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On Faith: Studying the mind shows our true nature

November 04, 2011|psychology, mind, mind study, The Rev. Deborah Barrett, ADD, ADHD

"Now listen carefully, because I am only going to tell you this 10 times!"

So goes the joke about how difficult it can be to get someone's undivided attention.

It is common for people to multitask with emailing or texting, talk on the phone using headsets or listen to music on an iPod. Who has not experienced confusion when the person you are trying to relate to in "real time" turns out to be previously engaged with someone else electronically?

It is also common to be asked the same question several times because the person asking is simply not listening to the answer, no matter how many times or loudly it is repeated. Another aggravation is when instructions are given but are not followed, primarily because they were not listened to or read, and retained.

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A pervasive inattentiveness to the tasks of daily life such as paying bills, picking up groceries, keeping appointments and returning calls — overall "flakiness" — also takes a toll. Some inattentiveness may be harmless, but the inability to pay attention when it is important to do so is increasingly a problem for many people.

According to a new report by the American Academy of Pediatrics, parents should avoid allowing children to watch any TV or computers until the age of two because the distraction delays their development.

The reason is not that they are adversely affected by the content (which they don't understand). The problem is that the movement, noise and color distract them from their primary task, which is to focus on their own play and on interaction with adults.

When the TV is left on and children are not actively viewing it, the "second-hand" TV still interferes with the children's concentration on their own play. It is easy to suspect that increased exposure to TV and computer screens may also contribute to the growing problems teens and adults are having with attention and concentration.

Attention, consciousness and meaningful engagement with reality are topics of interest for those involved in spirituality as well as psychology. While it may be helpful to prescribe medication for those with attention deficit disorder (ADD or ADHD), Zen addresses the more universal problem of "monkey mind" through meditation. Thoughts seem to swing wildly from branch to branch. One purpose of meditation is to study and tame the monkey, to train the mind to settle down and to focus.

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