The mind can essentially be divided into two – the conscious mind and the subconscious mind.
The subconscious mind is nothing but a collection of ‘automated programs’. This includes your ego construct, your self beliefs, thought patterns, habits etc.
The conscious mind on the other hand is the seat of your ‘attention’ or ‘awareness’ or ‘consciousness’.
The paradox is that even though your ‘attention’ is your ‘awareness’, you are still not ‘aware’ of it. In other words, we are not aware of our awareness, not conscious of our consciousness.
True awakening begins once you start becoming aware of your attention/awareness/consciousness. Neuroscience calls this ‘Meta Cognition’. From a metaphysical perspective, we can call this ‘conscious attention’ or ‘conscious consciousness’ or ‘conscious awareness’.
In spiritual circles, whenever the term awareness or consciousness is used, it is used to denote – awareness of your attention.
As you are reading this article, you are giving this article some of your attention. Depending on if or not you like the article, you will continue to give it attention or move on to some other article or video. This is how attention works, it keep moving on to the next thing it finds interesting.
You only give your attention to things that draw you in.
In an awakened state however, you are no longer automatically drawn in by things. You decide where to give your attention and where to take it away from. Of-course, the awakened state is not permanent, it comes and goes depending on the quality of your awareness and your will to work on yourself.
Being attentive is different from being conscious
The ability to pay attention to something is a faculty of the conscious mind. Some minds are good at paying attention whereas some minds get distracted easily. There is nothing wrong in either. It’s just that the mind that gets distracted easily is more creatively oriented.
Simply being attentive is not equivalent to being conscious. You need to be consciously attentive.
Let’s look at an example to clarify this a little:
Let’s say there is a school and there are two kids. One kid is highly attentive, and the other kid’s attention wanders all over the place. He finds it hard to focus on what the teacher is teaching.
The highly attentive kid has the ability to focus his attention on what is being taught. The other kid though is not able to do that. He easily gets distracted and his attention wanders to the next thing that catches his fancy. It could be his imagination, it could be the birds outside or it could be the squirrel munching on some goodies.
Sooner or later, the teacher notices the inattentive kid and asks him/her to pay attention. But if this continues, the kid might even be termed as having an attention deficit disorder (ADD or ADHD).
Now of-course the kid with ADD does not actually have a problem. He just finds it difficult to focus on something that he does not find interesting. He wants to be in nature and play. But because he does not fit into the norm, he is termed ADD.
Anycase, that apart, the point I am trying to make here is this:
In case of both the kids, ‘attention’ is involved. One kid is able to pay attention, and the other is not able to pay attention. Now here’s a question: Does this make the attentive kid more conscious as compared to the inattentive kid? The answer is, NO.
Both kids are equally unconscious of their attention. Even though the attentive kid’s brain allows him to pay attention, he still is not ‘conscious’ of his attention and that’s what makes all the difference.
The important point to realize is that having a sharp mind that is able to pay attention, does not matter. The only thing that matters is how ‘aware’ one is of his/her attention.
In-fact, true intelligence is determined by the quality of one’s awareness not by how good one is in academia.
As long as we are not conscious of our attention, our attention will behave like a loose cannon and will be attracted towards anything that draws its fancy. The perfect analogy for ‘attention’ is a horse without a leash and blinders. It goes wherever it wants to go. It follows whatever draws its fancy. Putting a leash on the horse equals becoming conscious of the horse (attention). Putting on the blinders equals, directing the horse where we want it to go. In other words, focusing our attention where we want it to be focused.
Only when we become conscious of our attention is when we can start to train our attention. How can you train something that you don’t even know exists in the first place?
Becoming conscious of your attention
For the most part, your attention is lost in your mind. In other words, your attention is lost in the various thoughts/images/sensations your mind produces. It simply gets pulled around by all these thoughts.
Even when you pay attention to something, you pay attention almost unconsciously. In other words, you are not even aware that you are paying attention.
Awakening begins when you begin to stay aware of your attention. Once you become aware of your attention, you start to realize where your attention is at any given point of time.
