by Richard Smoley
from NewDawnMagazine Website
Behavioral scientist Todd Rogers of the Harvard Kennedy School and Michael I. Norton of the Harvard Business School conducted a simple experiment to see when and whether people can detect a dodge.
They recorded a speaker answering a question about universal health care (a controversial issue in the US). Then they attached the same answer to three separate questions:
Amazingly, subjects found the speaker just as trustworthy when he gave the response about health care to a question about illegal drug use - a related but different subject - as when he responded to the original question about health care.
Moreover, when quizzed immediately afterward, almost none of the subjects could remember exactly what question had been asked. Part of the reason for these findings, Rogers believes, is simply that humans have poor attention spans.
Poor attention is,
Another, related reason is that when people are listening to a speaker, they are taking in nonverbal signals such as body language, facial expressions, and likability.
In short, even when doing something as simple as
listening to a speaker, the audience is overwhelmed by information,
enabling politicians to dodge answers without appearing to.
At the same time, however, there is a widespread
suspicion of all political and economic ideologies. World
civilization at this point is like a sick man who shifts restlessly
in bed, unable to find a comfortable position. It may be that what
is needed is not a change in ideologies, but a change in
The twentieth-century spiritual teacher G.I. Gurdjieff said,
The contemporary Tibetan lama Tarthang Tulku writes,
Could they be saying that it's our poor capacity
for attention that is keeping us in cognitive bondage?
How does this work in practice? One Gurdjieffian teacher pointed out to me how, under ordinary circumstances, when you look out the window, your attention goes with it. In a certain sense you go out the window as well. Your sense of yourself is lost.
To counter this, he suggested that when you look out a window, you keep some attention for yourself, even if it's something as simple as a conscious awareness of a hand or a foot.
For Tarthang Tulku, the answer lies along a slightly different route.
He believes that our failure of attention has to do with a deep-seated fear of discomfort. Our suffering goes on under the surface, and we refuse to touch it out of avoidance of the emotional pain that it would bring.
One alternative that he recommends is not only to touch the pain, but to explore it - to feel it as fully as possible.
Going directly into psychological pain in this way
will often transform it into a new, dynamic, and more creative
In this the seed of will is sown.
The British occultist Charles R. Tetworth writes about the training of a magician:
While some of this passage may have little bearing on us - not many people will be able to hold an image in their minds for a solid hour - it provides some genuine, and important, guidelines for living in the midst of today's turmoils.
The key practice is - however you manage to do it - to cultivate a centre of attention in yourself.
You can do this right now, by closing your eyes and sitting attentively for a few minutes. At first you let your attention go to your bodily sensations, however they present themselves: sensations of the feet on the floor, your back against the chair, and so on.
Then you let your attention go to the flow of
thoughts, images, and emotions that pass before the mind's eye. You
will soon realize that you can watch these thoughts come into
awareness like images on a screen, and pass away again just as
And if there is some distance, however slight, between you and thoughts, this immediately proves that the thoughts are not you. This realization is one of the principal goals of meditation.
It will enable you, to use Tetworth's words,
It will also free you from enslavements to such things as opinions, the current fashions of belief, and, what is perhaps most important, the subtle but debilitating attachment to your self-concept as a "good person."
If you pursue the inquiry of self-observation far enough, you will find that these opinions and self-concepts are merely what you have absorbed from the media, from advertising, from your family, from your friends.
You will also discover that you have encompassed
yourself in a circle. You read opinions that already mirror your
own. You listen to "experts" who merely confirm what you believe
already. You support politicians who appeal to your own fears and
But if you apply them, you will be a more conscious
being, and you will be more free of the delusions and anxieties that
press so heavily on the human race.
A long work, in which you begin to become aware of your own special function - that is, the role that you can play to help the world most effectively. It may or may not mean embracing a cause or political program.
Instead it may, for example, involve working quietly as a light shining in the dark corridors of an apparently soulless corporation. It does not matter: that is your work.
As you move deeper into your reaches that some
teachings call the Self or the "true I," the more this function will
come into focus for you, and you will be able to become a powerful
force for change rather than a weak, worried, and anxious consumer.