A Habit of Attention

“In the power of fixing the attention, the most precious of the intellectual habits, mankind differ greatly; but every man possesses some, and it will increase the more it is exerted. He who exercises no discipline over himself in this respect acquires such a volatility of mind, such a vagrancy of imagination, as dooms him to be the sport of every mental vanity: it is impossible such a man should attain to true wisdom. If we cultivate, on the contrary, a habit of attention, it will become natural; thought will strike its roots deep, and we shall, by degrees, experience no difficulty in following the track of the longest connected discourse.” – Robert Hall, On Hearing the Word

Our greatly increased access to information is a double-edged sword. On one hand we have an unprecedented opportunity to shake ourselves free of superstition and ignorance, but on the other, we have never been at greater risk of being distracted from both the pursuit and attainment of true wisdom by utterly meaningless diversions. It is easier than ever to fritter away a lifetime accomplishing next to nothing while feeling very busy doing it.

Information addiction claims many lives. Like crack or other such illicit drugs, there are many ways to use. TVs, computers, and smartphones all provide a quick fix and deliver as much information as you can consume. Each year more devices and vehicles are added to the list. Getting information has never been easier…or more addictive.

The challenge at this point is that the addiction is not only socially acceptable, it is vigorously promoted from cradle to grave. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against information, or it’s organization into a body of knowledge. Information in and of itself is not evil or destructive, but the gluttonous furor with which we consume information leads to all kinds of ills.

Chief amongst these ills is the degradation of attention. We are losing our footing on the rim of the bottomless pit.

Truth is more buried than ever. Truth, to be known, depends upon deeply rooted thinking. And nothing deepens the roots more than a carefully cultivated habit of steady, focused attention.

6 thoughts on “A Habit of Attention

  1. Joshua

    With such an abundance of perfection in operation at all times, there is no excuse for attentional dysfunction.
    The right use of anything, requires the user, be in the right seat. (crossover point)
    The choice is ours to exercise, may we remember this moving forward, that the cause of a great many ills, be starved, because we choose to feed Reality, the Truth.

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  2. Coco

    It’s not enough to develop the habit of focus and attention; it matters what the subject of the focus is. What you become focused on you become focused in. The tail can begin to wag the dog.

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  3. Steve V

    Fixing our attention involves fixing our heart upon that which brings sanity and soundness. Loving that which is of wisdom sets such a course.

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  4. Ernest

    The need for self discipline comes to mind for me. Very quickly, what with all of the available information (and so much of it ‘trash’ or flat out non truths) that we have at our disposal, it is easy to get lost in the information highway that leads to nowhere. To avoid this problem one perhaps could ask themselves the question before blindly venturing forward into the attainment of more information “where is the potential value in having this information?”

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  5. David R

    The ability to focus attention on a sustained basis is disappearing, as you indicate. The hypnosis of limitless information access gives the impression of much going on, but life can become just a long distraction on this basis, an empty promise. To keep the machinery of the mind poised, curious and open to the impulse of the invisible so that it may be conditioned and activated by that steady current…here is the beginning of wisdom.

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  6. Isabelle

    The mind must be exercised just as any muscle of the body. If we don’t develop stamina of thought, then our minds become lazy and easily exhausted when maintaining focus.

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