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July 30, 2017

9:25 PM

Understanding what is about to happen requires attention and quietness

Francisco Miraval

There are no doubts we live at a time of disruptive change when the future is no longer a continuation of the past and when, because of all those deep and irreversible changes, there are new and previously unthought opportunities which will remain unthought unless we develop the attention and quietness needed to discover and understand them.

Yet, focused attention and external and internal quietness and calmness are precisely what we lack at this historical time of undeniable changes when we, humans, are about to move beyond what we have been during countless previous millennia.

“We own the cultural achievements of humanity-which include philosophy-to deep, contemplative attention. Culture presumes an environment in which deep attention is possible,” says Korean-German philosopher Byung-Chul Han in The Burnout Society.

However, he adds, “Increasingly, such immersive reflection is being displaced by an entirely different form of attention: hyperattention”. Was “hyperattention” implemented on purpose? I don’t know, but I do know it saturates our minds and emotions pushing us in multiple directions at the same time. According to Han, our new “multitasking” ability is, in fact, a regression and a disadvantage that could lead to a “brain attack” (that is, the brain stops working properly.)

It seems he is right. New research says everyday our hippocampus generates 1400 new neuronal connections every day. However, for those new connections to grow and extend themselves so they can connect with the existent neuronal network, we need to learn something new every day. Otherwise, those new connections will never truly develop. (Dr. Barbara Oakley, McMaster University.)

Far from learning something new every day, we face each day the same routine or small variations of the same routine, thus learning nothing new because there is in fact nothing new to learn. For that reason, new neuronal connections never fully develop and, therefore, instead of achieving profound attention and quietness, we live in perpetual boredom.

The cycle then repeats itself again and again. With each attempt to stop being bored, more dopamine is released in the brain, and more immediate satisfaction is needed, which leads to shorter and shorter attention span. In fact, according to recent studies, the average attention span in the United States for those under 40 is now around only five seconds.

The result, Han suggests, is what he calls “psychological indisposition”, characterized for constant mental and emotional agitation, thus preventing any kind of meditation, reflection, amazement, or contemplation. We are in constant uneasiness. In ancient times, they already knew this situation. The Romans called it necotium (lack of free time, of time to reflect) and among the Greeks it was called ascholia (lack of time for study and self-discovery.)

We are now at a time when business and schools are in control. In fact, we go to college so we can find a good job, not to learn or, much less, to discover ourselves. Even worst, we are preparing ourselves for jobs that will soon disappear. Perhaps this is truly a time to take meditation seriously. 

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