Attention as a Spiritual Practice

My cell phone sits just a few inches away from me as I write this blog this morning, beckoning me, enticing me, begging for my attention. As I drove into work this morning, I drove down our shopping mall corridor with all its bright shiny signs. Billboards displayed ads for things we really do not need, vape shops that sell us products that that industry is trying to make us think is cool, it reminds me of being a kid in the 80’s with all the cool Joe Camel and Marlboro Man ads in the newspapers, magazines, and televisions.  

Where has your attention been this week? Your bills? Your weekend? Your kids? You? Epictetus tells us that you become what you give your attention to. Attention in my field of work is only a problem when you are struggling with it. But I feel that there is a larger problem a foot… we have forgotten how to pay attention.  

In a world where we are so connected, so aware, so “woke,” are we really paying attention? I often offer to my couples specifically, that they may do an excellent job hearing what each other is saying, however, they are not really listening. Listening, you see, is a full body experience, it happens through what we see and what we feel from the other person when they are talking to us. Do we see the tension in their face? The practice of mindful awareness is observed in many of the world’s religions. Most notably, the Indic religions are full of attention and awareness practices and my own religion of Christianity has many references to paying attention in its sacred scriptures and practices of attention and awareness borrowed from the Indic religions.  

Right attention allows us to be mindful or aware of critical moments of our spiritual life. It awakens us to the moments of grace, opportunities for gratitude, our connections with others and if your religious tradition includes it, moments where the (Holy)Spirit moves in and through us.  

In Buddhism, there are three types of right attention: 

  • The intention of renunciation, which counters the intention of desire. 
  • The intention of goodwill, which counters the intention of ill will. 
  • The intention of harmlessness, which counters the intention of harmfulness. 

 

There are many ways to practice attention depending on your spiritual tradition. Jesus tells us to keep our lamps burning and stay awake. One could interpret this in these modern times as minimizing your distractions and focus instead on acknowledging those who serve you. This means striking up a conversation with the barista, the employee at the checkout counter, the delivery person who comes to your office each day. Right attention can spread into all aspects of your life, I tend to use my time in the gym, running or riding my bike as times to focus on myself, clear my mind of any worries of for the coming day or the day that is leaving and prepare my head and heart for the challenges ahead.  

As you think of the next week and your engagement with the world, I would like to challenge you to change your relationship to what you give your attention to.  

  • The chime of your incoming text message or phone call is a cue to stop, focus and mindfully consider how you respond to that text or phone call.  
  • Stopping at the stop light, pause and look at the other drivers around you and consider your interconnectedness with those around you.  
  • The request for attention from your spouse, partner or child is a moment of connection that brings you intimately closer to that connection in your life. Missing this is a regrettable moment that you will never get back.  

 

 

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