Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Your Attention, Please - a little book about attention (draft)

Hello! The following is a draft of a manuscript for a short book on attention. Please let me know your thoughts and feelings on it, if you would be so kind. Thanks! -Wil

Your Attention, Please
Wil Darcangelo

These words are meant for my eyes, too.

Dedicated to my family who often display more courage than they should be required to use.

Difference Between Focus and Mindfulness

Focus is intentionality to cognize a specific thing of my choosing.
Mindfulness is willingness to become aware of something about which I am/possibly ignorant.

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Seven Thoughts About Attention

  1. Pay attention to what you like to do. Do lots of that.
  2. Pay attention to why you like to do it. Notice yourself.
  3. Pay attention to how you feel. Reach for a higher thought.
  4. Pay attention to what works. Meditate on that often.
  5. Pay attention to your neighbor. But know yourself so that you may know others.
  6. Pay attention to the suffering of others. Lighten the burden, raise the water in the harbor.
  7. Pay attention to God. Know the Light within you by attending to the Light without.

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1. Pay attention to what you like to do. Do lots of that.

What do you like to do? This isn’t a question about money, although it isn’t not a question about money either. It’s a question about something that is typically a low-level priority for most of us: happiness.
What makes you happy? Something with your hands? Reading? Movies? Crafts? Perhaps you really love your job. Do you even notice your own happiness? Especially when life is hard, do you notice when you feel even a passing sense of happiness? Pay attention to your happiness. Notice the seeds of it and cultivate them. Nurture them. If only one thing has made you laugh all day, notice it. Remember it. Sit with it for a bit. Feel gratitude for it and recognize that you still have the ability to smile.
It sounds terribly contrite, I must admit. But there’s something to it. We are adaptable creatures whose brain wiring continually shifts to accommodate our ways of thinking. It adapts into a communication tower of our own design. By dwelling on the positive as a practice we are programming ourselves to be able to recognize it as well as be more relaxed about achieving it. The more relaxed we are about a situation, the more likely we are to arrive at the more inspired solution. The more we feel we have a right to be happy, the more we subconsciously pursue it, the more we frame our prayers in ways that draw happiness toward us instead of repelling it.
Notice what you love and get good at it. You don’t have to make a living at it. Sometimes that even ruins it. But we do need things in our lives that remind us we each have skills and value. If you love something, even a little something, work toward getting even better at it. Have as many successful realities in your life as possible—especially little ones! It keeps a regular flood of positive brain chemicals moving. That prevents stress chemicals like adrenaline and cortisol from flooding our body’s cells, effectively polluting them. When you see blue lights in the mirror behind you what does your body suddenly feel like? That’s the rushing feeling of a hormonal response to sudden stress or fear. When we operate in stressful environments it’s like operating for days or even years under a steady drip of it. Pecked to death by a duck, as they say.
This steady drip prevents cells from performing tasks like processing fats and absorbing nutrients. Positive brain chemicals improve cell function as well as brain function. Especially in moments of deep despair, reach for the higher thought. Even if only for a brief second, let it waft over you like a balm. A quick breeze. If we attend to it perhaps it may yet become a mighty wind. Smile. Your brain doesn’t know you’re not happy. The physical act of smiling releases endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine into the cells, relaxes your body, lowers your heart rate and blood pressure. Plus, smiling is contagious.You can literally be of service to others simply by smiling at them. Work smarter, not harder.
Some research is suggesting ADHDers produce less dopamine than most people. Since that's an important brain chemical for keeping us happy, we might follow some of those types of clues when seeking ways of optimizing our lives. Our happiness actually matters. We have a right to be happy.
When we seek to achieve a series of mini goals our brains over time become accustomed to a sense of genuine accomplishment. Picking accomplishable goals on a daily basis and recognizing a sense of satisfaction when completing them expands that reality. As we become adept at this ability to recognize our successes without minimizing them, it affects the way we approach larger goals. As our brain wiring increases it's fluency with an expectation of mental preparedness our brains will increasingly align with a sense of relaxed success than with failure or anxiety or forgetfulness. It will become literally predisposed to a non-anxious sense of accomplishment.

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2. Pay attention to why you like to do it. Notice yourself.

