Are you paying attention?
“Attention”, Daniel Goleman tells us*, “is the gathering of information crucial to existence. Anxiety is the response when that information registers as a threat.
“We can use our attention to deny threat, and so cushion ourselves from anxiety”
Denial. A powerful tool frowned upon: but Dr Goleman argues that our whole lives are an intricate dance with attention and anxiety as partners.
We choose what we want to attend to, and some things are just too painful to see.
I live just couple of miles from a high security psychiatric hospital housing Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, and a short car ride away from the Atomic Weapons Establishment. I never turn a hair.
Kilauea in Hawaii: locals have reported 65 foot blasts of lava and collapses in the crater floor, and still the tourists come in their hordes. Some have probably also visited Pompeii where a great city simply turned a blind eye to the monster on the horizon, and those who chose this path are petrified for all to see even today.
Those are extreme examples. Day to day, some of us are really very good indeed at painting a wonderful life: downplaying or ignoring the painful or worrying.
For a very long time, man has been advocating attention to those things we’d like to ignore. I have two short examples for you today.
The first lives at St Cross Hospital in Winchester, UK. It is a really rather beautiful set of houses, an ancient community set up between 1133 and 1136 by William the Conqueror to house the poor.
The four tiles have no explanation posted nearby: they are mounted on the wall near to the centre of the Hospital’s cruciform chapel.
I love the fact that it is a circle. A circle with twin messages: be vigilant, always, forever, it says. Live in each moment and be mindful of the joy that can dwell in any instant.
An then again, it prods, pay attention to those parts of your mynde that warn you, the psychological batsqueaks which can be silenced and anaesthetised by a healthy dose of inattention.
Interestingly, my second source also chooses a circular motion to portray a similar message.
Dr Daniel Goleman’s Vital Lies, Simple Truths is a cracking read. You can find it here.