What follows below is a collection of reflections, quotes and thoughts on the subject of attention. I firmly believe that the single, most powerful elevation or increase in, or of personal agency, in disrupted times, lies in the crucial capacity to pay attention. Common culture and evolutionary conditioning dictates that we keep our horizons small, as we struggle on a daily basis to further our survival. Yet in times of unprecedented wealth and privilege for most of the westernized world, these habitual preoccupations, may yet prove to be, a threat to the survival of our species.
Whilst the contents, the events, the incidents and accidents that litter the timelines of our daily lives, are the focus of our most immediate attention. Yet what we are far less aware of, is how our underlying relationship to the multitudinous occurrences in our personal timestream, eventually wittingly or mostly unwittingly form our destiny. What are the convictions, conclusions, and presuppositions that determine our relationships to the apparent, never changing circumstances of an embodied life, in an age of complexity in an era of potential collapse?
In response to the above questions I developed my own digital media learning journey, exploring statements by those before me who have expressed a lot of wisdom on the topic of attention. Plus I have added in some of my own, or friends and colleagues thoughts, or quotations on the theme. Almost all the items below have been previously shared in very short form on my Twitter and slightly longer on my Facebook and Linked In accounts. Furthermore below where some titles are asterixed, I have substantially amended or added to my original posts.
Attention and Creation*
“Each of us literally chooses, by his way of attending to things, what sort of universe he shall appear to himself to inhabit.” — William James
How are you paying attention?
Attention is such a primal, mostly unobserved, force, yet collectively an almost unlimited resource. A subtle power, when harnessed, can alter the direction of individuals, communities, and even civilizations. James states that we can create the universe, in which we live, simply by the way we pay attention to it. This is a massively nuanced statement and requires much reflection and thought to tease it out. To me as stated, the way we attend to what happens in daily life is the healthy realisation, that in attending to or marshalling, my own powers of attention, I can form shape, mould and create, my response to the events that happen in the flow of everyday life.
Attention and Destiny*
“Watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become your actions; watch your actions, they become your habits; watch your habits, they become your character; watch your character, it becomes your destiny.” ― Lao Tzu
This statement seems to encapsulate the many layers that contribute or not, to the possibility of living a life of deep meaning, purpose and connection. It points out that very small, almost negligible phenomena, have a massive impact when accumulating, as action reaction and relationship over time. The statement speaks to me of the cyclical or spirally lived connection between the subtle and the liminal, which contribute or coalesce into life-defining issues such as destiny.
Whilst I agree with the key sentiment in this quote; I do prefer to frame it as, to attend to, or to witness, not to watch. Watch might either imply unhealthy vigilance or detachment. I think it is much more cultivational to attend to, attention. This consciously and easefully engaged practice, generates our relationship to the world. Being conscious of consciousness may be the ultimate in character and destiny formation.
Attention and Devotion
“Attention is the beginning of devotion.” — Mary Oliver
Paying attention is an act of love, the people or phenomena to which you devote your attention, programmes your subconscious. Your psyche as an instrument of magnification, expands and amplifies your focus. Pay attention to stillness you become stiller. Pay attention to inner beauty your life starts to become a journey towards the more beautiful world.
Consciously directing your attention, to that which serves your best self, your fullest being in the world, is an act of self determination. Shaping the space into which you grow. This is the crucial type of development and maturation that the world deeply needs.
Great Art and Exquisite Attention*
‘Art is always the replacement of indifference by attention’. Guy Davenport
Great art emerges through exquisite attention. Superb writing intimates the barely tangible and summons hidden textures in consciousness. Great artists pay attention to the world through the entirety of their senses, to usher into the world compellingly original visions, juxtapositions and observations, often of the ordinary and humdrum, now transmuted through the alchemy of art.
