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French Alps with my daughter Katie who took the photo.
 Gaining Control of My Attention

I learned an exercise on the first day of the first session of a class I took twenty-seven years ago that changed my life.
I’ve been practicing this exercise daily ever since.
It has given me peace, friends and love — more than I’d ever imagined possible.
It may sound simple and boring when I tell you that it was merely a way of gaining control of my attention.


Why Should We Try to Be Present?

Think about it.
Everyday life isn’t always interesting.
It can be dull, boring, even remarkably unpleasant.
So why try to do as they say, “Be Here, Now?”
Why not try to find something interesting?
Why not immerse ourself in a good television program, film, book, party, concert, drink, drug, sex or sleep.


How I Found Freedom from the Tedium of Life

Surprisingly, the exercise we learned that first day in that class was so darn simple, and so deceptive.
And as ridiculous as it sounds, it gave us access to something we thought we already had.
It gave us a way of coming into the present moment in a way that we’d lost somewhere along our paths of life.
The School of Practical Philosophy where I learned this practice does not have any proprietary interest in the practice.
In fact, the School gives it away free to anyone who wants it.
Yes, there is a charge for taking the course.
But, the practice is free.
I’ll give it to you via email if you’d care to try it.
It is powerful. And it has shown me how to gain control of my attention. It enables me to place my attention where I life.
It has shown me how to keep others from taking away control of my attention.
There are terrific examples of various ways people have kept control of their attention.


Some Examples

Watch a video of a great conductor like Joseph Levine, conducting the Metropolitan Opera orchestra in a great opera.
His attention never wavers as he hums along the melodies and refrains of the score he is conducting.
I’ve found watching him almost as good as watching Das Rheingold’s three-hour performance without intermission.
It’s intense.
Or, consider a surgeon performing a delicate brain operation keeping his attention finely-tuned every stitch of the way. (If you’ll excuse the pun.)
Sports is another place where players’ attention must be glued to the game.
One I always admire is watching a tight-rope walker.
One slip of the attention can cost his life.


Attention Captured

I served in the US Navy during World War Ii.
My younger brother served in the Navy during Vietnam.
The two of us compared notes once with a still younger brother about our service.
It was the same from both of us, “We’d not want to miss it. But we wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.”
The issue was all about attention.
The military is exceedingly skilled at controlling a sailor’s attention — everything from calling us to attention when an officer enters the barracks to keeping our attention fixed on where our tracer bullets are going after we fire them during battle.
It was having our attention fixed fully that was what Brian and I were acknowledging having benefitted each of us that we appreciated.
Even if we didn’t choose to hand it over to some other “sonabitch!”


What I Gained from “The School”

The entire course at The School was about getting control of our attention and where to direct it to our benefit.
And how the trick of how to extend the periods of time we could onto it.
We were introduced to meditation as well as a number of other practices to help us.
If you happen to be in an area where there is a branch of the School of Practical Philosophy I highly recommend you consider one of their courses. Google the name School of Practical Philosophy to see if there is a branch in your area.
The School has branches in many cities around the world.
Otherwise, The Schooleven  has an Internet course that, while not as effective as taking courses on premise, can still provide great help.


Back to the beginning

I use The School practices on every hike I take. They are as good as my daily meditation in helping me gain my control of my attention.
Let me tell you about, one practice I do on every hike.
It is so simple you’ll believe you’ve always done it.
That is, you may believe that, until you actually give it a serious go.
Here it is.
As you walk, give your attention fully to the feet on the trail.
(Yes, you can actually do this at home in your living room, if you can rid the place of its sounds and other distractions.)
Observe things like the feel of the soles of the feet in the boots.
And one at a time, touch your feet down on the trail.
Listen to the sound the foot makes.
Observe mentally each foot lift off the trail, swing forward, drop back down heel touching down on the trail and then what it feels like rocking forward on the foot, listening wide open as you observe the feel of the feet.

A fun and useful mind game I often play while I am giving my attention to my feet doing the walking is to see which I can discern first, feeling the foot or hearing the sound it makes as it touches the grit of the trail.
When the mind wanders, as it will, I simply return it to the practice
— feel the foot touching down heel first on the trail,
— feeling next, the sole of the foot pressing down on the inside of the boot.
— and listen to the sound of the crunching boot on the trail.

Doing this practice on my hikes is one of the reasons I find it better to hike alone.  And the pleasure of hiking is highly enhanced because of the practice.


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2 Responses

  1. jsundwall
    | Reply

    Dear Bill,

    Thanks for this post. I too have been doing this same exercise for many years. What I find interesting about it is that the practice itself never gets ‘old’, while keeping ‘new’ and fresh everything I give my attention to, even those activities I’ve done a thousand times, such as walking (good example!). Deep down what I’ve taken from this exercise is an innate ability to find happiness, rest and satisfaction in whatever’s there in front of me. Which reminds me that each moment is a gift, an opportunity to remember I’m here. I Am.

    Thank you.

    • BackpackerBill
      | Reply

      Thanks for sharing. Yes, I too do it many, many times a day beginning when getting out of bed and taking my morning shower. It is the single practice that enables me to deal with anything that comes along during my day.

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