Attention

Here are two amazing quotes from William James.

First: “For the moment, what we attend to is reality.”

The corollary, of course, is that what you do not pay attention to, is not real to you—since you are not aware of it. What you turn your attention to will, in fact, constitute the real, the observed, perceived, the world you live in; what exists for you.

And then there’s this one: “Everyone knows what attention is. It is taking possession of the mind, in clear and vivid form, of one out of what seems several simultaneously possible objects or trains of thought. Focalization, concentration of consciousness are of its essence. It implies a withdrawal from some things in order to deal effectively with others.”

In my view, this brilliant observation of James’ implies that there is only so much attention available to us: in order to fully attend to one thing, we must un-attend to another or other things.

This leads to this hypothetical question: how much attention (picture a pile, small or huge, of small units of attention) is available to us? And, can we account for all of it? By that I mean: might we be busy attending to things (doing things mentally, say) that we are unaware of.

And, if that were so, my next question would be: what percentage of our attention allotment has been shanghaied and submerged (as in hidden from us) into possible mischief?

Do you remember being told that we only use a small percentage of our brain? I must have heard it many times over the years. Perhaps what they meant to say is that we are only using a small percentage of our allotted units of attention. Does it mean that the attention currently available to us is like the tip of the iceberg, and that the rest, say 90% of allotted attention, is busy elsewhere or elsewhen (as it were)?

In meditation we often focus on some single thing such as the breath; or even on simply perceiving what is (as in zazen). As we focus or grow more and more aware, it seems we gain more and more attention to place on the object perceived.

My thought is that as we harvest and retrieve more attention, we harvest or retrieve it from somewhere else (see James’ quote above) where, who knows, it might have been, unbeknownst to us, up to some mischief—such as cage building.

These are of course just words, musings, but it’s my way of trying to capture what it feels like to grow more and more aware—I grow attention-richer.

All that said, here’s a third (tongue-in-cheek, amazing aside) William James quote: “A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.”

A well-put, Interesting point.

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