Dr Mark Vernon's talk, A Revolution in Attention

  • Dr Mark Vernon's talk, A Revolution in Attention

    Posted by Mary Attwood on October 7, 2022 at 3:05 pm

    Dr Mark Vernon will be here in this discussion forum for anybody who attended his talk last night and would like to continue the discussion or ask Mark questions.

    Mark’s talk:

    A Revolution in Attention: perceptual awakening in the work of Iain McGilchrist

    The work of the psychiatrist and philosopher, Iain McGilchrist, draws on broadly two types of perception. Both required for a right relation with the fullest of the world, which is so often lacking in our times. So what might that wider perception of reality reveal? How might it change experience and stir spiritual awareness? In this talk, Mark Vernon will bring such possibilities into dialogue with insights from some of the great wisdom traditions. Drawing liberally on Iain’s work, he will consider the role of limits as pivots to knowing more, the sense of relatedness and intuiting the whole, and the centrality of letting go to the awareness of eternity.

    If you missed Mark’s talk you can find it under Lectures in the Library tab but here is a link for ease. https://members.channelmcgilchrist.com/1844813-2/

    Clea De Vries replied 4 months, 3 weeks ago 8 Members · 12 Replies
  • 12 Replies
  • Joseph Woodhouse

    October 15, 2022 at 7:05 pm

    I found Dr. Vernon’s talk to be an illuminating synthesis of key insights into what we are calling, “attentional freedom”. Thank you for the revelations of Blake’s and Dante’s contributions. I loved the images that were shown during the talk.

    To cut right to what I see as the essential thrust of Dr. McGilchrist’s gift of wisdom to our planet in this time of ultimate crisis and I believe that Dr. Vernon is amplifying this wisdom, I pose this question: How do we free attention from its imprisonment in the left hemispheric mode of inhabiting the world when most of our efforts to do so, only make the walls of the prison more secure? I offer the following Sufi tale as a potent tool in this Great Work. I am interested in connecting to anyone who has escaped the prison… even if it was just a glimpse.

    The Indian Bird

    A merchant kept a bird in a cage. He was going to India, the land from which the bird came, and asked it whether he could bring anything back for it. The bird asked for its freedom, but was refused. So he asked the merchant to visit a jungle in India and announce his captivity to the free birds who were there.

    The merchant did so, and no sooner had he spoken when a wild bird, just like his own, fell senseless out of a tree on to the ground.

    The merchant thought that this must be a relative of his own bird, and felt sad that he should have caused this death.

    When he got home, the bird asked him whether he had brought good new from India.

    ‘No,’ said the merchant, ‘I fear that my news is bad. One of your relations collapsed and fell at my feet when I mentioned your captivity.’

    As soon as these words were spoken the merchant’s bird collapsed and fell to the bottom of the cage.

    ‘The news of his kinsman’s death has killed him, too,’ thought the merchant. Sorrowfully he picked up the bird and put it on the window-sill. At once the bird revived and flew to a near-by tree.

    ‘Now you know’, the bird said, ‘that what you thought was disaster was in fact good news for me. And how the message, the suggestion of how to behave in order to free myself, was transmitted to me through you, my captor.’ And he flew away, free at last.

    • Mark Delepine

      October 16, 2022 at 12:50 am

      Good question: “How do we free attention from its imprisonment in the left hemispheric mode of inhabiting the world when most of our efforts to do so, only make the walls of the prison more secure?How do we free attention from its imprisonment in the left hemispheric mode of inhabiting the world when most of our efforts to do so, only make the walls of the prison more secure?”

      This gets at why I think we have to question the desire to seek a path that will enable us to access and exploit the presented world directly for reasons conceived from within our predominantly left brain focused perspective. Acquiring more personal power and control in the hopes that will lead to wisdom puts the cart in front of the horse.

      • Don Salmon

        October 16, 2022 at 5:11 pm

        Hey Mark: Have you explored any meditative or contemplative practices?

        It seems to me there are just about endless types of practices which address all the issues that Iain brings up (and address many he doesn’t bring up).

