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Kingsley Dennis, Ph.D. Headshot

Breaking the Spell: Dealing With a Distracting Reality

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For many people modern life can be said to have become an unbalanced distraction; or rather, the reality of our daily lives is a constant "attention distracter." We suffer not from an attention deficit but from "attention overload." This often then results in endless instances of misplaced attention. Too many of our social events, devices, interactions, etc. coerce us into placing our attention upon exterior gratifications, often at the expense of our inner condition. Many of us go through life as automatons, barely touching the epidermis of wakefulness. We are often out of synch with a reality passing before our lives; we literally need to shake the sleep from our eyes. There is too much "information" but not sufficient meaning. Many Western cultures put great store by the collection of information like greedy children. Yet we can be intellectual giants whilst at the same time being spiritual infants. However, we possess within us the means -- in terms of capacity and potential -- to develop great energies of awareness. It is therefore important how we deal with each experience, event, situation(s), and circumstances. We create meaning not by what happens to us, but rather how we respond to our circumstances.

Being more aware as a person first requires of us that we listen to ourselves. It then requires that we take great care in how we listen and interpret the external world. It is not a practice that requires one to be skinny and ascetic, nor need it be mystical or hysterical. In fact, it is more often humorous and straight-forward: more science than superstition. For many people the linkage between the exterior and interior worlds still remains murky and fuzzy. Most daily perceptions and thought processes remain constricted by layers of social conditioning and operate largely mechanically. It helps if we can begin by understanding how much "wrong thinking" we perpetuate in regard to everything we claim as our own: our thoughts, views, beliefs, tastes, habits. In actual fact, so much of our "baggage" is formed through imitation or from our cultural patterns of conditioning. An old proverb says, "They that drink of the old wine have no place for the new." Our "old wine" has been provided by our social conditioning; and whilst they may vary according to various cultures, they all follow some fundamental basics.

With few rare exceptions all people are brought up within very clearly-defined cultural parameters. These dominating parameters attempt to construct sets of accepted socio-cultural norms of thought and behavior. These operate through such social mechanisms as personal faith/religion, science, language and emotions, denial and doubt, happiness and fear, safety and security (identity and belonging), status and materialism. In the end, we reinforce beliefs that have grown into us, accepting and defending them as our own. Of course, we only "believe" those things that we want, or that fit within our perceptual paradigms. And we wish to support the investment we have made in "our beliefs." Thus, people seek out and promote those activities and experiences that serve to reinforce and validate their own beliefs. People rarely seek out those experiences that will actively challenge their perceptions and thus create flexibility of thought. How many far-right conservatives would spend time reading the latest socialist newsletter? Yet the fixed idea is the enemy of free thinking.

Our collective consensus reality is a bewitching spell. It is an illusory shared "reality" that both fascinates and beguiles. Thus, to "awaken" our faculties of perception and awareness, a person needs to recognize the ways in which they think and react, and in doing so to develop their own inner strengths. The average person far too often acts on their thoughts and desires without taking responsibility for them. Thus, we need to assume the responsibility of our presence in the world. By taking responsibility in this way we make each moment and encounter our own. By not taking such responsibility we let events drift away from us, or are powerless to defend against their disruptive influence. To break the spell of our multi-layered social conditioning requires that a whole new system of perception is brought into being. It calls for mental, emotional, and energetic reserves of concentration that can replace a person's old conditioning with terms of reference that are more positive and useful.

To summarize, in a modern global world that increasingly encourages a 24/7 connected lifestyle it is important that each of us manages to find balance, harmony, and coherence within our inner states. We each also need to manage our energy levels as we seek to gain a meaningful perspective on our lives. In a series of blog posts I hope to discuss some short yet useful and significant techniques for managing our attention and focusing our perceptions within the modern world. After all, we should not forget that despite the constraining forces that surround our social lives, we have at our disposal a great reservoir of human energy. We each must step forward into the driving seat of our own change, and learn to steer our own future(s).

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