Concentration vs. Attention – Part I

== JKrishnamurti.org Daily Quote ===

There is a difference between concentration and attention. Concentration is to bring all your energy to focus on a particular point. In attention there is no point of focus. We are very familiar with one and not with the other.

When you pay attention to your body, the body becomes quiet, which has its own discipline; it is relaxed but not slack and it has the energy of harmony. When there is attention, there is no contradiction and therefore no conflict.

When you read this, pay attention to the way you are sitting, the way you are listening, how you are receiving what the letter is saying to you, how you are reacting to what is being said and why you are finding it difficult to attend.

You are not learning how to attend. If you are learning the how of attending, then it becomes a system, which is what the brain is accustomed to, and so you make attention something mechanical and repetitive, whereas attention is not mechanical or repetitive. It is the way of looking at your whole life without the centre of self-interest.

=== Thoughts ===

I find it remarkable that the comprehension of each and every daily quote seems to be so important for achieving a complete understanding of what academicians would call Krishnamurti’s “teachings”, “philosophy”, or “intellectual system”- all terms which I feel quite confident that the man himself would most certainly reject.

But a deep understanding of his use of the term “attention” (or more precisely of “making a complete act of attention”) is necessary for understanding anything else that Krishnamurti discusses, because it’s the hinge upon which everything he talks about swivels. You could even argue that making the complete act of attention is the cumulative action of the performance of real meditation.

And so, in light of its relative importance for his Philosophy, and the discussions on this Blog, I’d like to attempt to clarify the above passage with a couple of personal experiences of my own. I’ve been watching Led Zeppelin concerts on DVD all night, so let’s start by using the act of watching them as an analogy.

Let me start off by saying that each and every one of us, from the moment we are born, is trained or conditioned to develop what society calls the “skill” of concentration. Every influence on our awareness is in one way or another refining our ability to concentrate, to our own detriment. From your kindergarten teacher to Yoda (“Concentraaaaaaate!”), just about everyone you’ve ever interacted with in any way has encouraged you to to hone your concentrative powers, whether they meant to or not.

But to get back to my example, as I focused my own powers of concentration on the Led Zeppelin concerts, and especially Jimmy Page’s virtuoso guitar performances, I found myself focusing on individual facets or elements of the total picture of what I was seeing and hearing- like the way Jimmy’s fingers flowed so effortlessly over his guitar’s fretboard, the look of concentration on his face as he focused on making the right movements, or even the sight of his incredible dragon outfit that he wore during the Earl’s Court concert.

And as I concentrated on those things, I found that the rest of the band’s performance, my own reaction to it, and even the things happening in the room around me in the present time were completely shut off from my awareness. But why did these other aspects of the performance, like his band mates movements, Robert Plant’s own insane outfit, or the cat walking across my bed get blocked out? And why was I incapable of perceiving all of those things, along with Jimmy’s finger movements, at the same time?

It’s quite simple, and incredibly pertinent to the topic of attention. Simply put, the way that concentration works is by establishing a filter to screen all of our perceptions, evaluate them, and removing those that we have deemed to be “unimportant”. This filter blocks off those things which we’ve judged to hold little or no value, allowing us to narrow in on and focus additional mental energy on the particular aspects of our perception that we believe do have something to offer.

Concentration serves a distinct purpose, and makes perfect evolutionary sense by helping us to more effectively complete individual tasks, but it also poses a serious problem for our ability to understand life as a whole, causing us to “lose the forest for the trees”. And it’s become an increasingly nefarious problem with the increasing fragmentation, dissociation, and isolation being brought about by modern living in the digital age.

But to return to my example, because I was watching the Zeppelin DVD to help with my own guitar technique, my own concentrative filter had quite reasonably deemed Jimmy Page’s movements and mannerisms to be the most important aspect of the performance, leading me to focus exclusively on him- while completely irnoring the rest of what was happening on stage, inside of myself, and even in the room around me. And as my example shows, the process of concentration must be a necessarily limiting action.

The act of concentration is a behavior that prevents us from achieving complete awareness of ourselves, our environment, and that fundamentally important relationship that binds the two together. Concentration focuses our awareness on one or the other, causing us to forget that each is molded and shaped by the other in an endless dance of symbiotic evolution. And thus, when concentration is at work, there is no possibility for achieving any sort of real understanding, or for the emergence of what Krishnamurti calls the “flowering of intelligence”.

In the rest of this post I will seek to shed further light on the subtleties of this problem, which I would like to argue is the most important issue that modern human beings face.

Continued here: “Difference Between Concentration And Attention – Part II

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One Response to Concentration vs. Attention – Part I

  1. Pingback: Concentration vs. Attention – Part II | Chayacitra

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