We can be aware of problems, pain and loneliness only when we are in the narrow/objective attention style. Unfortunately the Western world is based on it. We have learned to favor this style and it feels natural to attend in this way.
How the reality feels in the narrow/objective attention style
When our attention is narrow we notice objects and we ignore space around them. It makes us feel that every object is separated (distant) from other objects and from ourselves. You are in this style now to recognize difference between letters you are reading (objects) and their background (the white space on this screen). When you attend in this style you feel that you are not a screen you are looking at now and the screen is not you. You and the screen are clearly separated.
As you remember an object could be everything you can focus on — a material thing, a sound, a thought, smell, a feeling from your body, a problem, an idea. All of them could not be noticed without a background they emerge from. For example, physical objects (a computer, a house, your body) would not exist without space around them; sounds would not be heard without the silence between them; you would not notice your thoughts without brakes between them.
In this style your focus moves from one object to another and only objects count. Objects have a specific location in an empty space and they can move (or can be moved) from one place to another in a defined time. Therefore, we can say, that in this style of attention our reality is based on doing.
How relying on the narrow/objective attention shapes our reality
This style of attending has shaped very profoundly our current approach to the reality. There are many examples of it. Our science is in a never-ending chase for the smallest particle (object) in the Universe. It strives to recognize all possible objects (animal species, chemical elements, anatomical systems, etc…) and describes relations between them. Mathematics, the queen of science, is based on numbers where 0 is not 1 and 1 is not 0, and every equation has two opposite sides.
We see everything (including our life, body and partners) as objects. We can have or not have them, we can hold them or lose them. The narrow/objective attention style enables us to declare war or to provoke argument, to trigger jealousy, rage or hate.
How it can make you feel
Most importantly in this style you feel that you are a separate object. There is you and the rest. You strive to preserve your identity (self, ego). It is because you feel different from others, with your memories and emotional baggage, with your experience and skills. With things you were collecting, relationships you cultivated, your beliefs, your hopes, your ideas, your dreams. You have to be in control of all of these little pieces of your identity and you fear losing them.* No matter how complicated it is and how much energy it costs every day. This is who you are. At least this is how it feels, isn’t it?
People who are the narrow/objective attention style dominant take life very seriously and they are exposed to strong emotions. They collect a lot of tension in their minds and their hearts generated by keeping themselves distant from the rest. The more narrow they are the more they strive for perfection dividing all activities to small parts and endlessly verifying their performance. The more objective they are the more frustrated they tend to be with the world not behaving the way they expect. They have their ideal, imagined world in their heads (separated from the real one) and they know how things ‘should’ be done. The narrow/objective attention style dominant people, are good at moving things forward but they are exposed to unhealthy cravings and obsessions triggered by their feelings.
Main products of the narrow/objective attention style.
Think about a physical pain. You have this pain and you want to get rid of it. There is you and this pain. Pain grabs your attention, makes it narrow and you feel that pain and yourself are two separated beings. What pain really means is that you have lost natural connection with the part of your body which is in pain. It switches you from immersed ** to objective style of attention. This is what really happens.
Or think about a problem. There is you and the problem. You see the problem and you try to approach it from different angles as if it was an object floating in front of you. Problems can make life tough and very miserable. And when the problem is solved it suddenly disappears. There is no problem any more. You cannot see any problem. What really happens is a shift of attention styles from objective to immerse. The problem and its solution have become part of your experience; a part of you. This is the famous ‘aha’ moment.
The narrow/objective attention style is not good or bad. It is the style of abstract thinking and attending in this way helps us to develop our civilization with modern technology and science. On the other hand when we overuse it and our attention is unbalanced we feel separated from each other. It brings loneliness, physical and emotional pain.
When you balance your attention to make it more diffused (opened) and immersed (connected) you can profoundly change your attitude towards life. It can make things softer, lighter and brighter. Problems are not so tough, pain is not so bad and other people are not so far. You can release the narrow/objective attention style grip and always see the big picture whatever happens to you.
Try Open Focus exercise today and start practicing the most valuable skill you can have in life – a flexible attention.
* [a need of control is a child of narrow attention when we strive to make the best use of our narrow focus. Fear of losing is triggered by objective attention when we believe objects can be gained or lost]
** [most of the time you are immersed with your body, for example, you are not aware of you elbows unless I ask you to feel them now]
Continue to a post about true freedom.
Flexible attention is an ability to alternate between narrow attention (focused) and diffused attention (broad) or to apply both at the same time.
Narrowing makes us specific but requires dividing reality into smaller pieces (objects). Diffusing allows us to see the big picture and connect (immerse) with its elements.
Pain, anxiety and problems make the attention narrow and objective. We can self help ourselves by diffusing and immersing our attention.
Well done. Looking forward to more.
Hi Connie, nice to see you here :)
This is a great post.
I’ve been practicing Open Focus for a while now, and only recently have I begun to sense, realize and experience the MASSIVE ENERGY USED and INTENSITY of narrow focus.
And, EXACTLY as you wrote, Dr. Tomas, about using narrow focus in everyday life… it’s in the everday day tasks, and God forbid, the every day challenges, that it is most intense. (Heck, EVEN AS I TYPED THIS, I JUST caught how laser focused and zoomed in I was to the screen, how hard I was fervently hitting the keys and how tense/clutching my jaws and eyes are).
I didn’t realize HOW OFTEN, like, most of the day, my body/muscles/nervous system have been in this heightened arousal/fight-or-flight state. Which now explains why I always felt worse when told to concentrate to the exclusion of everything else.
And it seems ruminating and obsessing are the Holy Grail of narrow focus. Both of which I’ve experienced WAY TOO MUCH of in my life.
This post is a TERRIFIC reminder to simply be aware, right now, this moment… so I can ease off and take everything in again.
Your “attention” students may appreciate the book “The Attention Revolution”(2006) by a scholar of Buddhist thought and meditation, B. Allan Wallace, who lists and explains 10 kinds of attention. Also a curious subject is the kind of knowledge that has no object in the sense of intent to be aware of something,i.e.”conation” : like creative Inattention, intuition, teaching dreams, channelled information… and the list goes on.