What Are You Paying Attention To ?
What we choose to focus on becomes our reality in the present moment.
How we live the present moment determines our future.
Last week, 200 leaders and business people from around the world got together for a business retreat in Plum Village (Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh retreat center in Southern France) to exchange views on how Buddhist wisdom can inspire modern business life. One of the topics discussed during the retreat was the impact of our attention.
According to Buddhist psychology, our consciousness is made of 2 layers : the lower layer called store consciousness, and the upper layer called mind consciousness. Store consciousness is our unconscious mind, and mind consciousness is our normal, waking mind. Store consciousness is like the land, the ground, preserving seeds of many kinds and from various sources, some positive, some negative : joy, courage, perseverance and so on, but also anger despair, sadness, fear, etc.
Information captured through our 5 physical senses (sight, hearing, smell, touch, taste) transit through our mind consciousness (vast majority of it passing completely "unnoticed"), go into our store consciousness and water - or "turn on" - existing seeds stored there. When seeds are watered they grow and ultimately manifest as energy in our mind consciousness. They become part of our "conscious experience of reality" if you will.
If you look at the picture above and see the beautiful landscape in the background, it may water the seeds of beauty, stillness, joy and freshness in your store consciousness, and you may consciously experience a feeling of joy, freshness and calm as a consequence. If you look at the picture, see the stop sign and find this picture strange or disturbing in some way, this may water seeds of judgment, annoyance and mocking in your store consciousness, and you may consciously feel slightly irritated and inclined to judge and mock what you see and read.
As you might expect, the more the seeds are watered the stronger they grow, and the stronger they grow, the more space they occupy in our lives. And this gradually creates habit energies, things we tend to do in automatic mode, over and over again, just because we are used to, because "it is stronger than us".
So our attention leads to seeds watering, which in turn leads to inclinations of our mind - a certain tendency of ours to see things in a certain way. Repeated inclinations of our mind lead to habits, which ultimately lead to particular states of mind becoming predominant in our lives (sadness, fear, joy, optimism etc.).
It is not only what we look at, but also how we look at things. The stop sign could be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on our you look at it. You may be grateful for its presence and contribution to reducing car accidents, or you may feel frustrated because it slows you down.
So whatever we decide to see and how, will impact our lives, slowly but surely, now in the present moment, and in the future.
The good news is that it is all in our hands. We can choose. We can rewire our brain.
We can go for appropriate attention - the sort of attention that leads to mind clarity, thriving and happiness for ourselves, our loved ones, our company, and the world - or inappropriate attention - the sort of attention that leads to shriveling, ill-being, and suffering.
To be able to choose, we need to be present. Practicing a mindful life helps us. We can train ourselves. For that we need to learn again how to stop. Stopping the NST (Non Stop Thinking) radio constantly playing in our head. Stopping the constant running and rushing. Allocating a bit more time for ourselves. A bit less of busi-ness. A bit more of the busi-less. This will help us cultivate the sort of mind clarity that we need for our business to thrive.
Based on teachings from Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh
and Sr Diệu Nghiêm talk at the Business Retreat
in Plum Village on June 1 2017
Access Sr Diệu Nghiêm full presentation here