Attention deficit is rife in daily life. Competition for our attention assails us from all directions. And that’s a barrier to being creative, our wellbeing, and our capacity to grow. Understanding the true nature of attention will help.
The attention paradox
Here’s a strange paradox about attention, beautifully captured by the French philosopher and teacher, Simone Weil.
Most often attention is confused with a kind of muscular effort. If one says to one’s pupils: ‘now you must pay attention’, one sees them contracting their brows, holding their breath, stiffening their muscles. If after two minutes they are asked what they have been paying attention to, they cannot reply. They have been concentrating on nothing. They have not been paying attention. They have been contracting their muscles…
Attention consists of suspending our thought, leaving it detached …empty, waiting, not seeking anything, but ready to receive in its naked truth the object which is to penetrate it.
Yes, of course you can be creative through action. Breakthroughs occur when you throw yourself into exploring, testing and trying things out. Yet, it can also arise from stillness and peace of mind. It’s the opposite of physically tensing ourselves for what’s next. Proper attention is relaxing our body, emptying and calming our mind to create space for whatever emerges.
Enabling better attention
A common coaching approach is Socratic questioning (from the Greek philosopher), a series of rational and objective questions seeking meaning and truth. For example, say someone wants to solve a problem or find new ways of doing something or identify potential directions. A coach might ask “what are your ideas?” Usually, the person will share the immediate ones that come to mind.
The key to stimulating their creative juices is for the coach to maintain silence to allow their mind to clear. When no further suggestions are forthcoming, the coach might ask “what else?”, maybe several times. They are now open to whatever ideas are not at the forefront of their mind. They have captured their own attention. Focused and without distractions. A solution often emerges naturally in front of them.
Listening is about the quality of attention you give. Nancy Kline
Better attention through listening to yourself helps with both overthinking and underthinking when you feel overwhelmed or blocked. So, cultivate and value peace of mind for more creativity to tap into the answers that lie within you.