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Sunday, July 3, 2011


Like absorption, attention also takes place in the moment, but you are not aware of being in the moment. Unlike absorption, however, there is a feeling of separation between the observer and the observed - you and the object. For example, if you are looking at a tree, you experience being separate from the tree and that there is distance and space between you and the tree. You, as the observer, are not directly experienced as the source of the act of paying attention. The observer is more of a thought of the self than an awareness of the self. This thought of yourself as the observer relates to what you are doing (i.e. observing) instead of what or who you are. The definition of self is how you see yourself as a human being - your name, values, what you do for a living, fears, etc. discussed earlier on this blog. There is no sense of self while in attention.

In this experience, the field of view can be narrow or wide depending on what you are doing at the moment. For instance, you can be paying attention to detail, as in concentration, or you can be "looking around" and paying attention to many objects surrounding you. For example, there is a good deal of difference between looking in a microscope and watching a living, moving amoeba versus looking through binoculars and scanning the horizon for elk. One is a narrow field of vision and the other is wider.

During attention, you are more alert to what is happening in front of and around you than when you are absorbed. "Attention to detail," "pay attention," and "be attentive" are phrases often used to bring a person back into this experience. In attention, you also have no sense of presence. Presence is the feeling of existing - the power of being, rather than a human being - a changeless, formless, desire-less state of undeniable freedom. When in attention, you won't have the feeling of presence. If you have the feeling of presence, you are not in attention any longer, you are automatically in awareness - the subject of the next post.

In attention, there is a sense of voluntary paying attention or observing. This sometimes feels like an act of will expecially when it is related to trying to focus on something that is not interesting to you. I remember when I was in high schoo, I didn't like history. It took all of the willpower I had to stay awake and pay attenion to what the teacher was saying.

Let's go back to the example of watching a movie that was being discussed in the absorption post below. This time, rather than being absorbed you remain attentive to things around you - the person next to you, the person kicking your chair, the frame around the movie screen, people talking and the airplane flying over the theater. You are not disturbed by what's going on around you. You are simply being attentive. This is being in the moment because you are not thinking of the past or the future. You experience what's going on both on the screen and in the room. Attention can shift back and forth to and from the screen and the room. There is a moment to moment attention. You might be more focused on the action on the screen one moment and then the room another moment.

If your focus suddenly becomes narrower and deeper, and you become emotionally involved in the movie you can easily slip back into absorption. This is neither good nor bad, it just is. It is something you can simply experience for yourself. You can experience going back and forth between absorption and attention while doing most anything - running, riding a bike, walking, watching a ball game, watching television, talking to someone, etc.

On the next post we will take a look at how attention can save you from harm.

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