Friday, November 30, 2007

noticing the quality of attention

The ability to pay attention selectively, ignoring distractions, develops throughout childhood at least until adolescence. So does the ability to shift attention quickly and efficiently.
-Sharon Begley quoting Helen Nelville in Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain. (p160).

Begley goes on to say that as we age our ability to suppress unattended inputs increases. Brain signals associated with what we do not pay attention to decreases with age. (p160)

This growing ability (or tendency) to suppress information could help us keep focus on a particular object or particular kinds of objects and thus maintain calm and stillness or other wholesome qualities of mind - or it could keep us trapped in delusion. It might be easier to miss valuable information.

There are good reasons for being tightly or broadly focused depending on circumstances. It seems wise to maintain flexibility of attention so we can interact skillfully. Awareness of the quality of attention and the degree of attention needed in any given situation is an important skill.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

attention as a gate

...attention works like a gate, to open and let more neural information in. People think attention is some kind of psychological construct, but you can touch it. It has an anatomy, a physiology, and a chemsitry.
Helen Nelville to the Dalai Lama as quoted by Sharon Begley in Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain (p.160)

Buddhism had long taught that mental training, in which focused attention is key, can alter the mind. Sharon Begley (p.159)

The pattern of activity or neurons in sensory areas can be altered by patterns of attention...Experience coupled with attention leads to physical changes in the structure and future functioning of the nervous system...moment by moment we choose and sculpt how our everchanging minds will work...
Sharon Begly quoting Mike Merzencih (p.159)

Monday, November 26, 2007


It is axiomatic, based on the world view of Buddhism, that since people and indeed all creatures share in each other's existence, there is no true benefit for one group alone that is won at the cost of another.

Thomas Cleary, Entry into the Inconceivable, p.3

Saturday, November 24, 2007


The earth will belong equally to all, undivided by walls or fences. It will then bear more abundant fruits spontaneously. Lives will be in common and wealth will have no division. For there will be no poor man there, no rich, and no tyrant, no slave. Further, no one will be either great or small anymore. No kings, no leaders. All will be on a par together.

This passage (according to Marcus Borg and Dominic Crossan in The First Christmas) is from one of the Jewish Sibyline Oracles, fictional prophecies borrowed by Judaism and early Christianity from Rome.

Friday, November 23, 2007


Our son came Wednesday night and stayed all day Thanksgiving. As we sat over our now traditionally non-traditional meal, my eyes fell on family pictures on the wall behind our warm happy gathering. I noticed especially my parents and considered the fact that they were once a vital part of all my holidays - once living, now gone.

After our son left, we sat quite full of both joy and sorrow at another sweet coming together and going apart that is characteristic of all holidays. With the sweetness also came the awareness of loss - of all precious losses, yet also awareness of how lucky and blessed we are to have these times at all.

We didn't want to read, to watch a movie, or eat. The poignancy of the moment was as rich as any that life can bring. We didn't want to miss or trivialize it. So we sat and talked awhile, staying in touch with our feelings and physical sensations. We had a meditation time and waited to hear our precious son was safely home -and fully aware that sooner or later we too will be part of the once living, now gone.