        I’d love to see more discussion on this site about practices that can radically shift/transform attention:

        recognizing stillness, spaciousness, silence underlying our mind’s constant chatter.

        practices that directly enter into the “heart” – loving kindness, gratitude, etc

        practices of Presence, which seems to me to go beyond LH/RH, though perhaps when we live with the RH as “Master” we have more access to Present

        present moment practices, which seem to me to shift from LH to RH dominances

        shifting from the “Story” of the LH to sensory awareness, particularly sounds, which I find the single most rapid and easiest way to shift from LH to RH dominance.

        • Mark Delepine

          October 20, 2022 at 1:24 am

          I have always engaged in contemplative activities but have never engaged in any instruction or organized group practices. I’ve always walked in nature. I still do but now I also have been making a garden for the last thirty years. I used to draw and but now I mostly take some photos from my walks and garden. I’ve never pursued any of it with any result in mind but rather just to provide an opportunity to notice what arises when I leave room for something that doesn’t reflect one of my own conscious intentions.

          PS: Now I’ve turned alerts on for this thread too. Thanks for the reminder earlier.

    • Samuel Ford

      October 16, 2022 at 1:39 am

      Haha very good, I’ll try that trick if I get locked up!

    • Nic Hartshorne

      October 18, 2022 at 6:51 pm

      A really interesting talk. I’m a Psychotherapist, just about to embark on a Professional Doctorate, which has been influenced by Ianis work.

      • Don Salmon

        October 18, 2022 at 6:59 pm

        Well, as someone who finished the doctorate in psychology around 1999, my deepest sympathies.

        I remember around some time in the 2nd year, a group of 8 of us were sitting around and we all had the same feeling: “Doesn’t it feel like we’ve spent our entire LIVES in this program!!”

        So since I graduated, I’m often in touch with people about to do or in the midst of the doctorate and I always like to say, “Hey, really, there IS life after the doctorate.”

        Your term “professional doctorate” doesn’t sound like you’re from the US – British?

        And good luck. It’s a lot of work but well worth it. TIP! Many people go for the doctorate primarily to be therapists. If you can learn to enjoy evaluations, it pays VERY well – and I would urge you, even if you’re a little computer phobic, to get very very comfortable with online evaluations. I’m quite certain that neuropsychological testing, with precise measurements of galvanic skin response, brain waves, and many cognitive functions, is going to be the wave of the future. If you learn this stuff your job will never be outdated and you can earn enough to work just a few days a week if you live relatively simply.

  • Don Salmon

    October 15, 2022 at 7:06 pm

    It’s interesting. The kinds of attention associated with the right and left hemisphere are “functions” of a greater awareness (what once upon a time was referred to as “Spirit” with a capital S.

    If Mark stops by, I would be fascinated to hear how he relates the process or function of attention to that greater, boundless, luminous, vast, all encompassing, all permeating and all transcending Spirit (or Awareness, or Consciousness or Sat-Chit-Ananda, or whatever words you wish:>))

    • Mary Attwood

      October 19, 2022 at 4:11 pm

      Here is a message from Mark Vernon that he asked me to post here in the discussion forum:

      Thanks very much for the thoughts and comments. At heart, I think that attentional freedom, or moving from left to right types of perception, might be summarised as a process of receptive opening. So any moment or experience or practice that presents such a possibility, without trying to possess or fully understand, is valuable. Included in that are moments of breakdown or ordeal, too, which might with time become known as undergoings of transformation.

      For myself, I’ve pursued a mixture of practices, including my own psychotherapy, which was much to do with my own suffering and resistances, as well as meditative and yoga practices, and increasingly at the moment, practices of devotion – Bhakti yoga, in Indian traditions, or worship, in Christian/Sufi. I’m finding freeing lighting candles, bowing before images, singing, talking about loving the texts or figures in Christianity and elsewhere – not fully understanding why, but letting the devotion do its expressive and liberative work. Studying figures like Dante and Blake are guides in this, deeping my sense of devotional possibilities: they help me see how sadness, suffering, even raging, as well as longing, delight and communion are part of the letting go to let loose and let in the more.

