The Magic of Attention
by Ruwan Meepagala Jun 6, 2014
His long beard hair oscillating in the wind is the fastest moving part of his body as his radiating palms float forward like clouds. The first time I met my Tai Chi teacher in McCarren Park, I almost biked right past him, assuming he was part of the flora. He says “Tai Chi isn’t about the movements, it’s about your mind. The movement is just a reflection of where your mind is at.”
Last week he taught me how to stand like a tree-- to be "rooted" without any effort. Today he shows me how my mind affects my form. Every time I get distracted, I lose my balance. When I pay full attention to my body and environment, my form ends up being perfect. Like magic.
What does it mean to pay attention?
Attention kind of a currency we all have. We can give attention, get attention, direct attention, and divert attention. But unlike other currencies like money, we can't save attention. You can't store it in an account or hide it under the mattress. Attention has to flow. If you don't consciously point your attention somewhere, it will go somewhere unconsciously.
You can, however, cultivate attention, which really means to have more conscious control over it's flow. Attention is never idle. It can never be static. Whether it's fully focused on a person you're talking to, or daydreaming about Game of Thrones, it's always going somewhere, doing something.
All meditative practices aim to train your attention because of it's profound effect on how you interact with the world. Our speech, behaviors, and even thought are determined by how we place it. Attention is the only place where we truly exercise free will. Everything else in our reality is a result of how we point our direction.
I've clearly experienced in OM how energy follows attention. The sensation felt in an OM is proportional to how much attention both partners are placing on the point of contact. I'm noticing the same in Tai Chi and many other areas of life.
Pay attention to your hands and they will start to feel warm and tingly. Pay attention to a person and he or she will have some sort of reaction. In TurnON events it's very clear what a lot of attention can do to a person: sweats, increased heart rate, chills, giggles. Attention creates sensation.
People have different reactions to attention based on their sensitivity. A person's sensitivity is a result of how much attention they direct outwards. Direct your attention to typical closed-off New Yorkers on the subway and they will most likely close off further and try to pretend you're not there. Pay attention to a child and he'll probably react more expressively.
Your attention always has an effect on you and the people around you.
The more you cultivate your attention, the greater the apparent effect. Experienced OMers sometimes seem like they have magical psychic powers at TurnON events because they can "see" things in a person that other can't. All such "magic" is a high level of attention cultivated. When your attention is trained, you start to see things that were always there, but haven't noticed before.
The "LSD-like" experience that many new OMers report experience is exactly this. LSD is enjoyable because gets our brain to pump unadulterated attention outwards. That's why when you're tripping a toothbrush can become so interesting. Or a few minutes can feel like hours. You realize how much there is in each moment so it becomes easier to direct all your attention to the now. Like the water of many small streams collecting together to form a powerful river, your normally divided mind becomes a unified torrent.
I used to think Tai Chi practitioners were doing nothing. I see now that they practice what OMers do: cultivate and train their attention.
Your attention is your most valuable asset. The more you gather and focus your attention, the more you can do with less work. When the mind is fully directed, everything falls into place perfectly. That's where the real magic happens.