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December 18th, 2018

The act of attention creates a tension between our mind and the object we focus on.


The words attention and tension both come from the same Proto-Indo-European root ‘ten’ which means to ‘stretch’.


Indeed, when we learn under the duress of school it can literally feel like a stretch to understand what is going on.  Particularly when we have no natural interest in the subject, or the method of teaching is wholly uninspired.


But what about those rare times when good quality focus does not feel like a stretch?


For such times, and the subjects upon which we meditate, we might think of the yoga teacher who seems naturally flexible, demonstrating difficult postures with ease.


The nature of the stretch changes depending on how much practice and time we devote to it.


Coming from the other side of the equation, we might think of the time and practice that companies have put into the stretch from their place in culture to our minds.  How much of the difficult work of focusing attention has already been done for us by those who wish to direct and control our attention and ultimately turn it into a commodity?  Or do such companies simply look to take advantage of the ways in which the human mind has a natural range of flexibility for pleasure and anxiety?  If the symbols that provoke such responses are obvious, then our minds are quick to stretch in those directions.


If we compare this relative ease to the difficulty of concentrating on a new complicated subject about which we know nothing, the obvious symbols that provoke pleasure or satisfaction are nonexistent.  Our progress with such a new subject is determined nearly exclusively by our ability to jump from the satisfaction of one tiny victory achieved through new understanding to the next tiny victory of understanding.  If the time and effortful distance between these stepping stones of satisfaction are too far for our personal nature, we will abandon the task.  If we can achieve these tiny milestones before mental exhaustion, then our likelihood of continued learning is higher.  As these tiny victories slowly accrue, our ability to stretch our mind further and further with regards to that subject increases. 


It’s clear the mind can stretch further and further given the exercise and we can understand more and more if we push ourselves.


Or that ability can be appropriated by companies that specialize in manipulating attention.


The question that remains is: how will you exercise your attention?

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