When someone tells me to, “pay attention,”
I am immediately confused.
To what am I to pay this attention?
And just what is this attention I am to pay?
If I turn to a sound or a sight
and ‘attend” my mind upon it,
a myriad other sights and sounds
no longer constellate within me.
The very quality of my experience is formed
by the focus of this mysterious process.
My attention creates my life.
So the command to pay attention
and the question of to what,
are perhaps the keys to happiness.

A narrow focus of attention on an object of desire,
may bring me what I think I want,
while cutting me off completely
from a broader and more wondrous world.
An open, diffuse, and spacious attending
may fill my heart with awe and joy,
while leaving me hungry for a sandwich.

I’ve learned this from my practice:
that narrow focus is a helpful tool,
best used infrequently and mindfully.
Life itself is lived most fully out in the open field
where narrow worries and concerns
float like insubstantial wisps carried
by the fresh breezes of existence.

The things my culture says should be my focus
have led me down a path of fear and strife
and cut me off from life.
I’ve set a bell sound on my phone that rings
each hour, a clear bright tone.
When I hear it I stop and ask,
“To what am I attending?”

Author: William Martin

Taoist teacher and consultant

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