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High Definition Attention

By on June 27, 2011No Comment

Fireplace BerchtesgadenImagine yourself with a group of friends or family, gathered in a circle around a campfire. Maybe you have a canvas back chair, or maybe you’re sitting on a log or even the ground. As twilight progresses, the sky darkens; you’re surrounded by darkness and the thoughts that normally occupy your mind slip away into that darkness. We find ourselves captivated by a fire; the glowing embers, the dancing flames, and the wisps of smoke rising into the night.

Imagine now that someone’s phone is vibrating, signaling an incoming text message. Now the brightness of a screen intrudes on the darkness. Someone else looks at their phone to see if they too have a message. Another person turns on a tablet device and begins to watch a movie, now the fire is no longer the collective center of attention. More and more the brightness of a screen has replaced the brightness from a fire. Can simply spending time in front of a fire improve your focus and attention?

Now go back in history to the time of the Romans and an encampment with people gathered around a fire. Only this time, their thoughts are held steady by the flame and embers. Or, imagine Romans indoors by a hearth in the evening staring into the fire.

Ever since Roman times, when we stare into a fire it has captivated us as humans. Our thoughts take on a special quality of sustained absorption and deep attention to something inside us. Maintaining that deep attention often produces profound insights.

The Romans invented a word to use when speaking of a fireplace or a hearth. That word was focus.

Today we rarely focus on a fireplace and the speed of a microwave has replaced the hearth. What we stare at instead are high definition screens that bring us information, connectivity, or entertainment. While we now are now able to watch in high definition, we no longer possess the attentional capacity of those who lived by the light of a simple fire.

We’ve progressed to watching anything we desire in high definition. But we are less able to focus on any one thing that is available to us because our attention is constantly shifting out of focus. Some of us have a feeling for what needs to be cultivated, I call it High Definition Attention.

The next time you experience a campfire that holds your attention into the night, make a note of what you notice inside yourself, what insight or solution comes to you while your mind is still?

Spread the results of High Definition Attention to others. Live each day like a Roman: focus.

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