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Concentrate! And don't concentrate!

Posted by Simon Parke, 14 May 2018, 9.10am

Concentration was always celebrated at school…and encouraged loudly.

‘Concentrate, Parke!’

And concentration, or focus, is good for getting things done.

As Alexandra Horowitz writes: ‘It eases our cognitive overload by allowing us to conserve our precious mental resources only for the stimuli of immediate and vital importance, and to dismiss or entirely miss all else.’

Concentration gears us to notice only what is relevant now, which can be helpful and necessary.

(I’m having to focus on this piece at present.)

But while all this focus might make us more efficient in our goal-oriented day-to-day, it also leads us into a life of ever-narrowing awareness.

To put it bluntly, we don’t notice very much.

And to be blunt again, we miss a great deal - whether it’s the sky line, our feelings about last night, the sadness of our colleague, the architecture in our road, the tension in our shoulders, the child at the bus stop, the door in the wall, the hum of the lawnmower or the bird on the park bench.

Often in the day, we’re asked to close down to everything but the task; and that’s fine.

But sometimes, quite deliberately, it’s good to do the opposite, to open up to everything and listen to the many languages of the world around us.

We don’t focus on what’s relevant; instead, we simply notice what is, in all its rich variety…whether we’re on the bus, in the park or on the way to the supermarket.

Sadly, no teacher ever shouted at me, ‘Notice what is, Parke!’

But it can be refreshing, just for a moment, to step away from my present fixation…and notice this many-levelled world.

It’s like a holiday for the spirit, random delight, the cool breeze of unedited awareness.

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