Workshop 2 in the Greater Awareness of God Series
Pre Workshop Reading:
Our Attention is Amazing:
Our attention is truly an amazing thing when you stop to think about it. The fact that our brains can take in light waves bouncing off of various objects and see colors and shapes which are the flowers, tress, and all the things that are part of this planet. That we can take in sound waves and our brains can organize them into words that we understand, and even make sense of the subtle tones that tell us if someone is pleased or upset. That we can take in the feel of the breeze or the touch of the earth under our feet, or the subtle combination of warmth, pressure, and timing that we interpret as a a reassuring touch from a friend. Our attention is amazing, from the power of drum beats to move us and get us dancing, to the quieting of ocean waves, our brains are amazing that it can take in all of these stimuli and make meaning of it.
Attention to Spiritual Realities:
So far I have just been talking in broad strokes about how our attention takes in input from the physical world of matter and particles and organizes it, but our attention is also able to take in information from other dimensions of reality that may be called spiritual realities. Last year I had an old friend come to mind over and over again whom I hadn’t talked to in many years. I began praying for this person, and then some weeks later I found out that this person was going through a very difficult time in their life. This happens so often for people that it seems there is some awareness we have of reality that is deeper than just the physical world in our immediate surroundings. It is important not to underestimate how much our attention and awareness are able to take in not only on the physical level, but on less obvious spiritual and relational levels.
This brings us to the topic of this workshop which is how what we notice can be an important part of increasing our awareness of God’s presence and activity in our lives. If we assume for a minute that God is always present and active, but that God operates in such a way that we don’t have to be aware of his presence, then deliberately directing our attention to ways that God may be present or active becomes very important. (This topic of why God seems to give us the option not to notice him is explained more in the Foundations series reading about Love).
Two things I find amazing about our brains are:
- How much our brains are capable of noticing at a preconscious/subconscious level.
- How little we actually notice at a conscious level.
There are so many things that we could be noticing that a major job our brain tends to take on is to filter out what it feels to be most important for us to notice and only the most relevant things seem to make it all the way to the top of the surface of the water, which is our conscious awareness. In other words, as information is entering our brains and moving through our brains processing system upward toward conscious awareness, A TON of stuff gets filtered out or put into the background as not personally relevant that we don’t actually consciously notice it.
To the extent that our brain is working in sync with the mind of Christ guided by the Holy Spirit, this focusing capacity can be a very helpful function which allows us to focus in and push aside a great deal of less important content in order to give our attention to something that is very important in the moment. Jesus was excellent at this. If you think of the woman who touched the hem of his garment as the crowds were pushing in and he stopped to ask who touched him because he felt power go out of him. He could easily have disregarded that soft touch on his robe, given all the chaos and pushing and shoving around him, not to mention that he was on his way to help a little girl who was dying, but he noticed and stopped to talk with that woman who must have needed to hear what he shared with her.
However, if our brain is not working in sync with the spirit our focusing capacity can really limit our ability to consciously notice things that actually are important and instead to focus on things that are less important. Thus, noticing what God wants us to notice is part of the goal. I don’t think we need to become overly worried or obsessed with always wondering if we are noticing what God wants us to, but rather to trust that God is teaching us how to use our attention. I like to think of it like a big bumper car arena. This is a good place to learn the basics of driving, how to steer, speed up, slow down, etc. but if we mess up and bump into something or someone, it is okay God has a lot of cushions in place. Let is be so Lord, for each one reading that there is an endless amount of grace for learning and just enjoying the ride as we learn to live in the bodies and brains you’ve given us.
The fact that there is so much input available below the conscious level means that there is a lot to draw from with the help of God’s spirit when we pause to rest and broaden our attention. ***
So the trick is to allow our attention to shift between a focused state and an open state as the Holy Spirit guides us in a moment by moment way.