What You Attend To Is What You
moment, what we attend to is reality.”
In a lecture recently,
Alan Wallace, American scholar and Tibetan monk proposed that, “If you
were to write an essay on the nature of the world, it would be full of what
you are attending to.” Our minds are full of what we pay attention to. What
we do not attend to still exists, but for us it may as well not.
The baseball World Series demonstrates
this. For some fans, the World Series is the important event in the fall.
It fills their minds and determines their emotions. They watch the games,
read about them, talk to their friends about them and relive key moments in
memory. Other people have absolutely no interest in baseball, and if you mention
the World Series they are likely to respond, “Oh, is that happening again?”
The competition exists, but for them it might as well not. It plays no significant
part in the world they construct in consciousness.
What we give our attention to
becomes our reality. If we focus on the unfairness of the world, it’s dangerousness,
and the evil in it, that becomes what we know. If we add to that a belief
in our own powerlessness, we have a recipe for depression. We get the emotions
that go with the objects of our attention.
A popular way to connect with
others is to play “Ain’t it awful?” We share our views of the bad weather,
the bad politics, the latest disaster in the news, the bad boss, the bad people
who aren’t like us so we have something to talk about. We may be miserable,
but at least we have a connection with the other players in the conversation.
The trouble is, we have all that bad stuff crowding our minds and our view
of our world torments us.
If we focus our attention on
all the evil-doers, we may miss the good-doers. We can begin to think that
it really is a dog eat dog world, that nobody cares, and what’s the point
of going on anyway? If we spend our time watching TV news, crime dramas and
“reality” shows, we may begin to experience the world as dominated by evil
and stupid people. The wise and kind are a no show in our reality.
We have the ability to shift
attention consciously. We can focus on the bleak or we can choose to focus
on the uplifting. We need not passively accept all the input that comes to
us. We can change the channel, hit the delete key, or introduce a new topic
of discussion. We can also be conscious of our own thoughts and pick and choose
to which of them we give energy.
Take time to think about
what habitually holds your attention. Is your attention dominated by thoughts
of sports, entertainment, the news, politics, your kids, your job, food,
your health, your appearance, money, possessions, sex, your feelings, or
some other collection of mental images?
Contemplate how the focus of
your attention affects both your perception of the world, and how you feel.
Be mindful of your focus and
change it when it is directed at something that is likely to diminish your
Sitting quietly. Think of all
the people doing good in the world. Bring to mind the helpers, the teachers,
the healers, the relief workers--the people who enact their compassion. Remember
all those who relieve suffering.
Make it a habit to return your
thoughts to the compassionate wish that all beings be free from suffering.
© 2003 Tom Barrett