Attention and Awareness

field of sunflowers with one flower in focus

“If everyone would just have a bit more awareness of their immediate surroundings life would be so much more pleasant.”

My friend Anna is so right on. This was her comment as we sat in a local restaurant on a very cold January evening.

I live in Minnesota. So, when I say cold, I don’t mean a balmy 20 degrees Fahrenheit. More like single digits. Real bone-chilling January cold. For some reason the door was sticking that night—as someone entered the restaurant if they weren’t aware, the door stayed open behind them.

Cold air came rushing in. The host was constantly having to run out and shut the door. Anna was annoyed.

You’ve had the experience of entering a building and the person right in front of you opens the door only to let it slam shut in your face.

Sometimes they keep on walking, clueless. Other times they might catch a glimpse of you in the glass at the last second, realize what’s just happened, and apologize.

I believe people are well-intentioned. I don’t think most people go around purposely opening doors and not holding them for the person right behind them.

They’re just not Aware of their surroundings.

All their Attention is on what’s going on in front of them. Or maybe they’re engrossed with their phone.

What you’re Aware of and where your Attention is has an effect on your posture.

Your Attention is typically on what you’re currently doing. As you read this, the screen of your phone or your computer.

At the same time, you can have different levels of Awareness of yourself and your environment.

Attention is what you’re narrowly focused on.

Awareness is wider, taking in more.

Look at the photo of the sunflower below.

Think of your Attention as being what’s in sharp focus and your Awareness, the background that’s visible but a bit soft and blurry.

field of sunflowers with one flower in focus

Try this experiment:

  • Just focus on the big sunflower that’s in focus. Stare intently at it. As you do, how does your body feel, and how’s your breathing?
  • Now try still looking at that same big sunflower but soften your gaze a bit so you can also take in the rest of the field of sunflowers. As you do, how does your body feel, and how’s your breathing?

The second time, your Attention is still on the big sunflower, but you’ve now included a bit of Awareness of the larger scene.

If you found it difficult to put Attention on the big sunflower and include Awareness of the whole scene no worries.

Just means you need some practice.

A good place to start working on this skill is when you’re at your computer —because it’s very easy to have all your Attention on the screen, or even just a very small part of the screen for long periods of time.

And you have no Awareness of anything outside of the screen, including yourself.

Start including this simple Awareness Break every 20 minutes.

  • Allow yourself to be aware of the whole computer screen all the way out to the edges.
  • See the space around the computer screen and look out across and around the room. Feel free to turn your head! If you’ve got a window, look out the window.
  • At the same time, notice your feet contacting the floor and your thighs, buttocks, and back contacting the chair. Not contacting the back of your chair? If you’ve been craning forward over your computer (in that sort of nut shape) here’s a time to settle back against the back of the chair again.
  • Go back to your work and for a little while try keeping a small amount of that Awareness of the space around you and your contact with the chair and the ground as you return your Attention to your work.

You’ll probably have to set automatic reminders for yourself.

You could also decide that if you work on long documents, for example, you’ll take this break after so many pages.

If you’ve gotta check your e-mail regularly (like every 30 minutes) you could do this before or after you do that task.

Cultivating this skill will take time and some effort.

But it’s worth it.

Because constant laser-focused Attention can cause you to physically tighten and restrict your breathing. (My husband Bruce used to focus so hard coding that he would even forget to blink!)

Working on waking up a bit of your broader Awareness can have the effect of allowing your body and your breathing to physically open up and decompress.

Over time your body will thank you for it.

Image of sunflowers: hecke61/Shutterstock

4 comments… add one

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  • Harry B. Mills August 19, 2020, 12:24 pm

    Hi, Lauren!
    Wow…when I soften my gaze and took in all the sunflowers, my shoulders actually relaxed and dropped!!!
    Thanks and best wishes!!

    • Lauren Hill August 19, 2020, 3:51 pm

      Amazing,eh? And the fun part is you did that all by yourself–no massage therapist needed. The big question is how are you going to use that skill –now that you realize that you have it–in your daily life? 🙂

  • Judith Muir September 2, 2020, 11:53 pm

    Nice blog,Judith Muir M.M. M.AmSAT., is a professional musician, award-winning music educator, and certified teacher of the Alexander Technique. Read More :

    • Lauren Hill September 3, 2020, 6:49 am

      Thanks Judith.


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