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Posts Tagged ‘attention’

Life is a balancing act

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010


When I was young I did gymnastics. I was confident with the floor and vault exercises, but had an ongoing conflict with the balance beam. In my mind it was the most cruel part of gymnastics. Raised from the floor and only 10 cm wide. Every time I lost balance I added a painful bruise to my collection on my legs, sometimes hitting the same spot over and over again. At times my mind was consumed with the vision of falling which resulted in my body to freeze.

My movements became jerky instead of fluent and flexible. My body tensed up and reacted to anything that was going on internally (my fearful visions) and in my environment (instructions from my trainer). These constant responses literally threw me off balance.

To master the beam you have to be able to listen to your body and take mindful actions to move forward.

The difficulty for me was to find the right balance between listening and taking action.

I still encounter those situations in my life where I fall off the beam. I loose balance and catch myself reacting to anything that comes my way.

When I find myself in this situation I put away and turn off anything that could distract me from regaining balance. This could be the radio, phone, computer, or any paper or to do lists that stare in my face.

Then I just do nothing, only follow the air of my breath and observe any sensation that emerges. This can take me one minute, ten or twenty. This little ‘time-out’ exercise clears my mind and often shows me how to get back on the balance beam.

What is your experience? How do you balance listening and taking action?

Image: Raphael Goetter

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Create space for clarity

Create space for clarity

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010


In the weekend I listened to an interview between Björk and Arvo Pärt. Two of my favourite musicians. Both of them, though in different genres, have developed their own unique style of music. In this short interview Björk describes to Arvo Pärt how she experiences his music: “you give the listener space”. This really fascinated me. An image immediately emerged: I was moving and floating between the sounds in a white room. It also reminded me how much clutter there often is in our life. This clutter or noise prevents us from moving around. Arvo Pärt uses sounds sparingly. He doesn’t want to waste musical notes as a filler or background. If you are interested listen to his piece “Für Alina”.

This interview reinforced the message that there is this space where we have the freedom of choice. Take this excerpt from Victor Frankl’s book “A man’s search for meaning”*

    Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

Unfortunately, sometimes we fill up this space with clutter and forget it even exists. The result. We don’t think we have any choice but are at the whim of what is directing us. Think of a time when you were highly stressed. Did you feel you had the power to make decisions within that situation?

How can you re-create this space?

Simplify and emptiness

    “ I felt the need to concentrate on each sound, so that every blade of grass would be as important as a flower” - Arvo Pärt

In his music Arvo Pärt is giving the listeners time and space to give attention to just one sound at a time without being distracted by any background noises. Also photography, art, or story telling, aims to direct our attention to just one spot. Artists create a focal point and therefore create clarity and space for us to move around and to make meaning for ourselves. Each sound or focal point has an empty space in and around it. This space creates the possibilities for growth, for explorations, for improvements and for change.

The more clutter we have in life the more confused and uncertain our life seems. Take the beginning of your day, how did you wake up this morning. Already planning the day while you were brushing your teeth? This is a great way to fill your empty space before the day has even started. Maybe you want to start your day tomorrow by just focusing on what you are doing. When you brush your teeth just observe how you do that, how the brush feels. When it is time to plan what you have to do on that day, just do that.

Here are a few questions that you might want to ask yourself

How much space do you have between the sounds in your life?
What area in your life you feel is too cluttered, or maybe too foggy to see clearly?
How could you start to create some empty spaces?
What are the sounds that you make? Which of them are necessary, which ones are just fillers?

I am curious what you do to get more clarity and transparency for the different areas in your life?

You might also want to read:
How to reduce distractions and stay focused
Do you know where you are going
A fresh sheet of paper

* “A man’s search for meaning”: this is Frankl’s personal essay of his imprisonment in Auschwitz and other concentration camps and describes the psychotherapeutic method that he pioneered as a result of his experiences in the concentration camps.

Everthing is happening right now…

Thursday, July 1st, 2010

Jorge Luis Borge quote

Where is your blind spot?

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010


Habits or patterns of thinking and behaving can often limit our view of what we perceive as possible. They can create “blind spots” that hold us back. Though, a small shift in perception is often all it takes to find a solution for a situation we are not happy with.

Inattentional blindness
Arien Mack and Irving Rock, two psychologists, have done research on the relationship between attention and perception and found what they call “Inattentional Blindness”. This is a phenomenon of not being able to perceive something that is within our sight. This can be the result of an object that is truly unexpected or because we are attending to something else.

Before you read on, test this yourself. It is fun, I promise, and only takes a couple of minutes. Just watch this video and follow the instructions.

Mack and Rock have even gone so far as to say that “there is no conscious perception without attention”. So, if you focus your attention on one thing, chances are that this is what you are going to see. It also means that you probably will miss many other things.

Therefore, you should not only ask yourself - What are you looking at? but also - What are you not looking at?
This is important as it might just help you make that small shift in perception. Think of the things that you have discovered about yourself that you previously had overlooked. How amazing was it for you when you started to see things you thought were not possible before. You made a shift in attention and therefore a shift in perception.

We are blinded by our habits and beliefs when they hold us back to discover many other possibilities for us in any situation.

Here are some helpful tips to become more aware and ‘seeing’, so that you can break unhelpful patterns:

1. Notice and seek new things in your daily routines: Walk a different way to work, cook with an ingredient you never used, try new things,…

2. Keep your mind refreshed: Take a break from what you are doing several times a day. The breaks can last one minute or ten minutes. Or longer if you wish.

3. Let your attention be guided by little sights, sounds, smells or physical sensations.

4. Beginners mind: Let go of what you know and your assumptions. Keep an open mind and try to react to situations according to circumstance not according to assumptions or conventions.

You might also want to read:
Do your beliefs support you or hold you back?

Image: Anders Ljungberg
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