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November 28th, 2022
Apparently humans can pay attention to 3 things simultaneously, max. Perhaps some can pay attention to 4 and some can only pay attention to 1 or 2. Whatever the individual differences, it seems common that most people can pay attention to more than one thing. While writing this very sentence I am also aware of the music, and if there was a child bandying about the room, I’d also be semi-aware of that child’s position and movement in space. Any combination of things can fill these separate roles. A sailor can be both aware of the state of their own boat and the state of the other boats on the race course.
These overlapping and subsumed sets of context form our ability for awareness. It’s one thing to have your attention focused on your own actions, it’s quite another to be aware of those actions within a larger context. Many people are not. Angry people, for example. They are so intoxicated by the state of anger that every iota of focus and attention is subsumed within that primary mode of action. The ability to host multiple sets of increasingly sized contexts collapses to a single one, creating a complete inability to self-discriminate on a moment to moment basis.
This is the sort of area where a mindfulness practice can be particularly useful. Mindfulness, in some sense, creates an expansion of context. Where anger collapses all contexts into one unwise perspective, mindfulness exercises the mind’s ability to entertain -simultaneously- the present moment in different contexts of varying sizes and perspectives.
The angry person who can invoke an instance of mindfulness isn’t just angry. They also gain the ability to see themselves as angry. This is incredibly powerful because the lack of immersion creates an ability for self-reference that allows for editing on the fly. The angry person can then have the novel thought of “oh, I’m angry, is anger the best course of action in this instance?” Often the answer is no, and the mindful person can then choose a wiser course of action.
But this subtle shift is dependent on the ability to host multiple contexts of varying sizes and degrees, and often they are larger contexts that subsume the force.
Awareness is really an awareness of the primary context. And greater awareness is the opposite of context-collapse: it’s the ability toe be aware of greater and larger spheres of context.