The Journey Of Attention
By Anahata Ishaya
Before we dive into this exploration of Attention, let me ask you a question: are you here because you really want to know more about Attention, or have you unconsciously clicked your way here?
Regardless of how you found these words, I want you to be open to the idea that you have the ability to choose where to direct your attention. How you use that power choice transforms your experience of life.
I define Attention as the only means we have to experience life. It is like an antenna that moves to capture information. It is agile, capable of moving at an impressive speed. But it has one quality that we will take advantage of: it can only be in one place at a time.
The appearance that it can be in several or many places at once is a matter of the speed at which it moves. Still, if we could see it in slow motion, we would know that it did so from one place to another, for example, from one task to another, from one thought to another, from one bodily sensation to another.
We can also notice that we can direct it at will and that it allows us to be aware of what is happening. At other times it seems that we daydream, usually because our attention is immersed in thoughts, or tasks we do on auto-pilot.
My Journey With Attention
It wasn't until I began meditating with the Ishayas' Ascension techniques that I realised that Attention had been a constant companion throughout my life, but I had not understood its power.
How can I observe consciously? How can I move my Attention at will? Doesn't it move by habit, and that's all there is to it?
I discovered that I had tendencies to focus on ideas about myself, such as, "I am responsible ", "I am not coping with this situation", "I am sad because I experienced this situation". I also realised I tended to focus on ideas about the people I related to, and how focusing on these beliefs coloured my experience, altering my perception of situations, relationships and places.
I learned to notice the movements of Attention and realise that the tendency of going into the mind (defined here as a bunch of thoughts) was very strong. Suddenly, that "cloud of thoughts" above my head became very visible. And as it became a part of the experience, I noticed that I could take my attention away from it and direct it elsewhere.
The Mind As A Filter And The Search For A Deeper Reality
We are used to turning our attention to this cloud of thoughts, beliefs, and internal dialogue, which acts as a filter between reality and our attention. Life happens, and the mind becomes an intermediary, sometimes so intrusive that we lose the distinction between Attention and the mind itself.
But is this the ultimate reality to which we aspire? A life filtered by the mind, unable to distinguish who is really experiencing life, unable to appreciate the power of consciously directing our Attention?
To answer these questions, let us consider the consequences of these two different approaches:
- Scattered or wandering Attention: Focuses on thoughts, often paying attention to their changing content. This results in repetition, fantasy, distraction, tiredness, susceptibility to changing sensory stimuli, impatience, and rapid changes of focus that generate confusion, lack of depth, and dissatisfaction.
- Focused Attention: Provides serenity, allows clarity of purpose and action, will enable us to know the need of the moment, greater capacity to learn, creative solutions to challenges, and more enlivened personal relationships because I am present when I am with people. As a bonus, it makes better use of the body's energy, reducing stress and helping vitality.
Although this distinction may seem to maintain duality, I have found that this duality is only apparent in words. Attention, as I have already mentioned, is in one place at a time; it is inherently nondual. Our attention is the most precious currency, and we are sovereign over it, this being the ultimate human freedom.
We all have Attention, the ability to keep it focused or distracted and the choice between the two. The greatest motivation for cultivating one habit of attention or the other, lies in recognising its impact on our daily experience. The question is: which one do you choose to practice?
The fact that Attention is in one place at a time is an advantage, allowing us to move our attention to the internal dialogue, the sensations of the body, our breathing, or the stillest part of the experience.
Invitation To Stillness: Here, Now
The last destination on this journey of Attention is something I want to share with you because it made all the difference to me. The Ishaya teachers guided me to go explore with my attention and direct it to the stillest part of the inner experience.
In this moment, there is a field from where life emerges. It is still, silent, has no limit, has no inside or outside of my body, and it permeates everything. It permeates your body's cells, the place where you are, and the objects surrounding you. Can you notice it? Take a few moments to perceive it. If you want, you can help yourself with these exercises.
At first, I made this space of stillness just another object and did not experience the qualities of focused attention there. I worried that if I put my attention on Stillness, I would "miss" life happening. With the guidance of the teachers and this teaching, I could experience that it permeates everything.
Stillness is the “True North” for our attention; it is like loading the coordinates in the GPS to experience a full, complete, truly alive life.
A Secret Ingredient
Whenever we start a new habit, it is good to bring to the table this secret ingredient: TENDERNESS. I do not know the author of this phrase but I find it very beautiful as a definition: "Tenderness is to make the other understand that he is worthy of the life that dwells in him".
How about reading this quote like this: Tenderness is to make me understand that I am worthy of the life that dwells in me.
If you choose to train your focused Attention, do it with tenderness. And also add tenderness when you notice that the old habit of distraction has returned. And celebrate noticing the contrast.
Enjoy your journey with your Attention!