By Lee Glazier
Hey, Dudes. Today I’m gonna talk about, uh, attention? Yeah, attention. Far out.
Siddhartha said, “Whatever a monk keeps pursuing with his thinking and pondering, that becomes the inclination of his awareness.” Boundless Heart, a book by Christina Feldman, puts a groovy spin on it:
“What we frequently think about and dwell upon becomes the shape of our mind. The shape of our mind shapes our world of experience.”
Most of us know this as the, uh, fake Buddha quote: “What you think, you become.” I love quotes; they make my job a lot easier. Wait, what’s my job again? Holy moly, it’s really coming down outside. November rain. Didn’t Guns’N’Roses make a song called that?
Oh, uh, anyway, yeah, I was talking about the mind.
Citta is usually translated as, “mind,” but it can also mean, “heart.” So it isn’t just the things we think about that, ya know, influence our inner worlds, but also the feelings we fixate on.
I’m sure you’ve had days when you were in a shitty mood and then everything seemed to go wrong; vice versa for when you were in a good mood. This isn’t any freaky-deaky Law of Attraction stuff, it’s psychology, Dudes. When you’re in a terrible mood, you focus on terrible things and ignore the not-so-terrible things; when you’re in an awesome mood, you focus on awesome things and, well, ya know where this going. I try not to focus on anything; this article should’ve made that, uh, readily apparent by now.
I was having a far out meditation session the other day. I was just sitting and watching things change. While cycling through various moods, I realized, “These are all very different people.” Mood is like, uh, it’s like a cup, ya know? Wait, no, scratch that metaphor. Mood is like a flashlight; there we go. Our moods determine which part of the attic we’re shining it on. Maybe it’s a stack of records that, having seen them, you decide to dust off and rock out to. Or maybe it’s a picture of a high school sweetheart who died in a drunk driving accident.
Those are two very different feelings and scenarios, but they come to light (pun) the same way; they consume the mind and snag attention the same way. They’re also both linked to a whole bunch of different personality traits that we might not, ya know, exhibit otherwise.
When I’m irritated, I—well, I turn into an asshole, man. I turn into a Walter. I lose patience, my thoughts start racing and I’m only interested in simple A to B solutions to problems.
That isn’t me—that isn’t the Dude writing this right now. But it can be me; it can be me at anytime, whenever the pins fall a certain way. So, it isn’t just frequent thoughts and feelings that shape the mind. Even infrequent, nearly invisible thoughts and moods influence the mind. Their presence in the mind snares our focus, and focus determines reality, Dudes. Everything we experience passes through a perceptual filter, and focus decides what that filter, uh, filters.
Alright, I’m back. I had to post “Birthday” by the Beatles on my dad’s timeline. Then I watched the Let It Be movie for an hour. Right, so, this is why it’s important for us to pay attention to our thoughts, moods, and the things we’re fixating on because the things we fixate on totally alter our lived-experience. The goal, if there is one, is to eventually turn off the flashlight and flip the lightswitch, illuminating the whole room at once.
Because, ya know, the big picture helps us make sense of all the bits and pieces.
All the notes and chords in Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata don’t mean much when they’re taken out of context: a major chord here, a minor chord there; some harmony over yonder, some dissonance over yunder. But when you hear the song, well, it’s beautiful, ya know? When we hear the song, we don’t reject the minor chords and dissonant melodies because we see how they work off of and lead into the major chords and harmonious phrasings.
At first, it’s standard protocol to only focus on the good. This goes for both Eastern traditions and modern psychotherapies. We redirect our attention to positive, wholesome mindsets so that we can change the ways we respond to unpleasant, uh, stimuli. This helps us to weaken maladaptive coping mechanisms. It stabilizes the mind, and it teaches us how to use attention in an effective way. But, this is just a skillful means, not a skillful end. In the East, the end has always been about turning on the lights.
If all the lights are on, that experience of being dragged around by life will disappear. Because life isn’t giving us whiplash, it’s our out of control hearts and minds that are tossing us around. We’ve gotta reel that shit in. The Upanishads use a chariot as an example. If the horses are untamed, then they’re just going run wherever they want to; through fields, ditches, landmines, Miley Cyrus concerts—ya know, awful places.
But if the horses are tamed, then we can keep ourselves on the road. The horses, here, are our senses. In the East, the mind is also considered a sense; it senses thoughts and emotions. When attention’s run amok, it latches onto whatever sensation catches its eye and it just won’t let go, no matter what the bumpy terrain is doing to the chariot or the other horses.
If we take a gander at the Big Lebowski, one thing we notice is that the Dude doesn’t really latch onto anything. He’s aware of everything that’s going on, but it just kinda rolls on by.
The one thing he does latch onto is his rug—and that causes him a lot of problems. His obsession with it leads him down a rabbit hole that swallows up everyone around him, including mild-mannered Donny who dies of a heart attack after a bowling alley parking lot fight with a bunch of nihilists. Poor Donny. What a bummer, man.
We don’t just latch onto, ya know, sensations we like—we can latch onto anything and anyone. Those horses don’t just run toward things they like, they can also run from things they don’t like—trampling over anyone and anything that gets in their way. I can’t stand the band Journey; I’ve latched onto that thought, that opinion. Steve Perry’s voice makes me think of stinky cheese, escalators, and gaudy leisure suits. “What do you have against escalators, Dude?” I don’t know, man, I don’t fuckin; know. Maybe I heard a Journey song once while I was on an escalator and there was a cheese shop nearby. Regardless of the reason, whenever Journey comes on the radio, I immediately steal a car and drive to some remote location where Don’t Stop Believin’ can’t find me.
The point is, uh, the point is to, uh, well, you get it. One vital point is to not whip the hell out of your horses, either. You can’t pick yourself up by putting yourself down. The best way to tame a horse is to befriend it, earn its trust, show it some love. The harder we are on ourselves, the harder we make it for ourselves, the more likely we are to latch onto shit and cause even more problems.
So, even if we do notice that we’re fixating on something harmful, we’ve got to cut ourselves some slack, Dudes. Just being aware that we’re doing it, and then pausing to show ourselves a little compassion and patience, changes everything. That’s how we tame the horses, that’s how we turn that flashlight around so that it eventually illuminates the lightswitch.
Hell, that’s how we change the world. Take ‘er easy, Dudes. Catch you all later on down the trail.
“Dude” Lee Glazier is a Dudeist Priest, Zen adherent and Taoist enthusiast from Golden, Colorado. He likes reading, writing, hiking, taking baths, listening to classic rock, drinking White Russians, smoking, and having the occasional acid flashback. The only thing he truly believes is that everyone needs to slow down, mellow out, and unwad their underpants. He feels that that would solve all the world’s problems in a heartbeat. “Do you have the patience to let the mud settle and the water clear?” Feel free to check out his blog, Cluelessly Falling Down A Spiral Staircase (Musings & Misadventures of an Ordained Dudeist). Also check out his Facebook page.
Editor: Dana Gornall