Once we identify what makes us happy we have a new opportunity to learn about ourselves simply by examining why it makes us happy. It's easier said than done, of course. In fact it's hardly ever possible at all. Because once we start wondering, we find out good things and bad as well. We never fail however, to get a better look at the truth either way. And it shall set you free. Of one thing or another.  
With that caveat out of the way, think about it for moment. If you like to do scrapbooking, for instance, what do you love about it? What is it about scrapbooking that feeds you? What makes you long to return to it like a book you can't wait to keep on reading? This question is not a challenge but a curiosity. It's a nudge. Because once we start to recognize what it is about a thing or a situation that makes us happy we know how to seek more of it.
When we seek to know what truly makes us happy it’s like loving vegetable soup, but not quite knowing why. Until you ask yourself. When we find that we love vegetable soup because of the carrots we begin to learn how to recognize the appearance of other carrots in the world and in other ways. In cake, for instance. In juice. Our curiosity about the thing which makes us happy leads us to learn even more. We may even perhaps find our way all the way back to the garden.


3. Pay attention to how you feel. Reach for a higher thought.

How are you feeling right now? When was the last time you thought about how you felt instead of just feeling how you felt? Feeling our feelings is like sitting on an innertube on a river. You aren’t completely without an ability to steer, and you can always jump off and try to get somewhere that way. Don’t drop your beer can. But thinking about and noticing your feelings is like riding in a canoe with a trolling motor. You can go anywhere you want. Slipping across the river with little wake or sound.
So, how do you feel right now? Close your eyes and start with the physical. Take inventory. Notice every single ache and climb into it. Discover it. Is it warm? Is it tight? Numb? Follow the muscle in your body to where it makes its connection to the bone. Ask the source what it needs to feel better. Pay attention to your first thoughts when you pray (to either the source of the muscle attachment or to the Source of you).
The first thoughts are often the key. They’re also the most likely to be disregarded because they either appear to be too easy or appear to be too hard. They’re brushed away as warm-up thoughts. Not the real thing. OK God, go ahead now. I’m listening. (Cue: SFX: trumpet fanfare preceding divine message. Go: divine message…). We expect something bigger or to feel more other than we usually feel. But if God is within us, then why should it feel all that different when God talks to us? Maybe we’re so used to hearing it we don’t know where our thoughts end and God’s begin. Perhaps God is a tap and asking is turning the spigot. Sometimes we turn on too much too fast and we see it more as a rush we can’t process so it becomes like so much background chatter.
Attend to how you feel and ask the source what it needs to feel better. If the answer comes in a rush, it’s ok. There’s nothing wrong with asking God to speak slowly at first.

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4. Pay attention to what works. Meditate on that often.

Matthew 7:7
"Ask and it will be given to you;
seek and you will find;
knock and the door will be opened to you.”

But what are we really asking for? What thoughts are contradicting our lips? Do we subconsciously seek to wreck our own plans and dreams? It so often appears that way. Mainly because it’s true. We do wreck our own plans. All the time. Because we lose faith in ourselves and in our ability to manifest. We forget all the times when we got it right. We give our past failures the power to suppress us rather than teach us. Learn from your failures. You’ll process the emotional parts—of which there will be many—much faster by facing the reality of failure. And then you can go about removing that particular emotionality from the mix when dreaming about the future.
When you decide upon something, decide upon it. State it to yourself. Do not frame it in the negative such as I want to lose weight. Frame it as I want to be healthy. You will receive what you attend to, because what you attend to is essentially what you’re praying for. More weight to lose or more health, which one do you want? Frame your decision in the positive. Deeply attend to your words. They are the clues to your ability to manifest. They are the indicators of what you’re really praying for.
Once you’ve framed your decision in the positive, let it go. Place the reality of the decision and that it will be fulfilled in the background of your mind. Then leave it alone. If it pops up in your mind later, water it with the same original positive awareness that you have decided it and that it will happen according to its own schedule. No seedling is ever seen until it is seen. But it’s been growing all along. Ever since the farmer made the decision to grow something by placing a seed in the ground and blessing it. Don’t stop watering it (or believing in it) just because you’re not aware of what’s going on beneath the surface. Attend to your doubts and comfort them.
Then, with your decision snug in the back of your mind and life going on as usual, spend your time meditating on the occasions where you got what you wanted and you could see a direct link between your attitude and your ability to manifest. Attend to your successes. Meditate on them as a reality of your skillset. Use them as proof that you truly do have the ability to hear God inside you as you go along toward the pursuit of your own happiness. Relax and let it flow. Leave the decision still in the back of your mind and concentrate on your ability to make your decisions come true in the general sense. Take inventory of every single occasion where it worked. This is what God would have you remember most: your ability to hear the silent voice of inspiration and act upon it at every turn, mostly without ever realizing it. Such is what maintaining a relaxed state over our ability to manifest will bring about.
If we each of us are connected to God, then we should attend to our use of it. When we are at our most despairing, we should thank God for every time we have gotten it right. We should gently behold our failures square in the face with a relaxed countenance and ask them what they would have us know. Pray to the source. Attend confidently to what you learn so that you may gather what you must and depart. If you do it successfully, you will be left with a sense of gratitude for the failure. It will be the first thing you think of when someone asks you about it later. Your face will not register shame or embarrassment, because it will no longer occur to you to be disappointed about it. You will have already benefited from the knowledge and are free to brag about how you turned that manure into a garden. Give God as much credit as you wish. But remember that you are the one who was listening.


