Where is My Attention?

Jacarandas in bloom in San Diego, CA, May 2020.

Life and the mind seems to be in one of two states.  Being under water mostly for me and periodically coming up, out of the water, for air.  Or being asleep mostly and waking-up periodically.  I smile as I write this.

The majority of people alive today identify with their thoughts … Are you identifying with the thought or the observer of the thought? – Michael L. Fournier [Fournier_Manual, p. 106]

In the first state, the mind or “my” attention is stuck on, preoccupied, absorbed by or lost on a particular object of attention.  Objects of attention such as thoughts (like these), a video, a conversation, an electronic device like the smartphone, pain or a recurring tune.  Where the thoughts may, for example, be about work, health, finances, the future, the past, worries, hopes, fears, expectations, judging, fun, dissatisfaction,* … and, more recently, the many consequences of COVID-19.  And in this state, there is an absence of awareness of being in this state.

In the second state, the mind or my attention is free, available, separate or rediscovered.  No longer stuck.  And where the attention can freely move about.  A quality that infants seem to have in abundance.  And the attention can move to those objects of attention which tend to experience a dearth of attention.  For example, for me, the breath, body sensations like the tension in the shoulders, sounds like the fingers typing on this keyboard, sights like the rising and falling of the chest with the inhalations and exhalations, my surroundings,…  Being present, awake and aware.

And in this second state, the thoughts can also be an object of attention but in a different way.  As if present, awake and aware of the thoughts.  As if apart from the thoughts and seeing them from a distance.  As opposed to being the thoughts, seeing them up close, lost in them and unaware of them.

As noted in another article, it is a wonderful and liberating experience to catch the ninja-like, fleeting thoughts that propel me to behave, react, make decisions, feel and speak in certain preconditioned, subconscious, habitual and sometimes undesirable ways [KendoNotes Meditation2].

There seems to be many ways of describing this second state.

In these moments, there is a sense of freedom, release, awareness, presence, peace, calmness, spaciousness.  In this place, the attention is not stuck on an object of attention.  Instead, it seems to have the ability to flow readily, naturally, unconditionally to any place at any moment.  Be it towards the breath, body sensations, sounds, sights, thoughts…  Just as Takuan Soho and others describe it – as summarized in the quotes in [KendoNotes_MushinQuotes] and in detail in Takuan Soho’s writings [Takuan].

And in these moments, the attention is no longer narrow, focused, rigid, closed or tension-oriented.  Instead, the attention seems wide-angled, diffuse, soft, open and relaxed.  Just as Les Fehmi and others describes it with Open Focus [KendoNotes MushinQuotes] [KendoNotes_OpenFocus]  and Soft Eyes [KendoNotes_SoftEyes].

And in these moments, the world, people, events, pain, stimuli, the visual field, thoughts, … can be experienced without the added layers of stories, narratives, overlays, judging, interpretations.  So that we may see others and all things just as they are –  a pure reflection within “me”.  Just like the metaphor of the mirror in our hearts as described by many master swordsmen and teachers in [KendoNotes_Mirror].

May you enjoy the water and the air!

* And as explained to me by a meditation teacher, to notice how the thoughts are “about” something – an interpretation, lens, overlay or separation – as opposed to experiencing that “something” directly without the thoughts, analysis, judging, critiquing, stories, …  Analogous to taking a photograph “of” a sunset vs. experiencing it directly.  With the “mirror in our hearts” as described later.


[Fournier_Manual] Michael L. Fournier, The Enlightenment Training Manual, 2011.

[KendoNotes_BlownFeatherSword] “The Blown Feather Sword (吹毛剣) – To Cut Away Our Attachments and Shikai,” KendoNotes.com, Nov 5, 2018.

[KendoNotes_Meditation2] “Reflections on Meditation – Part 2: Some Experiences and Catching the Ninja,” KendoNotes.com, June 16, 2019. 

[KendoNotes_Mirror] “The Mirror in the Heart of Master Swordsman (and Jedi Masters),” KendoNotes.com, April 16, 2019,

[KendoNotes_MushinQuotes] “Quotes on Mushin, Flow and Open-Focus – Overview,” KendoNotes.com, Dec 13, 2017.

[KendoNotes_OpenFocus] “Open Focus, Mushin and Kendo,” KendoNotes,com, May 3, 2016.

[KendoNotes_SoftEyes] “‘Soft Eyes,’ A Way of Seeing and Being – Quote and Resources,” KendoNotes.com, December 21, 2018.

[Takuan]  Takuan Soho, “The Unfettered Mind:  Writings of the Zen Master to the Sword Master,” (Translated by William Scott Wilson).

Copyright 2020 KendoNotes.com

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