The Importance of Deliberate Attention

Reflections on Chapter 15 of the Tao Te Ching

The true masters of ancient times cultivated the art of the
deep understanding of the subtle essence –
So deep as to be unrecognizable.
We can only describe their demeanor.

Deliberate, as if crossing a frozen stream in winter.
Alert, as if faced on all sides by enemies.
Dignified, as if an honored guest in someone’s home.
Dissolving, as ice when melted.
Solid and simple, as an uncarved block of wood.
Open, like a valley.
Obscured, like a muddy pool where you cannot see the bottom.

Who has enough stillness to let muddy water settle?
Who is able to stay at rest while generating the movement of everyday life?

On this path of Tao, one avoids the fullness of things in order to be truly empty.
Therefore, one is able to continually be refreshed.

cc image by fox_kiyo on Flickr

cc image by fox_kiyo on Flickr

At times in my life, I have practiced Tai Chi and also yoga. With both of these arts, the thing that most amazed me was learning body consciousness. I can remember when I first learned it. I remember somebody asking me to be aware of my body. I was in my mid-20’s. It just had never occurred to me to pay attention to myself like that. I remember it because it was just such an AHA moment. It really changed my life.

This chapter is talking about that type of awareness. Lao Tzu talks about how the master has very deliberate action and is really able to live in the world and cultivate that stillness in their every day activity.

Judith Froemming, a friend of mine, does some wonderful work on consciousness. She’s working with me on developing consciousness. Judith talks about levels of time between being conscious. At the beginning, it might be three years between moments of awareness. Then, as you practice a bit more it might be three months before you realize you have been checked out. Develop more and you might realize it every three weeks, then three days, three hours, three minutes and maybe even three seconds. At some point, you may find that you are just in a constant state of awareness all the time.

How can I pull myself back from being in this whirlwind, getting caught up in the idea that this is my reality? It is in the space between thoughts that I can choose what is real and it doesn’t have to be the way that I am caught up in. The ancient masters knew this. They knew this and they developed it.

I am currently reading a book called Scholar Warrior by Deng Ming-Dao. It is about being a warrior for your own personal development. In the ancient times, they trained so carefully. It took extreme discipline and consciousness. The discipline was about having that consciousness in your everyday life. They took that concept to the nth degree. It’s incredible. They knew they needed to be very deliberate in their actions. In every moment we have choice, but only if we are conscious of it. If we are not conscious, we are mandated by our unconscious patterns.

So developing your consciousness is probably
the most important thing you could be working on.

I think it is the most important thing I am working on and probably the most important thing I’ve ever worked on. Your work with God. In some ways your work with Tao is your work with consciousness is your work with God. It’s your work with who you are and what you bring to the table. It sounds like two different things, but I don’t believe that it is.

In my conversation on water in Chapter 8, we talked about how water flows and it is so much about not having the resistance to what is. In order to get past your own road blocks, you need to be like water, flowing into what you are meant to be in every moment. You need to see what your body is teaching you about that thing you are doing. We have the ability to do this, but it just needs some development. Your body always knows what is right. It is your tuning fork for existence.

When you are deliberate, you are very conscious of what is happening around you. There is an awareness of the space around you. My Tai Chi teacher would always tell us to “look softly”, with unfocused eyes, and just let things come in. I think that focus is important, I think it helps us a lot, but what we miss out on when we are highly focused is that we tune out the rest of everything. Sometimes it helps to just have a very soft focus and allow the energy of the space to speak to you. When we get focused on one thing, we are no longer receptive. Being focused can be like talking instead of listening, in some ways.

Receptive, listening moments are really important.

If you meditate regularly, for example, when it comes time for you to focus on something you have a really sharp focus. Your energy for intense focus is limited, so if you rest it and have softer focus – it preserves your energy for intense focus in those moments when you need it. Our brains will shut down naturally to preserve energy, but that is not exactly what I am talking about here. There is a difference between daydreaming and soft focus. Soft focus holds the awareness of the space around you, but you are open and receptive to everything. It is a very good place to be. The sages spent a lot of time there.

