Because essence is inborn while personality forms during childhood, we can understand the state of essence more clearly by observing little children. To a child, everything appears fresh and curious. Everything they see and experience penetrates them deeply and leaves a lasting impression. Their intellectual ability to name what they are experiencing is as yet undeveloped, so when they see a blade of grass they do not know to call it ‘grass’. For them, it may just as well be a miniature skyscraper perfectly placed in an endless green metropolis. A tree is not yet a ‘tree’; it is a jungle-gym, an apartment complex for birds, or an infinite array of other possibilities. A bird is a miracle of iridescent feathers, spectacular in motion and song. As the child progresses towards adulthood, seeing is gradually replaced by knowing, and essence becomes covered with an ever-thickening coat of personality. What they experience no longer penetrates directly as it did before, but is filtered through association, comparison, and criticism—if it is noticed at all. Comparing the state of children to adults we see that essence absorbs and personality deflects. Understanding this in turn instructs the direction of our farming. To weaken personality and strengthen essence, we will have to absorb more and deflect less—and we absorb through paying attention.
Attention functions mysteriously. It captures, in a fixed field, matter or energy, which without attention would diffuse indefinitely. When we sit on a bench in a park, the objects in our surroundings are there all the time—the grass, the trees, the chirping birds—but as long as we are not paying attention to them, then for us they do not exist. Once we do pay them attention, they not only come to life for us, but also influence us with new perceptions and emotions. Our essence feeds on these impressions, just as our body feeds on physical food. To demonstrate this, our April farmer holds up two seedlings, one wilted and the other healthy. A healthy leaf feeds on sunlight just like essence feeds on impressions. It fixes electrical energy into cellular matter just as essence absorbs impressions and is influenced by them. The sunlight is always there; it is up to the leaf to make use of it. Impressions are always there; it is up to us to absorb them by paying attention. This means that it is within our power to influence our essence through directing our attention.
One effective method we use for putting this into practice is the Looking Exercise. For the duration of a minute, we take in one visual element after another in our immediate environment. By ‘taking in’, we mean perceiving what we are looking at without attaching a verbal association to it. The challenge here is to stay with each impression long enough to absorb it, but not so long as to allow our thinking function to generate associations to what we are seeing. For example, while sitting in the park, look at the bench, then the grass, then a tree, then birds in flight—aiming to actually see them, rather than merely register they are there. The aim is to force ourselves to favor the impressions around us over our habitual associations or daydreaming. One big advantage of this method is that it can be exercised anywhere. This in itself is a lesson that helps dissolve the illusion that our internal efforts require favorable conditions.
If, indeed, we do observe that taking in impressions brings about a tangible shift in our internal landscape, with a crescendo of emotions, this in itself is no small revelation. We have found a way to weaken personality and feed essence that is almost always applicable. Very few situations in everyday life favor essence over personality. We have found a way to begin reversing this. At any time we can make an effort to absorb—to see what is before us, to feel our body pressing against our chair, to favor listening to others over the urge to speak—and in so doing, we revitalize the wilted leaves of our essence.
This is the labor of April.