Archive | March 2014

Relational perception, mindfulness, kavannah, Levinas and relational ethics


One of the most important insights of mindfulness is that we have relational perception. Daniel Siegel, an interpersonal neurobiologist, is an important theorist in this area. He talks about us having an eighth sense where we can tune in to what other people are thinking and feeling.

 Others are also working with this area. Person-centred therapy is working with relationship and its perception in very interesting ways. One of the influences on recent developments in person-centred therapy has been the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas (1906-1995), and especially his theory of relational ethics.

 A central aspect of awareness and attention is when it has a relational and ethical scaffolding. An influential development of this was by Levinas.

 Roger Simon explains that one of the ways Levinas emphasized being attentive was through the Jewish concept of kavannah, ‘the attentiveness, attunement and intentionality with which one is able to engage in prayer.’[1] This is sometimes called Jewish mindfulness

 Simon goes on to talk about two forms of this attentiveness within Levinas’ thought, ‘the spectatorial and the summoned.’[2] These are specifically defined.

 A spectatorial kavannah leaves ‘ourselves intact, at a distance, protected from being called into question and altered through our engagement with the stories of others.’[3]

 The summoned kavannah ‘establishes proximity, not as a state, a repose, but a restlessless, a movement towards the other in which one paradoxically draws closer when vigilant of one’s infinite distance from the other.’[4] This summoned kavannah involves a different level of responsibility, a vulnerability, towards the other.[5]

These forms of attentiveness can be used in any setting, not just in prayer.  In our culture it is a spectatorial attentiveness that dominates.   

Jesus also gives attention and awareness central place in a relationally ethical scaffolding. I am grateful to Stephen E. Fowl in his commentary on Philippians for pointing this out.

 In Philippians 2: 4 Paul says ‘Do not attend to your own interests but rather to the interests of others.’ (Fowl’s translation)

This is in direct imitation of Christ’s attitude and focus of attention (Philippians 2:5-11). The Greek word here for attend is σκοποῦντες, which means regard attentively, colloquially ‘fix one’s mind’s eye’ on something. Focusing our attention on others in this way helps to form a consistent pattern of helping others in us.[6]

 So how we use our eighth relational sense is very significant, as is how we focus our attention and awareness. Within secular mindfulness for health you are encouraged to develop compassion, for yourself and for others and to be non-judgemental.

 One can also ask, how else can one relate to one’s own self as well as to others through how we focus our attention and awareness?   


[1] Roger I. Simon. ‘Innocence Without Naivete, Uprightness Without Stupidity: The Pedagogical Kavvanah of Emmanuel Levinas.’ Studies in Philosophy and Education 22 (2003), 50.

[2] Simon, 51.

[3] Simon, 52.

[4] Simon, 53.

[5] Simon, 52.

[6] Stephen E. Fowl, Philippians (The Two Horizons NT Commentary), Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans (2005), 85.

You do not need to take a hammer to clay- #mindful non-judgemental compassionate attention

You do not need to take a hammer to clay- #mindful non-judgemental compassionate attention

As I look at the mountain and draw it meditatively, as a mindful awareness practice I can find a creative space. In that space little creative seeds emerge.

I saw the stone hammers of time had shaped archetypal triangles and squares that made a larger whole, as one might hammer a hang drum into musical shapes. The colours that emerged were not there visibly, but invisibly, the colour of feelings.

Take 15 minutes out of clock time and with pencil,or pen try to recreate the shapes. Focus your attention. As your mind wanders notice what it wanders to and bring it back to the drawing. This noticing is meta-awareness. If you have time, what colours would you paint the mountain?

Having a collection of water colour tubes that you play with on paper enables you to find your feelings. It’s a worthwhile investment.

When I do a meditative drawing exercise with people it is often the most revealing of all. What often emerges clearly is negative self-judgement…’I can’t draw, I’m not an artist…I’m useless at this.’ In the meditative drawing as you exercise your muscle of attention it is about the process not the outcome, but often we jump straight to negative judgement of the outcome.

We often give these negative thoughts the status of being an accurate readout of reality. And so we take them like stone hammers to our plastic brain. These thoughts are not an accurate readout of reality, they are passing events in the mind, like clouds that need to be noticed compassionately and non-judgementally and let go of. Do this and the stone hammer dissolves.

You do not need to take a hammer to clay.

contemplative seeing, the mindful study of painting…

The silent mountain is passionate

The silent mountain is passionate

Mirabai Bush talks about contemplative seeing, ‘the mindful study of painting and sculpture as ‘beholding” (which involves appreciation, care, the involvement of our senses). We are able in beholding to ‘hold’ something in our attention until something emerges into our awareness.

I called this painting ‘what the mountain was feeling..’ it came out of beholding this particular mountain range. What then came out was ‘the silent mountain was passionate.’ Of course, contemplative seeing is not limited to painting and sculpture, for me it began with the contemplative seeing of the mountain.

Taking time to behold means that time can open up and we can have a moment of clear seeing, an epiphany.