10 August 2014

feelings towards, and the object of attention

One of the less inspiring window displays in Chelsea. But it makes me smile to see it!

I've become enamored with a couple of concepts recently... here's the first: "We have feelings towards the object of our attention"

Feelings don't happen to us. They are not a direct result of us, or our environmental: they are the result of the application of attention to something. It's kind of obvious at the extremes: you can't feel much about things that you don't know anything about and never experience. 

The phrasing itself entices one to ask what is the object of my attention that produces this feeling?

Claim: we don't control the way we feel much, but we can control much more easily our attention. But not completely - a loud noise can capture our attention for example. But in many ways we do get to choose the focus of our attention. And what's more, focusing attention is a learnable skill. 

But here's the real punchline: there are 'fixed points' of emotion: there are some feelings that when we make them the object of our attention result in the same feeling! If we make our grumpyness the object of our attention (we think "damn, I feel so grumpy"), it often results in exactly the same feeling of grumpiness ("crap, I'm so grumpy feeling, I hate it!"). It's an attention-feeling fixed point! How cool is that? I noticed this while feeling grumpy one day :)  

Attention itself is a fluid, partially malleable thing. So it begs us to think about what is attention? What flexibility do we have in its focus? 

This also provides a neat model for the impact of breathing meditation. Making breathing the focus of our attention takes our mind and emotions off of other things.  And breathing seems to inspire common feeling among pretty much all people: paying attention to our breathing... feels good. 

Happy breathing. 


Anonymous said...


Sahar said...

Your bolded sentence immediately made me think of the idea of a cognitive therapy book I have on my shelf (though I read only a few first chapters, leaving its thorough reading for “its time”). Now that I looked up the title, I see the connection: "Mind Over Mood: Change How You Feel by Changing the Way You Think”, though you would probably replace the word Think by Attend. The argue of the book is that if you constantly pay attention to your feelings (moods) and look for the cause of those feelings, you can better control the situation (in the book, the four aspects of Moods, Thoughts, Behaviours, Physical Reactions are examined). You’re right, if we feel grumpy, it always feels the same way, however, as you suggest, we might be able to more easily stop it or change our mood if we learn to be aware of what made us feel that way, meaningly “to attend". However, attending, being aware, is a hard work, contrary to our energy-conserving Brain, unless it properly learns preventing some moods is energy conservation too!