Listening to a podcast this morning, the Sam Harris podcast if it’s of interest. The man is a neuroscientist, with particular expertise in meditation.
Listening to the descriptive narration of the phenomena of meditation, the why’s of doing it, the what’s of doing it in such precise, lay terms and bradycardic cadence and tones of a Sam Harris voice, it really helps conceptualize the ideas in real terms so vividly.
The explanation of the many various benefits of meditation within a growing literature, with things like lowering stress, or decelerating the ageing of the brain matter and such were outlined. All nice things to have or want. But the elaboration as to why meditating for the want of those benefits is besides the point is what captured me specifically.
He points out, that if none of that literature of the health benefits of meditation were not replicated tomorrow, he’d still recommend the importance of meditation.
The comparator of something like the skill of reading being good for you in various ways. Like, say, reading may relieve stress also, or slow the ageing process of cerebral decay. There’s some loading in some of this, like being able to read can lower your stress – but it truly depends on what is being read. Being able to read can have it’s utility if we’re talking about managing stress, but we all know that the skill of reading is one of humanities greatest and most important developments beyond stress management.
So, irrespective of “health benefits” of reading – would it still be important that someone know how to read?
The same arises with meditation, as the skill itself and its importance is besides the quality of having lower stress, or better brain matter. The skill of meditation, as described by Harris is the skill of controlling attention. Wielding your attention to where you truly need it, at your will. Turning it up, turning it down, paying requited diligence, or not, to wherever you choose to lay it.
Attention is possibly our most scarce and valuable resource, as individuals. It’s how we essentially interact with the world and our existence, and is the modulator of that existence being so fleeting and unnoticed, or truly being savored, moment to moment.
We only have so much attention in any moment or any lifetime, and to be conscious and exist, it kinda must be paid to something. The difference between a “good” life, or better put, a less wasted life, is knowing what to pay attention to, how to pay attention to it but more importantly – how to know when you’re NOT paying attention to the right things that are most important, to you.
The ability to harness our attention, in any moment, to give rise and appropriate attention to the things that matter, and truly interact with that. To understand that, appreciate that, is the skill here.
The skill of meditation gives us that. The skill to wield control of our attention at our will. To impose our will on the finite currency in our finite existence.
If we had zero control over our money and just walking the street each day to go where you needed to go meant that somebody here and there could just take some from you, or that you’re constantly paying unforeseen costs constantly, debits, fines, thefts and so forth. A dynamic like this, for most of us who are not inherited billionaires, would eventually prompt us to start configuring ways to stop the leaks. We would figure out ways to have more control of our money, how to protect it and ultimately where it goes. Because it is ours, there’s only so much of it, our prosperity kinda relies on it. We need it.
This, most of us would care a lot about.
Attention is the ultimate currency, constantly leaking, constantly being thrown away.
Without attention, what do we really have? Recall moments when you have not been "paying attention", or better put, wasting attention. Say something important was happening right in front of you, but you were distracted by something else for whatever reason. And when you snap out of it, or somebody else redirects you, asks you the question again, or whatever – it’s like the thing you were meant to pay attention to was never happening or just this blur in the background, and no matter how hard you think, you don’t really know what it was.
Anybody who is anybody knows what this feels like, therefore knows just how easy it is to be distracted, or better put, to be throwing your attention away. Throwing your attention away is like throwing time away. This happens across lifetimes.
Most people, when they reach the end of their lives would give anything for more time. Time is often cited as the most precious resource. But what is time, if it’s not able to be experienced? This is what our attention is for; to interact with the gift of time to get the real purchase on our time and therefore, existence.
Everybody gets time, how much is generally beyond our control. Anything can happen. We all know roughly that the more the better, and we all roughly acknowledge that how much we get is mostly not our choice to make. But attention, well that is something we have much more control of, if we want to. If experience is boiled down to time and attention, and one we have very basically no control of, yet the other we have almost exact control of – then where ought our daily diligence lie?
This is the skill of meditation that Harris is essentially promoting. The skill of controlling the other precious resource that underlines existence. Awareness of your paying attention, of your NOT paying attention also. Being able to switch gears, being flexible, mobile with your attention – being attuned maybe a better word, is the skill meditation in many ways provides.
The result being an examinable life – where attention is minimally wasted and existence can be experienced. Where our attention, at any moment we choose, can be re-focused on whim and the things that truly matter to us and is good for us, are always able to by put in front view.
This truly is the gift.