5. Pay attention to your neighbor. But know yourself so that you may know others.

We do not do unto others what we would not let them do unto us. But we must seek know ourselves before we will be of any real service to our neighbor. God is our neighbor. Our neighbor is our direct link to God. Especially the challenging neighbors. The ones we feud with. Become accustomed to that thought, as challenging as it is. Have faith that you are near one another for a reason. Seek to look that reason in the face with the same confidence we should look at our failures. Neither of them wishes to destroy us, only teach us.
Attend to your neighbor. Shovel their walk in the winter. Wish them safety. If there is a connection between us all, what are you doing to your end of it? What information are you pumping into the stream? It’s hard to do battle with a butterfly. Transform yourself. Change the way you see your neighbors. See their humanity. See their hurt. See their choices as being indicative of their hurt, not their hate. Hate isn’t real. Hurt is.
If you already love your neighbor, then the circle widens. But attend still. Christianity is a relational practice not a winner’s circle. We must continually attend to our neighbor and work to maintain positive relations. The idea of not coveting thy neighbor’s wife isn’t about a moral judgement by God, it’s practical advice for us. What neighbor keeps your house safer when you’re on vacation, the one you have coffee with or the one whose morning paper you steal?
Depending upon how deeply your faith goes, you might even choose to conclude that your neighbors are there to show you to yourself in some special way. If God is our neighbor, what might we learn about ourselves by attending to God in this way?
And yes, neighbor is also a metaphor.

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6. Pay attention to the suffering of others. Lighten the burden, raise the water in the harbor.

When we attend to suffering we are limiting the scope of our attention to how a situation has made someone feel. We are sitting with them, not solving, just sitting. Giving our own garment a bit of a rip and knowing that’s the best, least resistant, thing to do. Don’t resist their suffering, be a balm to it. Don’t force tissues upon them, let your shoulder catch their tears. Recognize yourself in the suffering of others and it will be a balm to your sorrow as well. Attending to the suffering of others in ways that are personally meaningful will help complete the circuit of our own life experiences. We are not meant to suffer alone. Attempting to do so because we don’t wish to burden someone else denies both the chance at finding peace.
Attend to suffering like a nurse in a battlefield. The cause of the suffering will wait and will be argued by others. God is in the wounded, not the war. Hug the child and dry their tears. Simply be there for them. The real problem is so rarely ever known. We rarely know ourselves what has set us off or causes our own sadness. It is usually the result of so many smaller factors converging in a soup. Let the soup be. Our work is not there.
Attend to your own suffering. Notice yourself so that you may recognize yourself in others. It makes the work easier. It makes more friends with whom to share the burden.

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7. Pay attention to God. Know the Light within you by attending to the Light without.

What do you think God really is? Independent of your beliefs in Jesus, or Muhammad, or Moses, or any other of our world’s prophets (peace be upon them all), what do you really think God is? Do you think God has an ego? Assuming not, how would an egoless God engage with and hope for the world? Does God know us? How deeply? If most deeply then why do we despair? Because we don’t know. We doubt. We ask. We plead for proof. We pine for evidence that we are part of something larger than we appear.
Attend to God by seeking. Remain ever-wondering. The journey is the destination you seek. “The unexamined faith is not worth having,” said, James Luther Adams. Is it a slight to God to ask questions? Believe in your value as a part of creation. Believe in your intellect and maintain a holy curiosity. Make connections with God and increase the bandwidth of your ability to receive inspiration. Remain calm and simply allow it to flow around and through you. Use your imagination to create a visual to represent your experience of God. But keep it fluid, keep it from becoming concrete. Allow it to be responsive to you. Commune with it. Give God the opportunity to engage with you through it. Once there, ask God what It would have you know. Feel gratitude. Feel safety. Feel satisfaction. And know that you were the one who allowed it to be so.


