Nick writes: Recently I noticed I was developing eyestrain, and my work involves heavy amounts of staring at computer screens. Using my LM knowledge I realised that I was ‘looking at’ the screens – like ‘me’ was buried somewhere inside my head looking through my eye sockets. So I shifted the way I did this work, so that the screens were part of my ordinary, everyday presence in the room – less a looking-at the screens and more them just being there in my visual field, in my ordinary presence in the room.
David Gorman responds: Yes, Nick, I’ve worked with a lot of people in this sort of territory. Sometimes it is as you’ve described — the person is using their spatial attention as if “they” are are way back in themselves and so they are separated from what they are doing which is way out there, and sometimes it is that they have their spatial attention so pulled out of themselves that “they” are way out in space with what they are trying to do, far from their actual “body”.
Here are two quick examples of the latter: one is the person gets so “into the program” when working at a computer that their attention is right in the screen and they have “lost” themselves entirely (this often leads to neck and shoulder strain as the head gets pulled forward towards the screen); another is when someone is trying to understand something in a class, workshop, lecture, etc. and they think the knowledge is over there in the teacher and they are trying to “get it” (again, they will end up physically pulled forward, brows knitted, and usually with a palpable sense of strain).
The way we use our “attention space” (as I call it) directly organizes our co-ordinations, our posture, and affects all levels of our functioning.
Like the opening of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”, there is one general way of using your attention space that allows good functioning, but there are many different ways of using attention space that lead to various different sorts of poor functioning.
It seems (and this won’t surprise you, Nick) that the most optimal functioning is when we are “present” in the moment and centred in an open and expansive field of attention. On the other hand, we begin to negatively affect our functioning whenever we narrow our attention off in any direction (especially if “trying” is also involved) — narrowing out of ourselves in space, narrowing back into ourselves to feel or change our feelings, narrowing off to the past or to future moments, or narrowing off into fantasy and day-dreams…
I wish to stress here that it is the narrowing that is the problem part of it. It is certainly possible to carry out any of the above — paying attention to things out in front of us like the computer screen, lectures. etc., or to notice inner experiences when they come our attention, or to think about past events or future implications and so on, just so long as we fully remain present in ourselves and the space around us at the same time…
There’s more on this “attention space” territory in a recent article written by one of my apprentice-teachers, Marion Day, and myself, called “By Intention Alone” — read it atwww.learningmethods.com/by.intention.alone.htm