Attention and Adventure

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.

“An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.”

— G.K. Chesterton

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.

Welsh Glacier area being “rightly considered”, Central Purcells 2007

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

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.

Purpose statement for a solo snowshoe trip that I did into Top of the World Park in 2006.
I re-read that Purpose page several times during the 7-day trip — especially during some of the tougher parts of the trip.
Me, practicing perseverance as I explore my way along Battlement Ridge, Southern Chilcotin 8-day solo, 2001

Bottom-up Attention

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.

Unnamed falls leading into Tipperary Lake.
Palliser-Tipperary-Marvel Traverse 2010.
Flower-covered slopes in the Southern Chilcotin near Eldorado Pass, 1998

Attention Skills

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 ).

“Paying Attention”

2 responses to “Attention and Adventure”

  1. Recently my Tuesday afternoons have consisted of a visit to Gates Park to play walking soccer with some old soccer friends of mine. I’ve asked myself and wrestled with the reasons why, at age 67, I’m playing soccer with people I know from juvenile and high school soccer days. Here are some of the thoughts that have bubbled up for me. Two primary reasons I play are to stay physically fit and to focus and engage my soccer brain, thereby losing myself in the activity. If I focus well and succeed in losing myself I can get close to the ‘state of flow’.

    I also want to see old friends and it’s important to me to play well and continue to improve (to the best of my ability with resurfaced hips and suspect knees). Playing well includes helping my teammates and players on the other team. As I’ve aged I’ve learned that it’s fun for me to be involved in an activity where everyone is enjoying the game. This has helped to make soccer somewhat new and novel as the reasons I play now are different from when I played as a youth. I’ve discovered that I need a good dose of perseverance and patience with myself and those I’m playing with, as we aren’t 20 years old any more. In a ‘top down’, paying attention manner, I do my best to remind myself each Tuesday of why I play walking soccer as I drive the 25 miles to our playing field.


  2. I really appreciate the depth of Mike’s thinking. He puts a great deal of thought into why he does what he does. His attention is very focused. I’m convinced that he is still playing (good) soccer at age 67 because of the way he examines his adventure.


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