Updated: Mar 11
We live in an age of increasing distractions, where text messages, emails, phone calls, television and the internet call out for our attention throughout the day. And you've probably noticed that there are times in life when you're working, studying, or engaged in a particular hobby or interest, and your attention starts to wander, or you get distracted by a new message, and suddenly you realize that maybe fifteen minutes or half an hour has gone by, and you haven't been doing what you told yourself or what is expected of you to do
There is an abundance of evidence that people had much longer attention spans than the average person today in the past. For instance, in Elizabethan England, people from all levels of society, from market traders to royalty, would gather together in the Globe theatre in London to hear five-hour performances of plays such as Shakespeare's Hamlet, plays packed with dense poetic imagery and long, complex monologues. In nineteenth-century America, Abraham Lincoln famously debated with his political rival Stephen Douglas for up to seven hours, with one man speaking continuously for three hours, the other for four hours. And from reports at the time, the audiences were transfixed and listened attentively all day long.
If you compare that quality of pure attentiveness to how it feels when you're sitting in front of the television channel hopping, or in front of your computer surfing the internet in a mindless daze, you might stop to wonder if perhaps even with all the undoubted benefits of modern technology, we are in danger of losing something very precious. Are we losing the ability to discipline, direct, and command our minds to pay attention to one thing at a time, rather than be continuously pulled this way and that by every little distraction that pops up?
Now there are numerous simple, practical tips to help you focus and concentrate better. If you're working or studying, it's a good idea to turn off your phone, disconnect from the internet, perhaps play some music that's conducive to work, or put in earplugs, and hang a sign on the door that says loud and clear "Do not disturb!". This enables you to create a bubble of privacy for yourself, where it's just you and your work. If distractions come to mind, like a sudden thought that you need to buy milk or make a phone call, you can jot it down on a To-Do Later list and then immediately refocus on what you're doing. And if you're not eating, sleeping or exercising enough, then you're likely to find it much harder to focus and concentrate properly, so looking after your general well-being is very important, as is taking a short break every so often, just like a long play will have a couple of intervals for the audience to get refreshments and resettle themselves.
But this session isn't just about learning to minimize distractions. It's about accessing that very same state of mind that those historical audiences could access when listening to those mammoth speeches and plays because people who lived a couple of hundred years ago were not physiologically or psychologically different from you in any meaningful way. You have within you the same ability that they had to pay close and full attention in a sustained manner. In fact, you may already have had the experience of this complete attentiveness in certain areas of your life, like when playing sports, or watching a brilliant, engaging movie or having an intensely meaningful conversation with someone. This session is simply about magnifying that ability to attend to what's happening fully so that you can switch it on like a laser beam of pure focus when you need it.
Wishing you the sweetest dreams,