Great art opens up life as revelation, it is a portal to the undiscovered, the sensation that we are possibly subliminally conscious of interacting with the act of disclosure by the artist, or through the artefact. This may reveal something that on the one hand, is deeply familiar, but on the other hand, had always been somewhat obscured. Great creators, artists and writers pay acute attention to their experience and thus bring hidden shapes and undercurrents into form structure and being in world.
Even indifference, if attended to with care and tenderness and allowed some space to occur, or permission to exist, morphs into new manifestations. We are never poorer from paying close attention to anything
The Blessings of Paying Unconditional Attention
In recent history it seems quite common to hear mention of unconditional love. Indeed the whole of existence at root, could be construed to be a massive outpouring of the multidimensional forms and facets of love. At times we may even feel, we are deserving or undeserving, of unconditional love. Yet at the root of both of these sentiments, there appears to be a sense of neediness or even entitlement.
I propose that to live life to its fullest, to be exceptionally enlivened, is to pay attention and to notice all those core blessings, upon which our lives are based. I recommend the practice of paying unconditional attention, to all of experience, in order to sense the miracle of sentience. As it is both deeply enriching and life enhancing. Thus to wake each day, and be alert to and cognisant of, the manifold blessing of being conscious, is both a rare and unique privilege!
To be conscious of the universal nature of consciousness, is to also be in accord with the unconditioned. Consequently, independent of any specific sentiment, one might attach to love or even unconditional love. One becomes that love as oneself.
Visions and Concentration
On Attention - The actuality of Panoramic (Big Vision) and Micro Focus (Problem Solving) arose in a chat with Jeremy Akers when designing a ‘Think Slow Dojo.’ https://buff.ly/3HgbQzs . He remarked that, when in problem solving mode it was easy to miss the bigger picture or have an expanded view. His remark intersected with my ideas and themes around attention. Key faculties of attention, include the capacity, for detailed focus in complex challenging and moments, whilst also retaining the ability to zoom out and ask generative questions. To also sense into the direction and the purpose of these intense engagements. Or when being swept into the utopian possibilities of new narratives, creative dreaming and emerging imaginaries, to also sense, and manifest those next tiny steps that make that vision realisable?
Developing such elasticity, is down to conscious awareness, of how lightly one’s inner relationship is to both phenomena is held. Meaning awareness of one’s deeper motivations and relationship to experience, in any given moment. Not from the hypervigilant measuring that occurs through anxious consciousness. More throughthe courage and conviction to be fully immersed in the moment, combined with the existential trust in the magnetism of one’s north star or inner compass to bring alternate perspectives into view.
Attention and the Divided Brain
‘Attention is nothing less than the way we relate to the world — Iain McGilchrist’.
The psychiatrist and writer in his 2009 book ‘The Master and his Emmisary’, offered a multidisciplinary analysis of the brain, through the lenses of philosophy, culture, language and anthropology. He could be said to have been explaining the evolution of attention.
McGilchrist states that the functions of short term attention and others such as intense focus, language and rationality, are controlled by the left hemisphere of the brain. These in the westernized mind, have become the predominant methods of attending to the world. He suggests that this partiality is a massive contributory cause of the global crises humanity is currently facing. Whereas, the language-less right hemisphere, is basically marshalling the totality of the rest of our being in the world. This hemisphere connects ourselves to the whole panorama of human experience. It also has greater breadth, flexibility, and generosity of scope than the left hemisphere.
Thus we need an unprecedented shift in our ways of collectively paying attention to the world, if only just to begin our common journey back towards common health and planetary restoration.
This collection is a series of a reflections, a learning journey if you will into the ubiquitous phenomena of Attention. If this theme appeals or attracts you please interact with the shorter from social media posts on the following platforms my Twitter and slightly longer on my Facebook and Linked In accounts. There will more articles in this series and masterclass on this topic in the spring.
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About the author Dave Pendle; I am synthesising almost 30 years experience in non profit enterprises with over 40 years of deep personal development experience. Passionate about enabling others’ sense of fulfillment, impact and trust, to engage wholeheartedly with inspiration and commitment to 21st century work and life.