Tutankhamun - Second Coffin (Egyptian Museum, Cairo)

I’ve found in talking to people that the distinction between attention and consciousness is still not clear, so perhaps it’s a good time look at both of them.

Attention holds a specific energy in a fixed field around something that we want to observe or examine. For instance you can put your attention on your hands, or you can give you attention to your thoughts or to someone you are talking to.

Consciousness requires an ability to focus a similar energy around the body in a less directed way. This energy creates a field, which can be added to or can  built up over time. From one point view being present and self-remembering  method of focusing and building up a field of consciousness around the body.

Holding attention and being present can be seen as sister talents. They need a similar effort and they help each other. The more conscious you are, the easier it is to be attentive, the more attentive you are, the easier it is to be conscious. By bringing attention to your sensations, your movements, your emotions, and your thoughts, you become present to your inner world and external manifestations.

What is generally not understood about the effort to focus attention is that it saves energy. As an experiment when you finish reading this article, get up and do something. It doesn’t matter what. Make yourself a snack or cup of coffee, or straighten something. But whatever you do, be attentive to your external movements. Observe the way you move and how your muscles become tense when you hold something and how they relax when you set it down. Observe how you stand and how much force you use when you open and close a drawer or a cabinet. Don’t worry about being present because you’re holding yourself in the present by focusing your attention on your movements as you make them.

If you do this experiment, you will probably observe that, with attention, your movements are more deliberate. You use only the force that you need for each movement and are less subject to unobserved tensions. In other words you will save energy. It is true that you will need a certain amount of energy to keep your attention on what you’re doing, but the energy you need to hold your attention is far less than the energy you waste in tension and unintended movements.

It isn’t the effort to be attentive that makes you feel tired. Think about this way: each time you have a thought or make a movement or express an emotion, wheels turn inside you. The more the wheels turn the more energy you use. Each function has its own energy, and the energy of one function cannot be substituted for the energy of another function. You cannot think with the energy of the body and you cannot move, or dance, or drive a car with the energy of the mind. Let’s say that you have to study some material or write a paper or a report. The mind has only a definite amount of energy. When you reach the end of that energy, you feel tired. You can stare at the computer screen as long as you like; if the mind has no energy, you cannot work. But if you get up and take a walk and don’t think, you will find that you can return to your work. By letting the body walk, you will be using another function, and, at the same time, allowing the mind to refresh itself. So when you come back to the computer, you will be able to study again.

Energy is the mechanical side of consciousness. You need a certain amount of energy for living and a certain amount for being present. The way to get more energy for being present is through the use of attention, attention in relation to the expression of the body’s desires, in relation to which emotions you express, and in relation to which thoughts you allow.