I am in a dark cave holding a flashlight. The beam of the flashlight is the circumference of my reality.
What moves the beam of attention? What are the thermodynamics of the flow of conscious awareness?
"Most people give their attention to what they don't like. Put your attention on what you love." (Adyashanti)
Recently I read an essay by David Foster Wallace called This Is Water that keeps coming back to mind. I had never heard of Wallace, but here is a one sentence description of him (written by David Lipsky):
"He published a thousand-page novel, received the only award you get in the nation for being a genius, wrote essays providing the best feel anywhere of what it means to be alive now, accepted a special chair to teach writing at a college in California, married, published another book, and hanged himself at age forty-six."*
Explaining his struggle with depression, at one point Wallace said, "I think I had lived an incredibly American life. That, 'Boy, if I could just achieve X and Y and Z, everything would be OK.' "
The essay by David Foster Wallace was the commencement speech he gave at Kenyon College in Ohio in 2005, three years before his suicide in 2008. It's one of the most lucid, honest, and penetrating essays I have ever read. One reviewer said that the essay is "like six Eckhart Tolle books rolled into one."
Here are some excerpts from Wallace's essay (with slight paraphrase).
"There is a blind certainty, a closed-mindedness that's like an imprisonment so complete that the prisoner doesn't even know he's locked up."
"A huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded."
"It is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive instead of getting hypnotized by the constant monologue inside your head."
"But it is possible to be conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to...If you cannot or will not exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliche about the mind being 'an excellent servant but a terrible master.' "
"I submit that the real value of education is supposed to be about: How to keep from going through life a slave to your head."
"Our own present culture has yielded the freedom to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation."
"But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talked about in the great outside world of winning and achieving and displaying. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness."
"The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the 'rat race'- the constant, gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing."
"Real value has everything to do with simple awareness- awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us."
Wallace describes a routine trip to the grocery store to illustrate in concrete terms what he is talking about.
Freedom of attention. This makes me wonder about the thermodynamics of attention. Thermodynamics is about the flow of energy, and attention is a kind of energy, for which we have not yet discerned the underlying dynamics.
What are the thermodynamics of attention? Is there a magnetic pull toward clarity? An attractive force towards truth? A gravitational tug of ego? An electromagnetic force field of love? More and more there is a noticing of the flow of attention- what captivates it- what frees it. What does it mean for awareness to be aware of its own presence? Life becomes an adventure in attention, as David Foster Wallace suggests.
(David Foster Wallace's commencement speech is highly recommended and can be read at this link:
(* quote about Wallace is from Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip With David Foster Wallace by David Lipsky, p. xv and p. 66)
(photo is from: http://zombiestories.files.wordpress.com/2009/06/light-beam.jpg)