Caring too much for objects can destroy you. Only—if you care for a thing enough, it takes on a life of its own, doesn’t it? And isn’t the whole point of things—beautiful things—that they connect you to some larger beauty? Those first images that crack your heart wide open and you spend the rest of your life chasing, or trying to recapture, in one way or another?
These examples suggest what one needs to learn to control attention. In principle any skill or discipline one can master on one’s own will serve: meditation and prayer if one is so inclined; exercise, aerobics, martial arts for those who prefer concentrating on physical skills. Any specialization or expertise that one finds enjoyable and where one can improve one’s knowledge over time. The important thing, however, is the attitude toward these disciplines. If one prays in order to be holy, or exercises to develop strong pectoral muscles, or learns to be knowledgeable, then a great deal of the benefit is lost. The important thing is to enjoy the activity for its own sake, and to know that what matters is not the result, but the control one is acquiring over one’s attention.
―Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
―Jack Gilbert, Refusing Heaven
Many of us were raised to think of abundance as something desirable. The cornucopia, the horn of plenty, the allure of inexhaustible gifts. In practice, however…well…be careful what you wish for. Once we shifted the collective locus of our attention to smaller and smaller screens, abundance was no longer as appealing, and needless clutter became the enemy of useful content.
―Andrew Essex, The End of Advertising: Why It Had to Die, and the Creative Resurrection to Come
The idea of attention or contemplation, of looking carefully at something and holding it before the mind, may be conveyed early on in childhood. ‘Look, listen, isn’t that nice?’ Also, ‘Don’t touch!’ This is moral training as well as preparation for a pleasurable life. It need not depend on words, but can also be learnt from patterns of behaviour which should in any case back up the words. The far reaching idea of respect is included in such teaching. The, as it might seem, sophisticated concept of a work of art may be acquired easily. Children, if they are lucky, are invited to attend to pictures or objects, or listen quietly to music or stories or verses, and readily understand in what spirit they are to treat these apparently dissimilar things. They may also be encouraged to contemplate works of nature, which are unlike works of art, yet also like them in being “beautiful.”
―Iris Murdoch,Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals
Sometimes, people can go missing right before our very eyes. Sometimes, people discover you, even though they’ve been looking at you the entire time. Sometimes we lose sight of ourselves when we’re not paying attention.
―Cecelia Ahern, A Place Called Here