The value of time and attention

37. The stuff of a life

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precious resources

After accident of birth, for the individual with a limited life-span, how time is spent and where attention is placed determine quality of life. The urgency of this thought tempts some to hop between activities, others to master limited tasks in depth and more to sit back and throw hands up in the air! With flashbacks, intrusive memories and constricted mental outlook typically presenting as obstructive and unwanted post-traumatic symptoms, measures to restore balance to attentional and time-gauging mechanisms after awful ordeals can bring a lot of relief.

Once stress about being overwhelmed or losing out is addressed, exploring the meaning and value of time and attention in each personal case can significantly enhance experience and return on investment in both constraints. Physicist Stephan Hawking, in, A Brief History Of Time, described time mainly as a dynamic affecting movement and formations in the cosmos, something external to human beings. However, the direction of attention affects how time feels, as studies have established: “as the engagement of attention increased so did the underestimation of time.” Concentrating on a chosen task that is enjoyable and feels excitingly new, in a safe atmosphere, opens a zone where time seems to fly.

The mantra of mindfulness, getting in touch with the present moment, has become a popular twenty-first century trend. Without awareness, however, nothing could get done, so mindfulness clearly abides in everyone, to a greater or lesser extent. Various practices, new and old, have been devised to harness its force more consciously because it can train attention and change the perception of time. Being mindful means pausing to observe, slowing down automatic reactivity to see what’s really going on. The associated positive non-judgemental focus on regulation of attention has been found to succeed in soothing the most agitated minds. Warnings about stress are counter-productive without action guidelines to get on top of obligations, or re-organise them, and then fitting in stress management techniques.

The thousands of forms meditation has taken in different traditions can be summarised in five categories: concentration, mindfulness, reflection, creativity and heart-centredness. Based on the result of calmness, Dr Herbert Benson taught patients how to do his exercise, the relaxation response, a physical state of deep rest that changes the physical and emotional response to stress. It quietens the mind. So does meditation which, regularly practised, reduces stress, and improves immune and all-round health, amongst many other advantages, as attested by its long history.

By stilling critical thoughts, the resistant part of the mind can be by-passed, the easier to dislodge obsessive thoughts and install conditioning for new better habit formation. This is even more true in the process of hypnosis, that altered state of relaxed awareness in which the unconscious is open to accepting suggestions, whether or not previously believed. Of course, the mind lets down  its guard like this regularly in everyday interactions without realising it, under all kinds of influences. To be fully conscious of everything all the time is unimaginable, beyond human ability, yet as Freud and others pointed out, a dignified life is one lived as much in the light of consciousness as possible.

Although practitioners like Dr Jack Gibson, who earned an obituary in the BMJ for. amongst other works, his book, Relax and Live, used hypnosis in surgery since the ’60s, it has sustained repeated charges of quackery over centuries but is now coming into scientific favour again. Spend a few seconds imagining biting into a lemon. That’s the power of imagery and words to affect the body. Bandler and Grinder’s best-selling book on Neuro-Linguistic Programming, Frogs Into Princes, promises easier re-learning based on these ideas.

Positive or guided imagery, metaphors, stories, reframing and other components may also be involved in creating scripts suitable to a variety of complaints. Creating your own self-hypnosis script is easy, while prepared texts and recorded versions are widely available. Whichever relaxation method appeals, though, make room for it, and note what happens subsequently to your allocation of time and attention.

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About prism

My background is in different aspects of healthcare, and in enduring several instances of terrible times which have hopefully yielded some positive lessons that'll make it easier next time, and that can be passed on here and elsewhere. I started this particular blog after someone I know received a serious medical diagnosis. May she and all who have difficulties be liberated from suffering! Compiling the topics revives an intention I've been harbouring to record guidelines about living skills I'd picked up in the past that remain outstandingly sound sources of advice. I hope, amidst all the information out there, these tips may inspire others too. : )

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