One of my favorite things to talk about is attention. It’s a highly underrated life practice, paying attention. It’s mindfulness by another word. Being aware of one’s own experience.
It doesn’t end with that because the things that get our notice have a tendency to change once we’ve noticed them. Realize there is a hopeful thought in that fact alone. Add it to the math that there is more love in the world than hate, and what is revealed is an obvious trajectory that humanity steadily improves itself over time through the act of attention. Even if two steps forward usually means suffering through one step back, the overall movement is forward.
As far as the math goes, love is prevailing. It just doesn’t make as big a show of itself as fear does. Love doesn’t pique our sense of outrage. Don’t be mistaken about how much love and attention and compassion and creativity and collaboration it takes to endure a pandemic. With so many of us on the planet, love is the reason our species even still exists. Take comfort in that if you can.
So here it must be pointed out that we are paying very special attention to a number of things right now that will undoubtedly reap the benefits of our heightened notice. There are systems on our planet that are in need of change. And it is not for me to conclude what systems need to change or in what ways. I have my opinions, however, that health care and the pharmaceutical industry will probably get the special attention they deserve. I think systems of government are under a very particular kind of scrutiny right now. I think we are noticing all of the fear that has been percolating beneath the surface of our society for so many decades. These things need our attention. And they’re getting it.
Humanity at large is getting a little bit of a reboot right now. The pandemic has focused our attention on things that have been neglected. That is a good thing. The positive aftershocks of this tragic time will be felt for decades to come.
That’s largely due to the physics of attention. The physics of attention are themselves an even more fascinating aspect of the entire mindful practice of simply noticing things. Because on the atomic level, we are able to prove that particles behave differently when we are looking at them. But here’s the real shocker our linear brains can’t seem to comprehend: Even when we record them using an electronic device with no one actually watching, they still behave differently. Just as if they’re being watched live. Like they know they’re being recorded.
It makes me deeply curious about what effect our attention has on our lives, and our obstacles. Especially when considered through the lens of future historians. Quantum physics explains it very technically that our heightened attention collapses a waveform from a series of potentials into specific outcomes that align with the observer’s expectations. Does that mean we have more power to effect positive change than we recognize, simply through our act of chosen observation?
When we are paying special attention to an issue, it typically gains wider attention when there is something about it that inspires us to feel better, or to want to feel better. Attention is an emotional experience. We gravitate toward the online content designed to ease our fears, or assuage our anger over injustice. Or alert us to it.
This is why fear is rampant on the internet. Conspiracy theories abound out of a desire to feel better, to feel safer, by being in the know. By being ready. By not having been made a fool of. No one wants to feel like that. It’s easy to see how excessive fear or anxiety can drive us to tend to things that are in alignment with them. Our anxieties continuously seek validation. Pay attention to something different. And pray for those who are afraid.
We share loving stories for the same reason, though — to feel better. We share them to feel safer by fostering a sense of belonging. All we all want is just to feel better. Fortunately, good thoughts are more powerful than negative ones. It takes fewer of them to create balance.
So if our attention goes where our emotional state drives us, and follows a predictable path, what is our role in the creation of our future — not just that of the world, but our own individual lives? How about just getting through a day? Notice what you’re noticing. Notice your emotions. Notice the emotions of other people. Send hope and love to others. Collapse their waveforms from a series of unknown potentials into something safe and concrete.
That’s what quantum physics is literally telling us occurs on the atomic level. What impact might that have on our consciousness? What impact might it have on the field that surrounds us?
There’s a beautiful line in Proverbs that invites us to make our ears attentive to wisdom and incline our hearts toward understanding. It teaches that if we call out for insight and raise our voice for understanding, if we seek it like silver and search for it as hidden treasures, we will understand and find the knowledge of God.
I love the beauty and poetry of the way the advice and encouragement is given. It counsels us on what to notice most. It is teaching us to choose deliberately the things to which we attend, and defines their category: love. It leads us to believe that there is something to be gained by tending to wisdom and love. It is not instructing us toward any action other than to notice and seek.
For now, take some comfort if you can in the category of things that are getting our attention right now. Think of what’s occurring in your own home at this moment and how your particular attention could transform your experience. Are you properly attending to things that deserve your gratitude?
What is being noticed by the world right now? Look for where the attention is going, for that’s what will change next. Quite possibly for the better.
Wil Darcangelo, M.Div., is the minister at First Parish UU Church of Fitchburg and of First Church of Christ, Unitarian, in Lancaster and producer of The UU Virtual Church of Fitchburg and Lancaster on YouTube. Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @wildarcangelo. His blog, Hopeful Thinking, can be found at www.hopefulthinkingworld.blogspot.com.