The Invaluable Skill of Paying Attention
By Deepak Chopra, MD
There’s a common grumble, generally directed at the young, that they are constantly distracted by texting, video games, and other ways to stop paying attention. But few of us have truly mastered the skill of paying attention, or even realize that it is a skill. This is because we haven’t looked deeply into how awareness works.
Attention, which is another way of describing focused awareness, is important because whatever you pay attention to grows in importance and significance. If you focus on your job, your relationship, or a favorite hobby, your attention nourishes a feedback loop–you become better at what you pay attention to. Your brain strengthens or weakens in specific areas depending on the input it receives, and paying attention provides concentrated input. Attention can’t be faked or forced. When a schoolteacher scolds an unruly class with, “Pay attention, people!” he may get results for a few minutes, but the demand loses its effect very quickly. Asking a restless mind to settle down and pay attention is even more futile. The secret is to know how attention can be mastered.
There are some basic requirements to be met. The first is being centered, the skill we covered to begin this series of posts. Distraction is self-defeating. Second, your awareness focuses naturally when you have a desire. We focus on what we want. Third, attention works best when combined with intention – envisioning a way to fulfill your desire. When the three ingredients come together – you are centered, you have a desire, you intend to fulfill your desire – attention becomes extremely powerful. The tale is told by anyone who has fallen in love at first sight; it’s the definition of laser focus. But for some people the same focused attention applies to ambition, money, and power.
Attention becomes more elevated when you focus on objects of a deeper inner longing. Almost everyone has wondered “Who am I?” but the people who actually find out are driven by a desire to know. This desire is as strong as other people’s desire for more money, status, and power. If you ask spiritual questions casually, they amount to very little. God could send you a telegram with the answers and it wouldn’t change your life. The path must be driven by desire. Let’s say that you experience a moment of inner peace that has arrived without expectation. It’s just there, appearing in the midst of an ordinary day.
You might casually notice it, or a train of thought could begin, as follows:
- I’m at peace. How unusual. I like this.
- I wonder where it came from.
- I want to find out, because it would be good to be at peace more often.
- I’m going to follow this experience up. It’s too valuable to forget.
This is a natural train of thought, and every self-aware person I know has followed it, not necessarily from a moment of inner peace. Some have experienced sudden joy; others felt protected and looked after; a few sensed a spiritual presence that caught them totally by surprise. What they had in common was that they really paid attention to their experience. The process can be simplified into three steps. The next time you have an inner experience of peace, joy, love, inspiration, or insight, pause for a moment.
Step 1: Notice what is happening. Sit quietly without distraction. Soak up the experience without commenting or interrupting it.
Step 2: As the moment fades, don’t rush away from it. Consider how significant it is. Put the significance into context, reflecting on how different you feel from your ordinary self.
Step 3: Make the experience valuable. Consider how transformed your life would be if you could repeat the experience. Even more, think about a life filled with joy, peace, and love. See it in your mind’s eye; feel how beautiful your life would become.
In these three steps you are activating the emotional brain and the cortex, or higher brain, the first by fully feeling your experience, the second by applying thought and reflection. This is how dreams come true. You combine a vision of possibilities with the kind of focused intention that creates new pathways in the brain. The world “in here” is connected always to the world “out there.” You can’t seize an opportunity without being aware of it; you can’t nourish a new possibility without wanting to. When awareness, desire, and intention come together, you are mastering the skill of paying attention.
(Originally published by The San Francisco Chronicle)
Deepak Chopra MD, FACP, founder of The Chopra Foundation and co-founder of The Chopra Center for Wellbeing, is a world-renowned pioneer in integrative medicine and personal transformation, and is Board Certified in Internal Medicine, Endocrinology and Metabolism. He is a Fellow of the American College of Physicians and a member of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists. Chopra is the author of more than 85 books translated into over 43 languages, including numerous New York Times bestsellers. His latest books are The Healing Self co-authored with Rudy Tanzi, Ph.D. and Quantum Healing (Revised and Updated): Exploring the Frontiers of Mind/Body Medicine. www.deepakchopra.com