The Power Of attention
In his autobiographical commentaries, Academic and WWII French Resistance leader, Jacques Lusseyran,
who went blind at the age of eight, describes how blindness enabled him to develop a new faculty. He states, “Strictly speaking everyone has it, but almost all forget to use it.That faculty is ‘attention'”.
As a visually impaired person myself, I’m constantly struck by how people seem to spend so much of their time oblivious to what’s happening around them. Whether its people stopping dead at the top or bottom of escalators or platform entrances, colliding with me and each other because they are transfixed by their phones, they certainly display an acute lack of attention. I am in fact convinced that a sensory complaisance has overtaken our society.
The increasing need to process information quickly, whether behind the steering wheel or in front of the computer screen, means we have cultivated our visual processing abilities at the expense of capacity to process data from other sources. Whilst this may not be an issue when working on a spreadsheet, an inability to maintain awareness of the bigger picture beyond that which is immediately in front of our eyes, could be more problematic elsewhere.
As demonstrated by mobile phone related accidents or blocked escalators, blindness to the bigger picture has very clear implications for more than the individual concerned. Anyone in close proximity to such incidents of unconscious behaviour is also directly effected.
It could of course be argued that this is just how things are for everyone, and, as is often stated, it is impossible for the human brain to process information from different sources simultaneously. There is evidence however, that our vision centred behaviour is in fact cultural, and other cultures and communities engage with the world quite differently.
In his research report; ‘Geography Of Thought’,
Richard Nisbett talks about the difference between how Western and East Asian cultures experience the world. Westerners, Nisbett reveals, focus on the object (physical or social) and it’s attributes, and using these, categorise it. East Asians however, take the wholistic view, seeing an object only in the context of its surroundings. Consequently they have an appreciation of the relationship between that object and how it influences and is influenced by its surrounding ‘field’. There is also anecdotal evidence of how such an holistic perspective can make the difference between life and death. For a group of Burmese squid fishermen the 2004, Tsunami proved fatal. However, for Sea Gypsies fishingin the same area this was not the case. By paying attention to the conditions, they were able to detect subtle changes in the smell of the wind, and by the sound of their oars, the increased sea depth, and move into safer waters. On hearing the news of the demise of the Burmese fishermen, a Sea Gypsy observed; ‘They were collecting squid. They saw nothing. They don’t know how to look”.
Lusseyran contends that being attentive unlocks a sphere of reality that noone suspects. Lusseyran describes, “when I awakened my attention every tree comes to me. This must be taken quite literally. Every tree projects its form, its weight, its movement. Even if it is almost motionless, in my direction. I can indicate its trunk, the point at which its first branches start. Even when several feet away.” He continues, ” The seeing commit a strange error. They believe that we know the world only through our eyes. On my part, I discovered that universe consists of pressure, and every object, and every living being reveals itself to us at first, by a kind of quiet and unmistakable pressure that indicates its intention and its form.”
Lusseyran believed that “if all people were attentive, if they would undertake to be attentive, every moment of their lives, they would discover the world a new.”
It has for some time occurred to me that if our society were able to benefit from the experience of those of us like Lusseyran, who have developed other perspectives of the world. The heightened awareness gained, would profoundly alter the quality of decisions we make and the way we interact with the world and each other.
The Super Sense experience takes people into natural settings, where they have the opportunity to reacquaint themselves with the power of their non-visual abilities. With their eyes covered, their abilities to tune in to other ways of reading the environment and develop confidence to trust the information, to make decisions and complete activities. by working with others, they deepen their appreciation of the importance of trust and empathetic communication. In Lusseyran’s terms, ‘Super Sense seeks to grow it’s participants powers of attention.