1,000 Peace Cranes

When I was engaged to my husband Jamie I learned of the history of the origami peace crane. It’s a beautiful and sad and inspiring journey I encourage you to explore for yourself. Ancient Japanese legend reveals that a wish is granted by the gods for one who folds one thousand origami peace cranes within one year.
I wanted to be a good husband (hopefully, I am!) and so as a way of proclaiming my wish to the Universe (with a side of romance) I decided that I would make 1,000 origami peace cranes in time for my wedding. Six weeks away.
Jamie was not amused. There was a lot of work to be done for the wedding, I was in school, I was working at the church, he didn’t quite see it as the romantic gesture I was hoping for, yet.
6 weeks X 7 days/week = 42 days total.  1,000 divided by 42 = 23.8095238 origami cranes per day. Sounds plausible. If you’re me.
I decided to get up every morning and for 90 minutes attempt to make as many as I could. I made them all in five weeks.
Those 90 minutes every morning of mind-less/mind-full activity literally saved me during those last stressful weeks of throwing a wedding in the town square and inviting the city to attend it. I attribute much to that daily, highly calming, yet not mind-less activity. Making cranes was simple but required paying a bit of attention. You can’t drift off too far. The activity won’t allow for it.
I learned this past Spring a bit about Buddhist meditation that I hadn’t realized before. You need a bit of tension. You need a partially closed lid to anchor you in the reality of now. One does not lay back and become a puddle. That is not meditation. That is a nap. It has its value, absolutely. But it is not about programming the brain and heart for optimum experience. That takes an amount of developed skill and deliberate focus.
The cranes were an excellent way of giving myself the time to allow my brain to settle and focus without becoming a puddle. It warmed me up for better thought processes throughout the day. Moreover, I was calmer.
There is research out there. Look it up and design your own practice. There are so many ways of thinking about this. But the prevailing thought seems to be that having a practice which answers to the need for developing the skills necessary to remain in a relaxed state of focus in our exceptionally distracting world is the secret to optimum living.

The key to developing my own successful practice was this:
  • It was easy, but not too easy.
  • It had a sense of accomplishment built into it on a daily, weekly, and completion basis.
  • It has a spiritual quality to it and a message upon which to ponder.
  • I didn’t get bored.
  • I thought the cranes were beautiful and their history inspiring.
  • I imagined my wish.
  • I put my phone away and didn’t watch TV.


Fold It Like Retail

Folding laundry is a zen experience for me. Well, a bit of zen and a bit of CNN. I used to work in clothing retail. You learn how to fold when working in clothing retail. Sometimes it’s like an imprint on your brain that won’t go away. I also have the news running in the background most of the time.
I fold each basket of laundry one at a time, stacking each category of clothing in perfectly squared towers. I never put the clothing away until all the laundry is done and folded. I like to see what I’ve done. It’s logical of course to just put the clothes away as I’m doing it. But that makes it only a mind-less activity. I make it mind-full by being aware of the fact that I feel better about having done all this laundry by allowing myself to feel a sense of accomplishment about it. Every time.
My therapist once scolded me for putting my jacket on the floor next to my chair one day. She said how I treat my coat is how I think about myself. If I want to feel better about myself I should hang up my coat.
I have since assumed that there must be something to the thought and now I think to treat my clothes as symbolic extensions of myself. When I’m feeling down I fold laundry. I take extra care.
Jamie and I are the same size in clothing and shoes so we consider each other’s wardrobe as interchangeable. In my mind it reinforces our relationship and helps me to attend to our similarities. But there are other opportunities for using clothing to make a statement to not only others but ourselves. At our wedding reception barbecue we changed into tshirts and jeans. We each wore a pair of Converse low tops. I wore red, he wore blue. Ever since the wedding we only wear one of each.


