As you mentioned the subject of attention was something that people worked on a lot – and many continue to though often it is implicit rather than explicit. One place (but certainly not the only one) to find lots of references to the theme is in Psychology Notes (in Collected Works. Some of it will be couched in terms of levels of consciousness, apperception and circuits of reversibility. You can also find a more poetic approach in The Inner Look.
I think it is legitimate to say that from a certain point of view everything Silo proposed was about attention. Does that seem an outrageous statement? Certainly it must seem an odd one. But I think I can justify it — with an anecdote. And since your query was triggered by anecdotes it seems appropriate to continue in that vein.
But first let me stress that this is an anecdote, it’s not to be found in Silo’s Collected Works (as far as I recall); it’s from my memory (which sadly is not perfect). Perhaps others will recall this or other similar conversations.
As best as I can recall this conversation took place in The Canary Islands during the month-long retreat that is often referred to as Canaries 1 (1976) in order to distinguish it from the shorter and larger meeting held in the same location some time later.
One day Silo said (something like) to us: “Some years ago I explained to our friends that it might be useful to try and pay attention. Then I noticed that when they tried to do this they became very tense. At this point he demonstrated, first clenching his fist, and then tensing his entire body until it shook. This was a reference understood by everyone there because they were familiar with the various attentional exercises we used in those days. The most famous was called ADMI. It stood for Attention, Division, Mastering and Incorporating. There were many ways to practice these “steps”. One version of Division was to attend to the sensation of your hand and whatever you were doing (seeing, listening to, etc). However, as you see if you try it, you quickly loose that focus and so you tend to react by tensing your hand and eventually your arm as well and then… well you can imagine.
After we all stopped laughing he continued saying (something like): “Seeing they were so tense I suggested that they learn to relax (and we had spent a lot of time those last few years on just that subject – as in Self-Liberation). And once they started to relax all kinds of deep climates surfaced”. Once again this story was accompanied by his hilarious miming, this time of someone relaxing and being overwhelmed by climates.
Once again he continued: “Seeing that they were filled with all these climates and noise, I suggested that they put some order in those contents so that they could be quiet inside….” And he concluded: “Hmmm imagine all of that just to pay attention.”
It was a typically hilarious conversation with Silo but I think it had great truth in it. Only partly about all his teaching stemming from the importance of paying attention but also about the technical difficulties of finding the right approach to attention. In later years he suggested that the best approach was to simply try to be in theme – whatever the theme is. So if your having a conversation to be there 100% and if your doing some abstract calculation to be into that and not into the conversation you just had, or what’s for dinner.
If I can think of anything else to add I’ll let you know but for now here’s a “joke” rather than an anecdote. It’s a peculiar and perhaps silly story, but various versions can be found in a number of regions and traditions. You can decide how funny it is.
Here’s how I tell it:
One day Silo was sitting high above where he had built his stone hermitage. He sat gazing down at the river far below which was rushing high and fast as spring had finally reached that altitude and the melting snow and ice was feeding the turgid waters. As he sat contemplating this scene he saw a man climbing up towards him – obviously he had come to see the sage in his simple hut and not finding him and looked around until seeing him sitting with his legs dangling over this higher ledge. After a short while his visitor’s head popped up just below where the master was waiting. “Oh Master, I have travelled a great distance at great expense and with great difficulty to come and ask you a question…” As he took a breath and began to ask his question, Silo interjected: “Attention.” “No, No,” said the traveler, “let me explain…”. Once again the master broke in “Attention. Attention”. “Look” said the now frustrated visitor, “You don’t seem to understand, my question is important, at least to me, I’ve come a long way and it hasn’t been easy…” “Attention. Attention. Attention.” came the familiar response. “Damn it Okay so what the hell is attention” our very agitated friend cried. Just then the ledge he was standing on crumbled and as he fell he heard: “Attention is just attention”.