Attention: Awareness with Intent
Things start getting interesting when you join your awareness to your intent or will. This is how attention is born. Awareness, directed by the intent, takes hold of a mental object. The impression lasts a little longer. The stronger the intent, the greater the attention.
If you’re only mildly interested, the intent is not great. The awareness is easily peeled away. When you get more interested, the intent is stronger. It’s a lot more difficult to strip the awareness away.
You see now, why when I’m absorbed in a book or a video, it’s difficult to get me to look away. But this is not under conscious control. Most of the time, I have no choice in the matter.
Making the Choice
The fact is that the will or intent is within our conscious control. It is possible deliberately to turn our awareness onto something we choose. We all know how to ‘pay attention’. There is no doubt that we can do it. The trick is in being to sustain that attention at a high level for a long time.
You can build your mental strength until you are capable of sustained focus, and even to the level of what we called the Concentrated Mind. There is a story in the Mahabharata about Arjuna the archer-hero that illustrates this level of focus and what it can achieve.
The Gymnasium of the Mind
Building your mental muscles takes some exercise. When we want to build our physical strength and stamina, we go to the gym, and follow a regimen of diet and exercise. There is a mental gym and regimen we can use to strengthen our ‘focus muscle’ or ‘concentration muscle’.
Think of a top athlete in training. Exercise is a part of the deal. But that’s not all. S/he eats well. Avoids late-night parties and drinking. Gets the right amount of high-quality sleep. Works on ‘mental toughness.’
When building your mental muscles too, there is a regimen to be followed. Exercise is an important part of the regimen, but only one part. There is much more to it than just the exercise, which we’ll get into in just a bit. But first, the exercise.