Pay attention to what you’re paying attention to

We all think we’re seeing the world as it is, but actually our brain is playing tricks on us. Helpful tricks, yes, but tricks nonetheless.

When I look out in the view in front of me, I think I’m seeing one big seamless picture: that tree next to this tree, alongside that tree over there, sky above and grass below. But actually my brain is taking little snapshots as my eyes rest on different objects and then joining them together in what only seems like a seamless vista. (Yes, really). The big picture is made up of little fixations of focus. Usually it works well, but sometimes it means you miss seeing things that your brain wasn’t trained to focus on.

As with the eyes, so with the mind.

In our incredible variety, we’re all trained to focus on different things – by virtue of our culture, upbringing, personality type, life experiences etc etc. We’re all noticing different things.

I have a tendency to see all the things that need improving, all the things that could be better, from the big and meaningful to the small and (supposedly) unimportant. It makes me a great proofreader, but it’s also exhausting.

I’ll walk into a room and, without even trying, see all the things that could be improved… and then start making a mental list of how I can get on to sorting those things out. If the girls have tidied their rooms, I’ll walk into check and instead of first seeing the progress they’ve made, I’ll see the little toy or the used tissue (kids are gross) they’ve left on the floor. I’m learning to retrain myself about what I first comment on, but it goes against the grain for me.

For other people you might have a tendency to see whatever is missing, whatever is not enough, whatever needs your help, whatever is hurtful, whatever is chaotic, whatever you fear might happen, whatever.

Those natural tendencies, those habits of attention, cause us to miss what also is…. whatever is already there, whatever is enough, whatever is fine without your contribution, whatever is pleasant, whatever is peaceful, whatever is safe, whatever.

I heard Ian Cron talking with John Mark Comer about this idea on a recent episode of the Typology podcast (here). He said something like this:

We need to open the aperture of our attention to see the urgent immediacy of God’s presence in all things.

We can interrogate our natural tendencies and retrain our habits of attention. What are the things you tend to fixate on to the neglect of what also is? The first step is to pay attention to what you pay attention to.


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