On Attention

Enzo Bianchi writes:

Attention is a lucid ‘presence to oneself’ that becomes discernment of the presence of God in the human person.

Basil, commenting on the Bible verse ‘Be careful’ (Deuteronomy 15.9), writes, ‘Pay attention to yourself if you want to pay attention to God.’ This attention to ourselves means resisting the thoughts that distract us by drawing us away from our centre, and it becomes a way of guarding the heart: ‘Attention is the silence of the heart uninterrupted by thoughts’ (Hesychius of Batos).

There is an aspect of struggle inherent in attention that involves keeping watch over the thoughts that appear in the heart, recognizing their nature and origin, destroying those that are harmful, and resisting the suggestion of a harmful thought before it becomes dialogue (inner conversation with the thought) and results in action, or consumption of sin. Through this process, attention purifies the heart and becomes prayer.

The Greek fathers took advantage of the similarity between the words prosoche (attention) and proseuche (prayer) to demonstrate how closely the two realities are related to each other. ‘Attention that seeks prayer will find it, because prayer follows attention, and it is to the latter that we should apply ourselves’ (Evagrius Ponticus); ‘Total attention is an aspect of continuous prayer’ (Hesychius of Batos).

From Words of Spirituality: Towards a lexicon of the inner life