Attention is one of the keys to adventure. Adventure requires that I focus on the right things. Adventure requires that I develop the skills to focus on X and Y, and not on B or C.
It also requires that I attend to some things that may not be visible to the naked eye.
For something to be an adventure, it must be “rightly considered” — my attention must be purposefully placed and willfully sustained. I must know where to look, and how to look.
There are 2 kinds of attention that I use a lot on trips:
- Top-down attention, and
- Bottom-up attention (W. Gallagher, Rapt.)
Top-down attention occurs when I intentionally choose what to focus on. I guide my mind rather than let it wander. I am very deliberate in directing the placement of my attention. I take lofty (top-level) ideas and I bring them down to where I am situated.
A good example of this is when I intentionally choose to focus my attention on the goals that I have for a particular trip. Another example is when I pick a character skill that I want to work on (e.g. patience, or resourcefulness, or respect for the environment, etc.) and then try to make that character skill real in my present actions.
Bottom-up attention occurs when I intentionally focus on my surroundings, and let whatever unfolds bubble “up” into my consciousness (my field of attention). Perhaps I spot some wildlife in the distance, or stop to admire a waterfall or a meadow filled with alpine flowers. Perhaps I just listen to the wind.
One of the keys to attention is for me to be aware of what kind I am using (top-down, or bottom-up) at any given time. My adventures are best when I use the right kind of attention, in the right measure. I have had amazing moments on trips when I bring top-down attention (thoughts about purpose or character, etc.) to bear on the Catastrophe that confronts me on that particular day. I have also had amazing moments on trips when I let my surroundings guide my attention.
Both kinds of attention require skill and practice. Both can be developed and refined. I have been trying to develop and refine my attention skills in the wilderness for over 4 decades. And it has been immensely rewarding. These skills have helped to take my trips to the next level.
Here is a 90 second slideshow demonstrating some of the benefits of attention skills and of paying attention.
(The video has music, and I recommend that you put the video into full screen mode before playing ).