Attention in the Age of ADD

MagicianThere is so much noise now.  Many people seem to be taking it for granted – or more likely embracing it, going around with the cell phone glued to the side of their head and playing movies in their cars.  Blackberries, iPhones, Game Boys, even my beloved iPod – these are not the tools of BE HERE NOW.  Instead, their mantra is BE EVERYWHERE AT ONCE.  Without a trace of irony.

The teenaged daughter of a good friend was texting her way through a hike in the woods and literally walked off a cliff.  Thankfully, she tumbled less than twenty feet down to the next ledge.  It would have been around seventy feet more if she had gone all the way over.  As it was, she survived without major injury.

All this noise around us – our lives are built on distraction – just at a time when the contradictions in the world are coming to a head.  Perhaps a time when attention is more important than ever before. 

The wheels have come off the global economy.  Our news is all hype.  Our culture is in a freefall of decay, catering to lowest common denominators and worst impulses.  A storm looms ahead, and we seem to be barreling straight into it, too busy with all our multitasking, twittering and frittering to look up from our various handheld devices – metaphorical and literal – and step mindfully.

Honestly, I can’t take the noise for granted because it is overwhelming to me.  I can easily lose myself in it and float rudderlessly out to sea.

So in the midst of the din, I find myself returning, after years of exile, to memories from early childhood.  They are my most vivid memories – before the trauma, before the socialization, before the build up of desensitizing sludge. 

I perceived small things with such clarity back then.  The crackling of ice-cloaked walnut trees swaying in a biting wind.  Crocuses poking through the snow in the rock garden outside the kitchen door around my birthday.  The fragrant bed of long soft needles under the bows in the enchanted pine grove beyond the fields.  The velvet brown ooze of the river bottom, with minnows darting from my feet.  The orange glow of the late afternoon sun flooding the kitchen before dinner.

I find myself returning to these memories for their innocence.  Their delicate focus and understated beauty.  Their quiet perfection.  No noise to spoil them.  No worries or impending deadlines to take them away.

They are perfect imprints. 

I am trying to reconnect with the mindset that created them.  That mindset opens a quiet, clear space within.

Attention is one of our most important faculties.  We forfeit our creative power when our attention is diluted or handed over to external sources in exchange for shallow entertainment.  We need to stop being restless adolescents forever in search of diversion.  We need to take up this powerful faculty and direct it with conscious intent. 


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