So what do you think of all of this? Have you ever had moments when you were more conscious of the space around you? Do you notice your body talking to you sometimes? Please share your comments in the space below!


This post is part of my contribution to the Ultimate Blog Challenge. If you are part of that challenge, please say hello and I will check out your blog as well! If you are a blogger and are not a part of the challenge, it is worth a look! It’s a great opportunity to share and be shared.

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  1. As I read, there were times when I said, aha, so that is what is happening. There are definitely times when my body speaks to me. We are too rushed in today’s world and definitely need to learn to slow down – to as you say, become deliberate…

  2. Hi Jessica,

    Yes, our bodies are the one thing that is with us from the moment we are conceived til the moment we die. There is so much to learn!

  3. There is so much here that I was reading and feeling at the same time. I have been in a space where I felt like I was in a soft focus and the energy flow around me was all in sync and everything was just coming together like it all should. This is a great post, full of information I have never considered, but yet some of which I have always known. Thanks for sharing. Visiting from the UBC
    Elizabeth Towns recently posted…Don’t fall for old tricks – you should have a few of your own! UBC #5My Profile

    • That is cool, Elizabeth! That is great that you have been using soft focus. A lot of this information has been around for thousands of years so, in a way, we all know it! Thanks for stopping by!

  4. Thanks for the inspirational article. Your mention of the ‘soft focus’ articulated a practice I’ve employed for a good while, but I had never really put a label on it. I’ve also learned to listen to my body and its reaction to my thoughts, it didn’t take me long to realize that thoughts affect one’s mood greatly, and the body responds to the moods and emotions you experience. As such, I have learned to keep nice thoughts, as a rule. I actually regard my mind as ‘my house’ (although it is not ‘me’, or the ‘self’) and the thoughts that I allow in, I consider to be guests. So, no self deprecation or flagellation. Another game I like to play with the mind is to pretend that everybody ELSE can hear my thoughts, and to keep only thoughts that that lack of privacy would incur. That’s a fun game, keeps the mind clear of opinions and other mind-weights. Allows for a genuine moment of giving when I am serving people at work, for instance. I am sure it goes without saying, those whom are thought obsessed need to learn to ‘enter their body’, or ‘the space beyond form’ or any other technique (following the breath, listening to serene music, jazzercizing) to go beyond thought, into being, where ‘consciousness’ stands fully revealed.
    James Theobald recently posted…coffee is good for youMy Profile

    • Wow, James! I love that idea of the “public thoughts”. Perhaps soon we will have developed that ability. I happen to think that we do have that ability, but it is in our bodies. We can “feel” when something is not right or when someone is not liking us… that sort of thing. You are very wise, my friend. I look forward to checking out your blog!

      (Oh, and yes.. I love my coffee! 🙂 )

  5. where do you take inspiration to write so good articles? congratulations.

  6. Pingback: 15 – The True Masters

  7. Pingback: Tao Tuesdays: Chapter 15

  8. Hello Amy,

    I have been busy with this and that but I want to let you know to let your kind comment on Louis’ blog was much appreciated. It is an honor to know you as well. Your notice of our “strange mix” of supremely quiet and still, and cricket, and night noise was, I thought, exquisite.

    You said, “This project that I started on a whim to inspire others to go through the Tao Te Ching and find their own meanings has been such a treat for me…” It has been a treat for me as well. And isn’t it great that the “whims” of spirit have such full and ongoing rewards?

    Sounds like you are into a season of writing. It’s a good time of year to do that, I always found that September and October seem to have a quality of air and light that lends itself to the writing process. Have fun!

    Love to all,


    • Hi Bob,

      Yes, a season of writing indeed! It has pulled me away from my blog which is challenging. I am missing my blog and thinking that I need a little balance – even if it means that the stuff I am writing off-site takes a wee bit longer.

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