Saturday, March 30, 2013

Creating the Environment

Surfing the internet the other day I Googled "How to pay attention." A lot of the ideas I found were about focus. In other words, attention.

Whether I have ADHD or not, my brain is not easily focused. That's why I have been talking about "training the brain." One of the problems we face is that, in essence, our mind has two modes:
  • Focused mind
  • Default mind
The focused mind is what we need to pay attention. It is what zeroes in on things. It is what helps us get things done.
Underneath that is the basic, skimming-along, automatic-response brain. It is our default mode as Dr. Amit Sood of Mayo Clinic calls it. It is white noise most of the time. Background. Just there. We don't notice it. It's like watching a football game on Sunday afternoon. On the screen is the game you are watching. The announcers are giving their commentary; the cameras catch the action. It has your attention.
But down there on the bottom of the screen is a crawl that is giving you scores around the league, fantasy stats updates, etc. When I am focused on the game I don't see the crawl. It is the default mode of my brain. It is the automatic thoughts that are at work. They don't disappear.
Until I let them come to the front. And then I am all over the place and have no idea what is happening in the game. I am learning about another team's stats, etc. My wife will then comment on the game and I have to pretend I know what just happened. The default mind of the crawl has defeated me.
(By the way, have you noticed that they disengage the crawl during commercials? They don't want anything to pull you away.)
Paying attention allows us to know what we are looking at, experiencing, and feeling. Training the brain is learning to recognize which we are paying attention to- and which we need to pay attention to. When we just skim along in default mode we have no idea what we are feeling. But take a moment and focus, bring the focusing part of the brain to work and you will begin to learn.
One of the suggestions on one of the web sites for paying attention is quite simple- and profound.
  • Create the right environment.
Distractions remove our ability to pay attention. The default crawl of thoughts that are just beyond our conscious awareness keep us all over the place - and no where in particular. Paying attentnion, using the focused mode, is a learned behavior. It is NOT the default mode. In order to get this done, to learn to pay attention, we have to create the right environment(s) in our lives. We need to nurture first the quiet willingness to do something that may take some psychic energy. We need to then explore the simple ways we can shift attention to one more focued.
This is the role and place of meditation and mindfulness.
Creating an environment where we can pay attention more fully, more often.
But it can be tough. Our primal instinct is to let the thoughts roll. It is to go with an unconscious flow. But as our primal ancestors discovered- that's dangerous when you don't see or hear the lion charging you because you've allowed your mind to wander. They learned- and developed- the focused mode- the ability to pay attention.
It takes time and inner energy. Some days I am great at it- just take a few breaths and I am back, focused. Other days, an hour of breathing can be as ineffective as anything else.
The key is to keep on doing it. Training takes time and effort.

So, try it. Just do it. Create your inner environment and pay attention.

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