Married To It

Being the spouse of someone who has attentional challenges is hard. It’s easy to take forgetfulness or inattention personally. Especially because those who have attentional issues tend to attract those who do not. It’s part of the balance of gifts. But included with that balance is a difference in world view. One thinks clearly more often than the other. One has a better skillset for remembering details the other at keeping life exciting.
          I often remind Jamie that I am no different from someone who is hard of hearing. You often have to make sure that they are looking at you before you begin speaking so they can read your lips. If you are in a relationship with someone with a hearing issue, you become accustomed to occasionally repeating yourself or by taking the time to insure the person is facing you. You don’t hold it against them for not being able to hear. If he starts speaking while we are watching TV, for instance, it’s better to get my attention first rather than just start speaking out of the blue. It takes me a moment or two to extract my attention from something designed to capture my attention. It’s my job to remain focused once I get there, but his to remember that my brain works a certain way.
This is about building relationships between the Structured and Unstructured worlds. Not just as individuals but even within our own minds. There is a lot we have to teach each other and many ways we can support one another simply by being ourselves making use of our gifts. It's very easy to internalize the distractibility of an unstructured mind and take it deeply personally. Because you know in your shoes that you respond differently to the same stimulus. And you know why and what would need to occur in your heart for you to forget something or fail to notice something so important. It would mean you had lost interest.
But for an unstructured mind, love and attention are not shown in linear form the way a Structured mind expects. Don’t try to make it something that it is not. Relationships are about striking a conscious balance, not changing the other to match our own vibration.

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The Wolf You Feed

Pay attention to what you WANT not what you don't want. If you want greater attentional ability, notice things. Practice paying attention as an act. Get good at it. Get good at shifting your attention on command. Will your mind to behave as you wish it to. If you want more attention affirm: thank you for my attention.
Are you mindfully attentional or attentional by default?
Notice what you pay attention to. Whatever it is, more is coming.  Don't be judgmental or resistant. What you resist persists. What you battle defends itself. Just notice.
A radio does not pick up all signals at once. It has a technical attribute that helps it to focus on one signal at a time. We are the same way. Notice what channel you are tuned to. How’s that going for you?
Constantly ask yourself, "How am I feeling?" This ongoing assessment, more than anything, will guide you toward the best things upon which to be paying attention.
    There once was a grandfather who told his grandson about the war inside each of of us between two wolves. One represents courage, love, peace. The other, deceit, fear, protection. The child asked, Which one wins? The grandfather replied, The one you feed.

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Multitask and Get Less Done Even Faster

Every time you switch your attention from one thing to another it takes as much mental effort as it does to pay attention to one thing. In other words, if you are working on two things at once, you are essentially working on three. Your brain is tiring out faster every time you switch from one task to the other. Unnecessarily draining it of the energy you need to attend to your intention.
    Focus on one thing at a time as much as possible and you will have a better result from your efforts.

First, But at the End

Philippians 4:8
"Finally, sisters and brothers,
Whatever is true,
Whatever is honorable,
Whatever is just,
Whatever is pure,
Whatever is lovely,
Whatever is commendable,
If there is any excellence,
If there is anything worthy of praise,
Think about these things."

I spend a lot of time thinking about attention. It consumes a great portion of my life. Most often I am in a state of self-criticism. Sometimes constructive, sometimes not.

Yet in my faith only forward I go.
Even if only,

and painfully,


Lately I have begun to realize the great magnitude of thought which exists on the subject of attention. I was not ignorant to the size, so much as the scope. And I will admit it is sometimes difficult to interpret the data as it is filtered through society and our peers. There is a lot of speculative conversation about the causes, and treatments, and control of Attention Deficit (Hyperactivity) Disorder. But there is little public discussion about how to surf it, rather than be made driftwood by it. Why shouldn’t hope exist here?
Spirituality occupies a competitive place in the realm of my attention, too. I had thought My Great Concern was excluded from spiritual thought. But I was wrong. Which is my favorite place to be, by the way. Not to be wrong, of course but to no longer be so. To discover I had been. And I had been wrong when I subconsciously concluded that God had nothing to say about my particular suffering. And, yes. I will comfortably describe it as such. Suffering. Not only mine, but my family's. ADHD is an ambiguous handicap.
I am a spiritual person who places a lot of faith in the teachings of our wisest masters. Especially where they tend to agree. Whether or not God exists is a personal choice. Many of our religious ideas claim to have a divine origin. I make no claim to the origins of a spiritual idea any more than I will claim to know the human bias behind a scientific conclusion. A good idea is a good idea especially when it’s backed up by others, each describing it in their own way. We all do what we can.
I believe in God, but I place no limitations on It, nor do I impose a belief in the divine on others or what divine even means. However, in the mix of all the theoretical cacophony about Attention perhaps something sacred and useful will come to the surface. Perhaps if we allow in a bit of chaos, or at the very least stop trying to control it, Spirit will have the opportunity to work through us with fewer limitations. And then, maybe, we can start being a little more proactive and loving about our individual gifts and challenges.
Just maybe we can be the surfboard instead of the driftwood.


1 comment:

  1. Wonderfully written and so easy for me to relate to. I think you did a great job!