By Fran Shaw
Murphy is the acerbic, witty, spiritual seeker and narrator of Fran’s book Lord Have Murphy. His wry commentary reminds us that we don’t need a lot of trappings to get conscious. We just need to marshal our attention!
Navigating a busy New York sidewalk these days requires constant vigilance lest we get trampled by people with heads bowed and eyes on their phones.
It’s hypnotic, this marvelous content-provider in our hands, and some of us can’t help but constantly check it. The phrase “Put Down The Phone” headlines a recent New York Times article announcing a $200 app that allows you to put away your cell and still have peace of mind that you won’t miss anything “important.” But what important things are we missing when we are glued to the phone, to the exclusion of everything else? As my friend Murphy puts it, “Is that the sun blazing gold across the horizon? I hadn’t noticed because my world has shrunk to the size of a kumquat.”
Must we give up our cells to wake up and smell the roses?
Golden opportunity here! Especially when we consider that transformation may not be about giving up anything, but may be about opening to a consciousness that embraces all of it, limited by none of it. Doing so allows us to live in both streams simultaneously-the everyday and the “higher.”
“Can I walk and talk and chew gum at the same time?” (Murphy ponders). That’s the challenge.
To bring higher consciousness to life, Murphy advocates “getting on the bus running,” that is, becoming aware of oneself right in the midst of an activity.
At any moment, there’s a choice to be made between two dispositions of mind:
- passivity and identification (mind busy coming up with answers; attention moving around all on its own, and hooked into whatever attracts it) and
- awareness and presence (mind quiet; attention not moving around, but focused on impressions from the senses now, and joining with the subtle energy animating the body).
When one is “identified,” it’s on automatic-pilot mode: thoughts take over and there is no focusing on presence. The question is: do we have to stop what we’re doing or behave a different way to wake up? As Murphy says, “It’s wonderful to sit still for a moment, relaxed and quiet, so subtler impressions impress. But this is not getting on the bus running. This is getting on the bus as it waits for you at the curb. By the monastery.”
Indeed to “get on the bus running, nothing about me needs to change except where the attention is.” In theory at least, we should be able to be on the phone-totally enjoying it-and be present at the same time. We just need some practice in “multidimensional living”-and something to remind us that we can “vibrate higher.”
Our cellphones…vibrate! And make various sounds at random moments. We can even download our spiritual ringtone of choice. What great reminders to mobilize attention! It’s like that fictional gadget in René Daumal’s 1952 masterpiece Mount Analogue: the portable phonograph that is rigged to wake you up by crying out at the most unexpected moments, “Who do you think you are?” It’s the temple bell that rings on the hour to rouse one from automatism to restore awareness.
We can connect what we do with what we really are beyond form. All that ringing, pinging, and vibrating can be used as a call to become present. And the first step, when one is called, is simply to witness. Wordless, neutral, me, now. Murphy calls it Observing Mode: “It’s all about streaming live video of yourself. It’s reality-show you! Try it. Camera on. Click. Feel that camera on you? Your body being seen-posture, facial expression-as you read these words? That’s live video while it’s happening. I’m actually streaming right now.”
Here are three things we’ve been trying in this mode, just for half an hour each day, after becoming collected and saying out loud our intention:
Cellphone ringing? Observe my body now. As if something sees me here-face, jaw, shoulders, and the arm reaching for the phone.
Cellphone pinging? See myself here. The ping says, “Attention! Look now” as the head lowers to reads the words.
Cellphone vibrating? Sense my body. Because it’s vibrating too, with subtle life energy, through the whole of it, from the top of my head, to my seat on the chair, to the soles of my feet. My hand, filled with attention, is taking hold of the phone.
Our mindfulness practices—observing the body just as it is, listening with both ears, sensing the body—all need reminding factors so that many times during the day our field of awareness goes wide again. A Selfphone can help when we intentionally connect it with waking up. As with yoga, this “union” takes repetition and patience. But what a gift-that first time the phone “pings” and we immediately become present. What opens for us is the unlimited dimension of attention.
And no judgment allowed.
Say I forget for most of the appointed half hour. No worries! As Murphy puts it, “No need to call it Incapacity. That’s a city for whiners.” The attention, when passive, simply gets occupied elsewhere; it happens; so whatever reminds us to activate attention and come home is awesome. Whenever we remember, by means of whatever thought, let it be a neutral bell simply calling us to become aware now.
Going away and coming back. Both part of the same process of waking up. What is the important thing being missed when we’re lost in the phone? Presence. Self with a capital S. Real I. By infusing usual habits with conscious attention, we enliven everyday life. We put the I in iPhone.
We live in a new way.
Fran Shaw, Ph.D., a longtime practitioner in a spiritual discipline, works with writing as a vibrational practice serving higher energies. She is a university professor teaching writing and the award-winning author of several books including Notes on The Next Attention, 50 Ways to Help You Write, and Writing My Yoga. Her latest book Lord Have Murphy: Waking Up in the Spiritual Marketplace is a work on attention in the form of an illustrated book featuring drawings by Bruce M. Sherman and Murphy’s unrelenting humor. Excerpts and information are online at amazon.com or franshawbooks.com.
Editor: Dana Gornall