Selective attention and the path to mastery

Selective attention is the ability to intentionally choose or reject from millions of pieces of data, that which is most relevant for your life.

 2 minutes read in mind andMedium
Selective attention and the path to mastery

One day a man of the people said to 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.”Philip Kapleau Roshi, The Three Pillars of Zen

What can you do with attention? Apparently you can pay it, lend it (because you want it back), make it (because you create it), focus it (because it is spread out), devote it (because it is sacred), gift it (because it shows your appreciation), give it (because it is with you), and so on. Such are the rich and varied ways in which different languages “handle”, “treat”, and “distribute” attention.

In Spanish, attention is something you "lend", because you kind of want it back. In French you "make" it, because it's not there if you don't. In English you "pay" it, because it's valuable. And in German you "gift" it, because it's really a present. I wish I knew all languages!

— Javier Santana (@jvrsntn) July 14, 2019

Attention is a form of analysis—a complex process which reduces the object to elements already known. In order to meet a goal or complete any task, we must be capable of focussing—a unity of consciousness that is maintained for a duration of time. Since we experience our world through our five senses, an ability to selectively pick and choose the part of it that are most relevant to ourselves can radically transform our lives. Our world radiates out from a hypothetical centre and extends as far as the limits of our senses. At a certain distance, our world fades always into noise. Within the bounds of our senses, we can shift our focus from one source to another. What was once background becomes foreground, and vice-versa. Moreover, we seem to only use one or two of our senses at a time, and, as magical numbers1 go, we take in only 7 ± 2 of those things. This does not mean that the remaining senses are nullified. On the hand, studies have shown that we register a remarkable amount of seemingly redundant information

The mind is indeed a tangle of thoughts and sensations, feelings and emotions. According to the French psychologist Théodule-Armand Ribot (1839 - 1916), the act of attention is of types: spontaneous attention which is the natural convergence of our consciousness towards a single

Although the mind is the more balanced when it maintains a “close correspondence between our mental representations and the external world, past and present.”Those who observe well have perceptions that correspond to reality.

Simply in not directing one’s notice to anything in particular, and in maintaining the same ‘evenly-suspended attention’ … In the face of all that one hears. In this way we avoid a danger. For as soon as anyone deliberately concentrates his attention to a certain degree, he begins to select from the material before him; one point will be fixed in his mind with particular clearness and some other will be correspondingly disregarded, and in making this selection he will be following his expectations or inclinations. This however is precisely what must not be done. Sigmund Freud

The range of what we think and do is limited by what we fail to notice. And because we fail to notice that we fail to notice there is little we can do to change until we notice how failing to notice shapes our thoughts and deeds. R.D. Laing

  1. George A. Miller, The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on our Capacity for Processing Information (1956) 

Tagged: inner life.

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