The title is me being ironic, because this post is about our world of words and symbols. It is about all the things life throws at you that demand your attention - the TV and the phone and the solicitors vying for your time and making you focus on externalities when you'd do best to spend more time turning inward. And how do I go about it? By asking you to read more symbols.
But if you read this, maybe it will be the last time. Not the last time you visit this page, but the last time you give away your attention indiscriminately, without thinking about the consequences, which are profound, without realizing how precious your attention really is. Maybe you'll spend less time doing stuff that does nothing but kill time. Such a precious thing, time. If it even exists.
How many things vie for your attention? Are you a gamer? Which is your favorite? Minecraft? Or are you the Grand Theft Auto type? Not into X-Box? What, do you prefer playing on your phone? Angry Birds much? How about Dots: A Game About Connecting?
Mindless crap. But in defense of these games, researchers say players' levels of anxiety pretty much flatline. Yeah, because they're no-brainers! If you don't think, you feel no stress. Maybe there's something to this no-thinking thing. More on this in a bit. Do you spend the average player's 2 hours per day gaming? More? Less? If you're a kid, experts calculate that you'll have spent enough time by the age of 12 to qualify as an expert at playing games. Pat yourself on the back. Now go empty the trash. Are you on Facebook? Do you watch TV? How many times a day do you check email? How many hours a week do you spend on the phone having conversations you'd rather not have, or having conversations you do enjoy but are really just glossed-over, gussied-up idle chatter and vapid gossip?
Here, do this. Take a sheet of paper, draw a line down the center, label the left column pros and the right column cons. Taking an average day, list your activities. Think of as many things as you can. For any given task, if it is either enjoyable or necessary, make it a pro. All else is a con. If you love your job, do it 6 hours per day, but spend 2 hours in traffic, that's 6 hours work you enjoy (pro); 2 hours traffic that sucks (con). If you enjoy work overall but spend one of those six hours answering useless emails or having conversations that go nowhere, make that portion a con.
Other pros: grocery shopping (even if you dislike), preparing food. Both are necessary and can be fun. Other cons are tricky. Watching 2 hours of TV a night is enjoyable in that you are entertained and your mind distracted from the day's issues, so pro. But watching TV before you go to bed may interrupt your sleep, cause you to snack more than you otherwise would, and on chips rather than carrot sticks, diminish communication with your partner and hamper your sex life, so mixed bag. Maybe 1 hour of TV goes in the pros side, the other you put in the cons.
As you can see, this is not an exact science. My hope is simply that you'll evaluate your day, and taking a bird's eye view determine whether overall the plusses outweigh the minuses. Hopefully they do. If not, it's time to change a few things. Either way, you'll be better for the effort.
Because seeing where your time and attention go can be a major eye-opener. Did you know Serena Williams spends 3 hours a day on the tennis court? At 33, she is the No. 1 women's tennis player in the world, with 35 major tournament titles and nearly $70 million in prize money. And Midori Goto, the virtuoso violinist who has sold out music halls since the age of 11? How long did it take her to master some of the most difficult violin pieces, and before adolescence? Five hours of practice a day, which she still keeps up. Amazing what you can do with your time. And yet you play Angry Birds and binge watch Parks & Recreation. Ooops that would be me. I've stopped watching - because the show is over.
Of course the Dalai Lama tops them all. For a guy called His Holiness, would we have it any other way? Recognized at the age of 2 by Buddhists as the present incarnation of the Dalai Lama, His Holiness has been a spiritual leader for most of 80 years. He has written over 100 books, mostly on peace and spirituality, met 3 popes, sat with 4 presidents, traveled around the globe and won the Nobel Peace Prize. How does he spend his day? Meditating and praying. He awakes at 3 AM and turns in at 7 PM and in between spends 6.5 hours turning the attention inward. That's over 156,000 hours of spiritual practice, a conservative estimate allowing for 50 or so days per year of vacation, which I doubt His Holiness takes. Going by the 10,000 hour rule he is 15 sages rolled into one cute little bald man in a robe.
Because you see, your attention is really all you have, and attention is everything. Nothing can take place without you there to experience it, and yet we spend the majority of our time focused on our surroundings, on the things going on around us, the senses awhirl, the outgoing mind flitting from this pleasure to that attraction, being flung to and from by this fear to that anxiety, this yearning for yesterday, or that trepidation about tomorrow. All the billboards, and the advertisements, and the tweets and blogs and junk mail and get-togethers, errands, shopping-sprees and dates. All of it taking you away from yourself.
Concentrated focus is fine. We've seen what it has done for the musicians and meditators of the world, and how about Toni Morrison. Who at 84, having published 11 novels since becoming a novelist at the age of 39 and altogether more than 25 works spanning six genres, has won the Pulitzer Prize. Yes, practice makes perfect and will earn you a living. There is even a future for the gamers of the world. Swedish gamer Felix Kjellerg has a YouTube channel with 37 million subscribers, the most of any user. Perhaps some day there will by an Olympic Sport dedicated to League of Legends. May that day never come.
Because the more we focus on an increasingly complex, engaging and enticing world, the more we neglect our consciousness, and since this is who we are, the more we lose ourselves. Ever take a moment to watch the watcher, to sit with the Self, the great witness, from which the mind and intellect and senses and the world spring? Because this alone is real, in the sense that it is always with you from day to day and in every state, waking, dreaming or deep sleep. Why not get to know it? It will never change or fade. Unlike Serena's serve, or Goto's stroke, or Morrison's vision, it will never leave you. Remind yourself as often as you can that it is in the light of your awareness that all else shines. Think of this the next time some nonsense occupies your mind. It takes you away from you, and you is all you have. Is it really worth it?
The results of society's outward-directed focus have been the very technologies that demand more of our focus. Yes, the result is the automobile and mass-production of food, and the generation of over 2.5 quintillion bytes daily of data, more than we can interpret but enough to make us feel guilty because this data includes the carbon footprint of our inventions, so we learn that driving a car consumes 11,000 lbs of carbon dioxide per year, and eating meat another 3,500. Which is why I do neither. I also don't like traffic, and lost my taste for steak.
In a world that changes with head-spinning rapidity, fix the consciousness on what doesn't change, and that is consciousness itself. Remember, it's all you really have, and it's everything.