The core tenet for being mentally fit is maintaining our attention in the moment, focused on the current task.
The Warrior’s Way uses many tools for achieving this tenet, one of which is the eyes. Where we look with our eyes helps determine where our attention is focused.
Perhaps we’ve all experienced a piercing stare from a stranger. His stare is piercing because of its intensity. Whatever the circumstances, his stare directs his attention more intently toward us and we feel it.
In The Power of Silence, Carlos asks don Juan “to clarify the idea of intending with the eyes.”
Don Juan seems vague in explaining this. He says that,
“the only way of talking about it is to say that intent is intended with the eyes. I know that it is so. Yet, just like you, I can’t pinpoint what it is I know. Sorcerers resolve this particular difficulty by accepting something extremely obvious: human beings are infinitely more complex and mysterious than our wildest fantasies.”
Don Juan emphasizes that accepting mystery, in how we understand life, is important. Yet, Carlos is still confused, saying, “I insisted that he had not shed any light on the matter.”
Stated don Juan,
“All I can say is that the eyes do it, I don’t know how, but they do it. They summon intent with something indefinable that they have, something in their shine. Sorcerers say that intent is experienced with the eyes, not with the reason. I’ve told you over and over that being too rational is a handicap. Human beings have a very deep sense of magic. We are part of the mysterious. Rationality is only a veneer with us. If we scratch that surface, we find a sorcerer underneath.”
Our intellectual reasoning ability is an important part of understanding the meaning of the world surrounding us. Yet, it has many limitations because, as don Juan stated, it’s a veneer laid over the mystery. If we can find a way to scratch that surface, to pierce it, then we’ll experience the mystery more directly.
We look without thinking to pierce the veneer. Thinking is the mind’s reasoning capacity. There’s value in moving beyond the veneer of reason and observing the mystery directly. We can use the eyes to do this, to direct our attention out of the thinking mind and into the mystery surrounding us.
Use Your Eyes to See the Color of Your Shoes as You Fall
To do this requires awareness of what the task is and whether or not our attention is focused on it. For example, we teach students to look down into the fall zone when they do falling practice. We’re using the eyes to direct their attention to the task. In the beginning, they look down, but they don’t see anything.
Because their attention is in the mind, thinking about the whole process. It’s difficult for the mind to release control, to release its hold on thinking to rationalize an action. We help students pierce the surface of the rational veneer by helping them shift their attention.
We give them something specific to look at in the fall zone. We have them see the color of their shoes, or see the belayer, which forces them to project their attention out of the thinking mind and into the fall zone. This shifts their attention from rationalizing to experiencing, and intensifies it.
Don Juan said that intent is summoned by the eyes. “Intention” is attention focused in the direction of a choice. Just like the stranger, we “stare” to direct our attention more intently.
For falling, students “stare” by looking down and projecting their attention into the fall zone.
Doing this “summons” their intent. They fall with intention because they’ve used their eyes to intensify the focus of their attention on the task.
We use our eyes to lead us into the mysterious unknown without the need to rationalize with the thinking mind. Thinking about what we’re doing interferes with paying attention to what’s actually happening.
We’re like the sorcerers because we’re more capable, because our eyes shine with attention, directed intentionally to our chosen task.
Practice Tip: Stare to Project Attention
Thinking is important when preparing for action. But when you commit to action, stop thinking and go in. Shift your attention to the body. Use your eyes to help do this.
Climbing between stopping points: Engage your attention by seeing the shape and orientation of the holds. This is not a time to think, so don’t think about the holds. Rather, “stare” at the holds to make sure your attention isn’t focused on thinking, but rather is engaged in the external situation.
Living between waking up and going to sleep: Engage your attention in the external situation by projecting your attention. Do this by seeing colors, shapes of objects, and the interrelationship of objects.
Don’t think about what you’re seeing. Simply observe. “Stare” at the world around you to make sure your attention isn’t focused on thinking, but rather is engaged in external situations.