You can then use your attention to become aware of your surroundings, physical body and your subconscious mind – your thoughts, emotions, beliefs, self image, ego construct etc.
To become conscious of your attention, simply ask yourself this question: Where is my attention focused on at this given moment?
As you ask yourself this question (many times over at different points in a day), you will become aware of all the repetitive thoughts in your mind that you are focusing on. You ever start becoming aware of emotions related to these thoughts. Thoughts that are deep rooted to have formed into beliefs and so on.
After a certain period of time, you need not ask this question, you will automatically start to stay aware of your attention, if not all the time, at-least most of the time.
Your attention is powerful
Your attention is your energy; whatever you give your energy to, starts to flourish.
For example, if you pay attention to a thought, it starts to grow. More related thoughts are generated. And on the other hand, if you stop paying attention to a thought, it withers and dies down.
Thoughts generated by your mind need your attention to survive.
Such is the power of your attention.
To live consciously is to live realizing this power and to use this power of attention to further bring into awareness other hidden aspects of your mind and body.
Think of your attention as a torch light. When you are not aware, the torch light has no controller. It sheds light on any aspect that attracts it. In other words, your attention gets pulled around by your thoughts. Every thought pulls it around until you go to sleep and your conscious mind is no longer active.
But when you become aware of the torch, you can pick it up and shine light on areas where you wish to shine light upon. For example, you can explore areas of your subconscious mind – your ego construct, your thought patterns, your beliefs, your thoughts and the kind of emotions they generate in the body etc. etc.
The possibilities are endless as you begin this journey of consciousness and self discovery.
You are already conscious
If you understood the concept of attention as discussed in this article, you have already started to become conscious. That’s all it takes. Where you take this consciousness is totally up to you.
This is exactly similar to swallowing the red pill in the movie – The Matrix. The moment you become aware, you start to grow in awareness every passing moment.
How does growing in awareness help you?
The greatest form of intelligence is the intelligence of the self.
Awareness helps you get in touch with your true nature. You come to realize how fluid your ego construct, personality and self beliefs are and how to replace them if need be. You can easily remove negative programs and replace them when positive ones. You will start to raise your body’s vibration thereby attracting health and healing. You will no longer be controlled by issues created on a mind level like anxiety. You will be free to choose the states of mind that you wish to experience.
You will reach a state of inner balance where you are not swayed around by excitement or depression. Both these states will come and go and in these states, you will find yourself remaining steady.
Learning to pay conscious attention
If you are ready to embark on this journey of consciousness, start by doing this:
At this very moment, become conscious of your attention, see where it is focused, see to what thoughts it is giving energy.
Now divert your attention consciously to any part of your external reality. For example, consciously divert your attention to view your computer monitor. See every aspect of the monitor with your full attention. Realize aspects that were there on the monitor but you never ever noticed. What’s written on it? What’s the texture? What colors are there? Is it dusty? Etc. Pay full attention at-least for 30 seconds.
When you are paying attention, be conscious that you are paying attention.
Now pay similar conscious attention to other items in your room.
Bring this conscious attention to your inner body. See what your body is doing. Feel your heart beating, your lungs sucking in oxygen, your mind thinking.
Finally do this simple meditation: Take your attention and consciously divert it to focus on your breathing. Feel the sensations that air creates as it hits your nostrils. Cool your breath in and warm as you breath out. See for how long you can consciously keep your attention focused on your breath this way before your attention gets pulled in by your thoughts.
As you live conscious of your attention, you have started to awaken.
You need not force yourself to stay conscious all the time
Of-course it’s not humanely possible to stay conscious of your attention at all times. Sometimes it’s best to let go and let your attention roam around unconsciously to whatever draws its fancy. But you can train yourself to become conscious of your attention when need be. For example, when you are feeling depressed, become conscious of what thoughts your attention is focused on and consciously divert your attention.
As you practice this, you will reach a state where you will be able to turn on your conscious mode at will.