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The Tinkered Mind
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July 28th, 2020
As you read or listen to this sentence, your attention is focused, ideally captured, and molded by the shape of meaning and cadence created by this string of words. So much of your experience is pushed out of the way in order to do this. When you stop reading or listening, your senses will open up and you’ll take in a much larger slice of what’s going on. Perhaps someone will start blaring some music and interrupt this focus. Our attention is grabbed, and so we try to refocus over and over.
If attention is the thing we are trying to guide to a specific end, then what exactly is paying attention to this process?
Does attention have the capacity to pay attention to itself? It may take a bit of practice, often accomplished through meditation, but it does seem possible to consciously attempt this recursive look. The results, of course, are left for the person attempting this high-wire trick to examine. The fruits of this simple exercise seem to unlock unexpected avenues that lace across the way we experience time.
Might sound a bit froo-froo, a bit woo. But wandering in this area, and investigating the moment in such a way begins yield possible solutions to a question like:
How do we ensure that life doesn’t pass us by while we’re busy doing other things?
This is, of course, a famous quote rearranged into a question of caution and preparation. It can be shocking how quickly time passes by, even disturbing, and perhaps tragic. And these possible reactions to the past are exactly the reason why it’s so important to investigate that intangible, finicky, slippery opportunity that always seems to arrive and leave at once - it’s the reason to study the moment.
Memory tries to capture it.
Accomplishment attempts to demarcate it.
Pleasure can seem to honor it and waste it at the same time.
We engage in all of these different practices and techniques and facets of human life in an attempt to somehow do something to the moment. Often we are trying to transform the moment into a peak state, as when the bow is finally tied on the accomplishment or when the glass of wine is raised, or when we finally breath a sigh of relief before the view at the top of the mountain. It’s as if the best moment is captured by the word ‘finally’. But no sooner is it said than the moment that seems to express that feeling has fled and we are left with the beginning of a new chase.
Meditation, and the practice of investigating the nature of attention itself, is in some sense, an exercise done by putting all that chase and those peaks states, all that pleasure and strenuous endurance - putting all that aside for a bit of time in order to experience the moment as it is in as naked a form as possible.
What one comes to realize after some time, is that the experience of this pared down moment begins -or can begin- to trickle into the rest of life. The strenuous endurance seems less stressful, because the stress itself can be separated from the task at hand and be manipulated by a flexible and powerful attention. When the alarms are all blaring in the cockpit of the mind, most of us are rightfully overwhelmed. A well exercised attention gains the ability to silence the alarms and address the underlying causes with calmness and peace, almost as though the right decision becomes a passive reaction to the needs of the moment.
The true needs of the moment can often be counter-intuitive, especially if our intuition has been trained in a life that has lacked this mindful practice, and so grows the need to study the moment.