It All Starts With Attention
No matter what you want in life, you have to pass through the gate of attention
If you want to write an epic novel, master a new skill, or attain the heights of spiritual liberation, it all starts with attention.
Attention is a nonnegotiable element to success.
Every moment we are paying attention, but rarely conscious of what we are paying attention to.
You don’t have to meditate for 10 hours a day to achieve high levels of focus, but you do need to sharpen your power of concentration.
We are always given a choice of what to focus on.
Our minds are scattered and diffuse most of the time, and harnessing our attention takes herculean effort.
But with a little training and persistence, we realize that we can rewire our neurology to make laser focus an extension of our Being.
Why Cultivating Focus and Attention is so Important
World-renowned author, researcher, and Psychologist Daniel Goleman PhD in his book Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence’ writes :
“In very recent years the science of attention has blossomed far beyond vigilance. That science tells us these skills determine how well we perform any task. If they are stunted, we do poorly; if muscular, we can excel. Our very nimbleness in life depends on this subtle faculty.”
I’ve been meditating for years, primarily for my own spiritual pursuit, but recently find myself fascinated by the scientific research on focus.
I’m delighted to know that what I have been training in for over 20 years proves to have so much cross-hybridization to nearly every other facet of life. I’ve experienced firsthand the fluidity and nimbleness derived from a consistent Yoga practice in my own life. It applies to reading, study, relationships, compression and even my driving!
As Daniel puts it:
“While the link between attention and excellence remains hidden most of the time, it ripples through almost everything we seek to accomplish.”
The invisible superpower of attention connects to every dimension in our life. I
t affects how well we can hold our focus to read and penetrate a particular subject, how well we cultivate our ability to listen to others in conversation and attune to what their heart really wants to say, to how quickly we can refine our feedback loop when learning a new skill.
It allows us to slice through the distraction and whirling emotions of our mind to penetrate to a layer where peace and equanimity are native.
We soon see that no matter what we are engaged in, attention and the ability to focus is an underlying substratum of success and quality of life across diverse fields.
Again, Goleman states:
“Though it matters enormously for how we navigate life, attention in all its varieties represents a little-noticed and underrated mental asset.”
The Golden Edge of Capturing Our Focus
I just got up to go the bathroom. I was focused before I got up. Walking to the bathroom, I caught a lady’s eye with her family. They were foggy and a bit tired, but with a shining light in the core that I tried to catch. I noticed how in that moment, attention wandered, and then I caught the center of her eye and smiled back, keeping my focus. I entered the bathroom, random other thoughts entered. I came back to my seat and instinctively picked up my phone. I responded to a relevant message and then initiatively started scrolling.
AHHHHHHHHH!!!! My alarms went off. Shit!!! I’m writing an article on focus and getting distracted. The ordeal lasted all of 30 seconds until I caught what I call the Golden Edge. The Golden Edge is the leading edge of our thought force — full of potential and possibility and is overflowing with new and fresh energy — that revelas to us where to begin again. And again. And again.
It’s Golden because it is born from our unlimited nature, from our highest potential, and it is full of love, creativity and exuberance. We miss it most of the time and live in the whirling froth of reactivity and foggy mental habits, but when we catch the Golden Edge, our eyes and spirit light up, and we know it is never too late to capture our focus and see life with a new light.
Distraction rules most of our lives and is not only the easiest way to waste our time and dim our minds, but a distracted mind is a doorway for negative thoughts to enter. The mental poisons of lust and sloth and anger and greed all enter a mind that is not vigilant. When we don’t highlight the primordial spotlight of our deep focus, chances are one or many of these poisons lie in wait to sabotage our best intentions.
Gathering our focus again aligns us with our hearts’ intention and the positive unfolding of our life. It brings renewed vigor and a sense of self-control that reinstates the primordial power we all have in our own souls.
Investing Our Attention
Chris Baily, the author of the book Hyperfocus, reminds us that attention requires an intelligent investment and that cultivating attention shapes our entire lives.
“Whether at work or at home, the quality of your attention determines the quality of your life. At work, the more attention you give to what’s in front of you, the more productive you become. At home, the more attention you devote to what’s in front of you, the more meaningful your life becomes.”
He writes that the essence of productivity is keeping what we intend to do and our actions in harmonious alignment. How often do we have grand plans, or start a deeply motivating project, only to fall off the wagon and find ourselves stuck again in the murky waters of distraction?
Countless hours and days and weeks are filled with the vagueness of distraction and the fettering away of our highest intentions. This is the real takeaway. Something in our hearts really wants to do something great. We have good intentions and solid conviction to help the world and contribute our light.
Distraction stops us in our tracks…
A wandering thought. A nagging emotion. A craving for coffee. The invisible yet unremitting pull to check your phone.
If this sounds like you, and if you’re alive in 2022 it probably is, then you need a focus upgrade.
Cultivating Deep Focus is the Key to Uniting Intention with Action
“Productivity means accomplishing what we intend to. Not about cramming more into our days but doing the right thing in each moment.”
While training attention for the sake of cultivating attention has its own merits, for now, let’s keep with the focus of attention used for the sake of shaping our lives. As mentioned, we can use attention for the highest levels of spiritual experience or the most simplest of life tasks. The field of action of life begins with deciding what we want to focus on.
“You enter this mode (of Hyperfocus) by managing your attention deliberately and purposefully: by choosing one important object of attention, eliminating distractions that will inevitably arise as you work, and then focusing on just one task. Hyperfocus is many things at once: it’s deliberate, undistracted, and quick to refocus, and it leads us to become completely immersed in our work. It also makes us immensely happy.”
The same principle applies in meditation, and it’s why meditation is thought to be one of the most fundamental tools to train that applies to all other fields. Meditation is the sole practice of affixing the mind to one thought while all others fight to distract our focus. We are training our attentional circuity to deliberately ignore all other signals outside of our chosen focus, or support. When we apply the same method outside of meditation practice, we realize we can easily return focus to our chosen object of attention.
No matter what we choose to focus on, as the famous Indian Swami Viveknanda said:
“The power of concentration is the only key to the treasure-house of knowledge.”
This knowledge is inherently happy, bliss-filled and free.
So no matter what tasks we engage in, the cultivation of this concentration alone will carry over a sense of deep happiness and fulfillment.
With practice, this newfound concentration will flow effortlessly from the center of our hearts into our sacred work in the world, uplifting the collective to a higher order of unity and harmony with the cosmos.
Now, take a moment, close your eyes, or at least look away from the screen. Take a few deep breaths and feel the liberating power of your own intense focus and concetration. A profound gift in the center of your mind. Feel it lift you, free you and beg for you to polish it to apply to your life passion.