Attention: The most valuable thing you have
My learning about where to keep my attention
What is the most valuable thing you have? Is it your wealth? Is it your talent? Is it your relationship? Is it your self-confidence? What is it?
I have to come to realize the most valuable thing I have is my attention. Where I put my attention becomes the experience of my life. It defines how I experience myself and who I take myself to be.
Let me share how my attention journey has evolved over the years.
As a child my attention was essentially on pleasing others and seeking their validation. The only way for me to do this was by doing well academically. Sports also played an important role in gaining recognition but primarily my focus was on getting good marks. I remember whenever my grandfather saw my report card, he usually remarked “You can do better.”
As I came to college my attention was subsumed by hormones. My attention was on the opposite sex. Little wonder that most of my college life was spent being more faithful to my girlfriend, rather than the requirements of my student life. The focus was also on wanting to appear cool. To be considered as part of the hip crowd. As an endeavor to appear extra cool I sometimes wore chappals bathroom slippers to college.
Then my attention shifted to getting a professional degree. I saw it as a passport to earning my rightful place in society. To earn a good livelihood and also the respect of others. I chose to pursue Chartered Accountancy, not because of my love for numbers, but because my girlfriend and many other college mates were pursuing it. Given my lack of self-awareness to make prudent life choices, it felt comfortable to tag along with the crowd.
Post completion of Chartered Accountancy my attention shifted to spirituality. This part of life had always intrigued me but I did not pursue it until now. Not that I planned it that way. Spirituality entered my life through a program I attended, conducted by a spiritual organization. I was moved by the wisdom of spirituality and became an active volunteer for this organization. After a few years I became a freelance spiritual seeker, experiencing various Gurus, ashrams and philosophies. During this period my attention was intensely focused on seeking enlightenment.
Then came a significant turning point in my life. I had an emotional crisis. I felt cheated and betrayed by people closest to me. And I blamed spirituality for it. I felt trying to be a good guy didn’t work for my well-being. If I had to protect myself I had to adopt the smart ways of the world in dealing with people. Now my attention was entirely focused on my self-interest. This translated into doing what felt good. I gave full freedom to all impulsive behavior in the name of feeling good.
This phase eventually made me realize my addictive patterns. What made me feel good initially created a lot of pain and suffering later. This was a valuable lesson in self-regulation, learnt the hard way. At this point of time the teachings of Yoga entered my life. I used the next few years to discipline myself and lead a structured satvic life. My attention during this period was used by my will power to cultivate healthy habits. And to pursue my passion as a Yoga teacher.
Then something happened. Something traumatic. It broke my will power. I could no longer follow my routine. I could no longer do what I had committed myself to do. It was a depressing period. Fortunately I came out of that dark tunnel by following my intuition. The phase of using will power to live a structured life was over. I was now more open to the natural flow of life. There was greater ease, letting go and surrender.
But following your intuition is tricky business. How does one discern intuition from impulse? Intuition is a fine balance between lethargy and overactivity. With only your own inner voice to guide you and nothing else. This is when I realized the value of attention. So far I had been putting my attention on things outside myself. Other’s validation, professional competence, impulse gratification, cultivating good habits. What if I put this attention on the source from where everything came.
In others words, I withdraw my attention from unconscious thinking, and place it in experiencing life as it unfolds each moment. Recently, as I sat on the beach, listening to the waves and sensing the cool breeze, the “I” disappeared. There was only Experience. Every phenomenon was occurring in Consciousness. This was not “my” consciousness. It was Consciousness.
The fact that I am conscious, is the only thing that needs no proof. It is the only thing that has never changed in my life. It is the only thing that is self-evident. In spite of this, or may be because of this, we miss this most obvious aspect of our existence. Like waves in an ocean we seek water. Not realizing that what we seek is who we are. I am not conscious. I am Consciousness itself!
When I put my attention on Consciousness, the imaginary “I” dissolves into its source. The wave becomes Water. The thirst for fulfillment is quenched by our own Existence. There is nowhere to go, nothing to do and nothing to become. What we do thereafter is not our limited self seeking to fulfill itself, but an expression of the fullness of Consciousness
I have no clue if you are able to grasp what I am saying. Unfortunately I am using a medium that takes us away from our true nature of Consciousness. The medium of words and language. All thoughts are made of words and cannot grasp the indivisible nature of Existence. Words fragment reality into subject and object, keeping us forever distant from that what we seek. The lyrics of a song called ‘Words’ capture this conflict well. “Its only words, and words are all I have, to take your heart away.”
The simplest way for me to highlight what I am saying would be to ask you take a pause from reading this article. Close your eyes for a moment and then open it. Now slowly take your focus away from the black alphabets that make up the words of this article. Focus your attention on the white space in the background on which these words appear. The words are thoughts, the white background is Consciousness.
When we place our attention on Consciousness we shift from pieces of mind to peace of mind. We realize our Wholeness.