      I sense it’s important to pursue what feels genuinely at the edge of opening – that sweet spot of yearning, risk and love – which might vary substantially from person to person, and also across time for any one individual. We might need to practice and stick at something, so as to settle any knack required (like learning to use the breath as a support in meditation) and exploring the riches, which take time coming because they only come as we change and are able to receive them. But we also need to feel free too, so any practice or religious activity keeps its essential quality of vitality (which can be a subtle matter to discern because all the spiritual adepts tell us that dryness can be part of the process).


      • Clea De Vries

        October 20, 2022 at 3:22 am

        I’d like to offer something to Mark, and I can’t work out how to post this as a separate comment. I’d love his response, however, even if not, I’d appreciate it if this could be forwarded to him. I understand this is a bit lengthy and I do not wish to waste his time.

        I have been experimenting with techniques to gain access to soul memory and eternity. They are based on what I think I know about right and left brain (which admittedly isn’t much). However, my methods have brought me into surprisingly deep and direct contact with beings I now consider to be “soul family” and my own place in eternity. So, I’d like to share how I did this and a comment about how my emerging understanding of eternal systems is changing how I think about absolutely everything.

        How I got there began with an idea. If the right hemisphere is our interface with eternity, then to work meaningfully with its experiences, we’d need to be willing to meet it on its own terms. In other words, we’d need to accept that our encounters with eternity are likely to be impressionistic, associative, emotional, sensorily rich, and personal. They may feel very vivid and real and still be metaphorical, imaginative, and dream-like. They may not initially make much sense, especially if they involve recollections of lifetimes in places other than 3D Earth. They might also be very difficult to express in words.

        My method began with open-focus meditation (a simple one, just resting my awareness in my inner 3D sensory landscape). On a hunch, I added bilateral stimulation (hand tapping, as used in EMDR) to my process. (It seemed to help.) From there I started feeling my way into some key questions about myself (e.g., my earliest impressions of myself, what I had brought with me into this lifetime, my “soul purpose”, etc.).

        I was very careful about how I opened myself to the spiritual realm. I was clear on my intention to communicate only with beings whose expression is undistorted love. Each time, I started with something I knew well (such as an early experience of love) then felt my way into the positive associations. Gradually (over the course of a few months) I became aware of the presence of beings around me. I sensed them first as loving energies, each known to me very personally and each quite unique. My ability to sense their thoughts came in more slowly. I had to recognise that we were sharing at the place where thought is formed. And yet once I realised this, I quickly learned to distinguish their thoughts from my own.

        What feels like soul memory has also started emerging, but it is not a coherent narrative. It is more of a diffuse sense of knowing about my relationships with these beings, their personalities, impressions about our home, our shared history, the system I come from… It all feels so familiar to me, and yet, my ability to comprehend it and work with it meaningfully is frustratingly limited. My current theory is that there are two factors at play. Firstly, my own soul development (we can only comprehend eternity at our own level). Secondly, the brain and systems of human thought that are specific to this incarnation (e.g., science, philosophy, religion, mathematics).

        It would be logical to assume that we process our spiritual experiences the same way as any other lived experience. That is, our right brain “beholds” them (the experiential encounter) and our left brain turns them into a workable narrative.

        This brings me to a remark on Dante and Blake. I’m not a scholar, but I’m wondering if understanding the work of such visionaries might be usefully informed by the idea that they were operating within the same limitations of brain and culture. That is, they had direct encounters with eternity and highly advanced beings, but they could only interpret these with systems of thought available to them at the time.

        You made a short youtube video in which you summarised ten key insights from Dante. What stood out to me was that they were so similar to insights I have reached myself after glimpsing eternity. I interpreted my own experiences differently. Mine are more informed by science and science fiction – we are not alone in this physical universe, which is far more richly dimensioned than we realise or are currently able to perceive. Ultimately though, we don’t come to the truth by becoming attached to a particular paradigm or an addiction to empirical data. My opinion is that facts should be in service to truth and not be mistaken for it. Truth is found in themes, resonances, and insights, and tested by its capacity to trigger deep and lasting personal transformation. Working from this perspective would also seem to offer a useful way of gathering and working meaningfully with subjective material (e.g., themes vs facts).

