Walking across Central Park one morning, I watched a dog wiggle and waggle in anticipation of chasing a ball. His attention was absolutely fixed on the ball in his human companion’s hand. Nothing else mattered. Nothing else registered as the ball was finally in the air and he ran after it with great enthusiasm. This got me to thinking about how powerfully the focus of our attention affects what we perceive and how we engage the world. We already know that our brain filters out much of what goes on around us. If it didn’t do that, we’d be overwhelmed by input and stimulation. The dog’s focus on the ball reminded me, also, of the impact of our consciously focused attention and how that process also filters out other possible perceptions, as it amplifies whatever is in the foreground of our awareness. When we realize that the focus of our attention has everything to do with the internal quality of life we live, we can see how important it is to be more consciously aware of where and how we orient to what’s going on around us.
For this week’s experiment, I invite you to pay even more attention to where you focus your awareness. Notice the tone and quality of the reality toward which you gravitate, the reality in which you immerse yourself. Pay attention to the content and quality of stories and reports you take in. Notice the quality of images you offer yourself, the sounds you attend to, the kinds of environments in which you immerse yourself, the people you bring close to you.
Then, notice the quality of your internal experience as you play with shifting from where you habitually go, what you habitually do, where you habitually orient your attention to something that might be more stabilizing, settling, nourishing, and/or positive than what you find yourself automatically engaging as you move through your day. Notice the tone of your emotional life, the quality of your thoughts, the experience of the sensations that arise in your body as you choose to focus on different kinds of people, events, environments, sounds, and information. The invitation is to track these shifts and see what elicits a quality of internal life you prefer.
What this boils down to is the fact that what we bring into the foreground of our awareness matters more than we realize much of the time. The gift of living more consciously is the gift of choice. Mindful awareness offers us an opportunity to either deepen what works for us or to choose something different when we find that our focus of attention actually brings us down, makes us unhappy, or leaves us feeling drained and unhealthy.
As with all these experiments, be sure to bring along curiosity as your constant companion, as curiosity allows you to play with options rather than having to be deadly serious about having to find the “right” response. Also, remember to practice patting judgments on the head as they arise, move through, and move on. They are, after all, inevitable, part of the “brain burps” that happen all the time, and don’t really mean as much as we often think they do.