Be Attentive!

But in the right way

We can attend to the world in two modes:one where we seek the familiar and one where we seek the different.

When we seek the familiar we have only one type of attention (‘focused attention’) where we are narrowly focused and we constantly compare what we are seeing (or hearing) to what we already know. When we find the familiar we stop seeking. In this mode, we can miss a lot of what is happening and will often be perceived as not paying full attention. This mode of paying attention is associated with the left hemisphere.

When we seek the different we need to let everything in and when we perceive a difference we need to continue to seek because there may be other differences to perceive. This mode of paying attention is associated with the right hemisphere and exists, in fact, in three types.

Vigilance is like the soldier on the ramparts paying full attention to everything and expecting a sudden attack from any quarter.

Alertness is like the mother with a baby monitor, not expecting anything to happen but being prepared to react quickly should it occur.

Sustained attention is like a connoisseur appreciating a work of art, the attention is directed towards something and all sensory input is allowed simply to flow in.

The fact that the right hemisphere has three types of listening in its mode and the left hemisphere has only one suggests that we should be using the hemispheres in that ratio 3:1, right to left.

It is our schooling that has trained us to prefer using the ‘familiar mode’ of paying attention and therefore overusing the left hemisphere. This makes us judgemental, limits our ability to connect to others and makes us closed to new or challenging information.

Meditation, Mindfulness and Encounter are all about better managing the left hemisphere and re-balancing which hemisphere we use and thus how we attend to the outside world.

John Corrigan