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“Absolutely unmixed attention is prayer.”

~ Simone Weil

I picked up this quotation from David Kanigan’s blog, and have been mulling it over ever since.

Rubenfeld Synergy Method’s official, trademarked tagline is, “A dynamic system for the integration of body, mind, emotions and spirit.” Our teachers told us, however, that until our particular training, the “spirit” part of the equation was mostly implied, not directly addressed. Spirit is a difficult thing to talk about these days, especially in the context of healing: most of the context for the word’s use is either overtly Christian faith-healing kind of stuff, or New-Agey, unscientific crystal-waving. For many good reasons, the word “spirit” has come under suspicion by critically-thinking people, and in a field that is largely unknown to many as mine is, it’s a word I use carefully.

In our training, we had a “spirit night” every Friday during the week-long trainings. (This had nothing to do with a pep rally, though I realize that’s how it sounds.) These were always intense, often very moving, and always addressed a part of ourselves that is hard to define: the bit that is transcendent, that considers questions of mortality, that taps our inner strength and our inner voices. We walked a labyrinth one night, that the faculty had built inside a hotel ballroom. We listened to the messages of our hearts and our geniuses. We created collages, poems, and other tokens that we could take to remind us of the deep work we’d done. No “God” or “gods” were ever mentioned, no religion invoked, nor were we even asked explicitly to believe in any kind of soul. But we were doing the intangible work of spirit, and making it as tangible as possible. We were engaging deeply with that part of us that decides, every day, to go on living, and that helps us do it in the best way we possibly can. In an intensive training that focused greatly on the body and its interplay with the mind, those evenings of spirit are some of my fondest and strongest memories.

The word “prayer,” though, is even more loaded than the word “spirit.” Which is possibly why I liked this quotation so much: it bespeaks what I know about Rubenfeld as a practice involving deep and focused attention – “unmixed” attention, even. And this attention, this deep listening, is what I mean when I talk about the sacredness of this work.

Whatever it is that is happening to the client, there is a thing that happens to me, the practitioner, when I am in right spiritual relationship to the client. It is something that I cannot achieve in every moment of this practice, but it’s something I strive to cultivate so that it is there more and more often. The fact that it is difficult to name this quality is what lets me know that I’m dealing in the realm of spirit: it is a skill that can be practiced, yes, but it is difficult to say what part of my mind or body I use to do it. It’s something that, when it’s in place, I am doing with my entire being. Rubenfeld Synergists tend to call it listening; others might call it empathy, or emotional intelligence, or communion.

I don’t yet know what I call it. I just know that when I’m in that state, the client is the most interesting person I have ever met. Their troubles move me utterly; their lives are fascinating; I find them, for lack of a better word, extremely beautiful. I feel that I am completely with them, and that I will know what to say, how to move, where to touch next, without thinking about it. It is a state of complete presence.

I have experienced this at other times: during certain kinds of rituals, at moments of extreme joy or pain, while drumming or singing with a group, while making love. All of these are kinds of prayer, whether they are addressing any transcendent being or not. Prayer, as Abraham Heschel said, is not as much about petitioning for things as it is about singing, about opening our hearts to greater experience.

Absolutely unmixed attention. In today’s society, it’s hard to come by. But worth striving for. And quite possibly, what the idea of spirit comes down to: that place of mystery where all of our parts coalesce to a single point.

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