The past is but a fluttering memory, the future is still a magical mystery, and the present is the true moment of direct experience of this thing we call Life. If we position our awareness towards something with attention we can greatly expand our understanding of it. By having our attention on some focus we are attending with our awareness. We selectively narrow and focus our consciousness and receptivity deeply within the present moment to expand our understanding.
A Zen Understanding
To help illustrate attention here is a fantastic zen understanding of it.
One day a man of the people said to the Zen Master Ikkyu, “Master, will you please write for me some maxims of the highest wisdom?” Ikkyu immediately took his brush and wrote the word “Attention.” “Is that all?” asked the man. “Will you not add something more?” Ikkyu then wrote twice running: “Attention. Attention.” “Well,” remarked the man rather irritably, “I really don’t see much depth or subtlety in what you have just written.” Then Ikkyu wrote the same word three times running: “Attention. Attention. Attention.” Half-angered, the man demanded: “What does that word ‘Attention’ mean anyway?” And Ikkyu answered gently: “Attention means attention.
The Beautiful Neutrality of Attention
Attention is essentially a neutral experience. Attention has been described variously as intimidating, frightening, soothing, calming, nurturing, loving, irritating, and intrusive. Peoples’ interpretations of the attention others give to them represent presently experienced realities and simultaneously point back to internal object relations and their associated affects. The interaction between attention and inattention becomes a multidimensional matter with perceptual and emotional aspects. For example, we can pay attention to both states of attention and inattention although there is an implicit value skewed toward attention. The value of inattention remains underestimated. Attention and inattention have become polarized and conceptualized as two diametrically opposed points. Periods of inattention can leave the analyst feeling inadequate or guilty.
Another more productive way to think about attention and inattention may be to understand them as two points on one arc of an infinite circle with dimensions beyond our present capacity for perception. In this regard they can be viewed as complementary and interwoven with both diverging and converging qualities rather than as competing states. Clinical experiences demonstrate that non-judgmental attention to states of inattention, stupor, drowsiness, drifting, or preoccupations with nonessential matters along with associated affects can reveal a great deal of information about someone’s object world.
I think I will end this with a poem by Thomas Allan Bateham on attention, written very simply in order to express the simplicity yet importance of focused awareness within our lives in understanding inner reality as well as outer reality.
Pay attention to
What is said to you
What is going on around you
See what life brings
To you day to day
Pay attention to what people say
Watch how they act
Listen to your gut
Pay attention as to not
Miss anything in this world
All I have to say
Is awake up and pay attention