman’s clothing, seen in a passing glance? You see it is all a matter of Interest and Attention.
But we forget that the Attention may be developed and cultivated, and we complain that we “cannot remember things,” or that we do not seem to be able to “take notice.” A little practice will do wonders in this direction.
Now, while the above exercises will develop your memory and powers of observation, still that is not the main reason that we have given them to you. We have an ulterior object, that will appear in time. We aim to develop your Will-power, and we know that Attention stands at the gate of Will-power. In order to be able to use your Will, you must be able to focus the Attention forcibly and distinctly. And these childish exercises will help you to develop the mental muscles of the Attention. If you could but realize the childish games the young Yogi students are required to play, in order to develop the mental faculties, you would change your minds about the Yogi Adepts whom you have been thinking about as mere dreamers, far removed from the practical. These men, and their students, are intensely practical. They have gained the mastery of the Mind, and its faculties, and are able to use them as sharp edged tools, while the untrained man finds that he has but a dull, unsharpened blade that will do nothing but hack and hew roughly, instead of being able to produce the finished product.
The Yogi believes in giving the “I” good tools with which to work, and he spends much time in tempering and sharpening these tools. Oh, no, the Yogi are not idle dreamers. Their grasp of “practical things” would surprise many a practical, matter-of-fact Western business man, if he could but observe it.
And so, we ask you to practice “observing things.” The two exercises we have given are but indications of the general line. We could give you thousands, but you can prepare them yourselves as well as could we. The little Hindu boy is taught Attention by being asked to note and remember the number, color, character and other details of a number of colored stones, jewelry, etc., shown for an instant in an open palm, the hand being closed the moment after. He is taught to note and describe passing travelers, and their equipages–houses he sees on his journeys–and thousands of other everyday objects. The results are almost marvelous. In this way he is prepared as a chela or student, and he brings to his guru or teacher a brain well developed–a mind thoroughly trained to obey the Will of the “I”–and with faculties quickened to perceive instantly that which others would fail to see in a fortnight. It is true that he does not turn these faculties to “business” or other so-called “practical” pursuits, but prefers to devote them to abstract studies and pursuits outside of that which the Western man considers to be the end and aim of life. But remember that the two civilizations are quite different–following different ideals–having different economic conditions–living in different worlds, as it were. But that is all a matter of taste and ideals–the faculty for the “practical life” of the West is possessed by the chela, if he saw fit to use it. But all Hindu youths are not chelas, remember–nor are all Western youths “captains of industry,” or Edisons.
I am using my Attention to develop my mental faculties, so as to give the “I” a perfect instrument with which to work. The mind is My instrument and I am bringing it to a state of capacity for perfect work.
MANTRAM (OR AFFIRMATION).
There is but One Life–One Life Underlying. This Life is manifesting through ME, and through every other shape, form, and thing. I am resting on the bosom of the Great Ocean of Life, and it is supporting me, and will carry me safely, though the waves rise and fall–though the storms rage and the tempests roar. I am safe on the Ocean of Life, and rejoice as I feel the sway of its motion. Nothing can harm me–though changes may come and go, I am Safe. I am One with the All Life, and its Power, Knowledge, and Peace are behind, underneath, and within Me. O! One Life! express Thyself through me–carry me now on the crest of the wave, now deep down in the trough of the ocean–supported always by Thee–all is good to me, as I feel Thy life moving in and through me. I am Alive, through thy life, and I open myself to thy full manifestation and inflow.