        I believe we are sitting at a very important juncture in human history. Understanding the right hemisphere and how it handles information could be where science finally meets spirituality. Then perhaps we can also start thinking intelligently about eternal systems, such as how souls navigate countless lifetimes and epic stories, and how this changes the meaning of absolutely everything – from our interpersonal relationships to different “types” of soul groups (e.g., animals and plants) to philosophical problems that have plagued humans throughout history (such as the meaning of “evil” and what we do with it).

        These are just ideas, but my personal
        experiences have been so vivid and as real as anything I have experienced
        during this Earth lifetime that I felt I had to share. I’d love your thoughts
        on this, Mark. I hope it made some kind of sense.

        • Mark Vernon

          October 23, 2022 at 6:53 pm

          Clea, Thanks very much for sharing what you describe, which reminds me of a number of things.

          One is how we learnt to work with the countertransference in psychotherapy, which is the feelings that you get from being with someone, and how to differentiate them from feelings arising from within your own psyche. Also, how to work openly with them, which is to say not treating them literally but as indicators of possible next steps that need testing as much as following. I remember when Iain’s “Master and his Emissary” book came out and how warmly it was received amongst psychotherapists because his explanation resonated so well with their practice.

          Second is that I increasingly think worldview matters immensely when interpreting these type of experiences/encounters. Worldviews can close possibilities down, of course, as is the case with scientific materialism (for all its benefits, too). But they can be held more lightly as a kind of map, or set of maps, that are not regarded as absolute but can suggest how to respond. Your example of discerning the presence of love might be an example of that in practice: with the conviction that love is basic, following lines of love makes sense. I also wonder if you know the discernment practice of the Ignatian spiritual exercises, between what’s called consolation, meaning soul-expanding and so eternal or divine, and desolation, meaning soul-diminishing and so not eternal or divine. The habit of testing any perception, experience or feeling, almost moment by moment, can be very helpful.

          Third, I think that both Dante and Blake teach learning to follow what, at first, seem subtle, almost ignorable, lights – seen with the mind’s eye. These at first faint lights, that are also somehow compelling, become brighter as we orientate our lives more around them. Another way of putting that is the left-style attention learning to give way to right-style reception.

          I hope some of that makes sense with what seems to be a tremendous path that you are on.

          • Clea De Vries

            October 27, 2022 at 12:45 am

            Thank you so much for your response, Mark. You have such a beautiful writing style.

            What I am taking from this conversation is the importance of learning to tune into our subtle awareness and how this should inform everything we do. In counselling, it elevates psychotherapy from techne to healing encounter. In everyday life, people who once seemed problematic, small-minded, and adversarial suddenly look more like bright souls on a long journey. Even the substance of physical reality seems brighter and more alive. But no amount of reading and thinking about this idea creates the experience of it. One has to be willing to spend hours sitting with the maddeningly elusive until finally, those “subtle, almost ignorable, lights” (love the way you phrased that) start to expand. Then we discover the lights are not subtle at all. They never were. It was only a matter of where we were placing our attention.

            I’m not familiar with Ignatian spiritual philosophy but I will definitely explore this further, thank you.

            A final comment. I love the way you are working with Christianity. I had to walk away from the religion myself, not least because I could not accept the idea of eternal damnation, which equates to permanent removal of choice and any option to grow and change. I also struggled with the crucifixion and the idea of a god who requires repentance and obedience rather than self-determined growth based on reflection. My personal feeling is that all souls eventually reach point of realisation that any behaviour not driven by love inevitably leads to extinction. This is more or less what you have lifted from Dante (if I understand you correctly). However, we cannot hope to grasp this idea without some understanding of the sheer enormity of eternity and how souls grow and develop in such an arena. I also liked a suggestion you offered in one of your videos on Dante about the meaning of the crucifixion, which seemed to be that it may not have been strictly “necessary”, but rather a dramatic way for God to get our attention.

            It has been wonderful
            connecting with you. I will keep following your work. Thank you.