What If We Fought Back to Reclaim Our Attention

by Rob Hopkins

Imagine, if you will, Vincent van Gogh in Arles, France in August 1888. It is a late summer’s day with the mistral winds blowing through the street outside. He has just got back to his small studio in what he calls the Yellow House which he dreams will one day be home to a community of artists. He is carrying with him a bunch of sunflowers, a gift from his friend, the gardener Patience Escalier, whose portrait he completed a few days earlier. He arranges them loosely in a glazed earthenware pot on the plain wooden table.

And instead of what history tells us happens next, imagine he were to sit down, get out his smartphone and check his Instagram feed for updates. Soon he’s also checking his Facebook and Twitter accounts…his attention is taken firmly away from the possibility of really seeing the sunflowers…. And forever deprive future generations of a panting which have so moved, fascinated and entranced generations ever since.

Matthieu Ricard is a French Buddhist monk, and, according to neuroscientists who submitted him to a battery of tests, the ‘happiest man in the world’. About boredom, he told me, ‘ Boring is people who have not realized the incredible richness of just resting in the mind…My ideal situation is twenty-four hour boredom all year round. Sitting on the balcony of my hermitage, watching the Himalaya. If you call that boredom, it’s fine enough for me.’ At the end of our conversation, he paused, and then added: ‘I think the Buddha might have got rid of twitter with his Palace.’

Maybe the digital revolution, which we thought would liberate us and spark a huge expansion in imagination, is having the opposite effect. As told me, ‘we’ve ended up over the last twenty years disabling the cognitive and collaborative skills that we would have needed to address a collective problem like climate change’. Or in the words of Sherry Turkle: ‘We had a love affair with technology that seemed magical. But like great magic, it worked by commanding our attention and not letting us see anything but what the magician wanted us to see. Now we are ready to claim our attention – for solitude, for friendship, for society.’

Excerpt from the book From What is to What if: Unleashing the Power of Imagination to Create the Future We Want. Chapter 4, pp 67-82


About awakinOAK

Intentionally located in east Oakland -- to, on the one hand, overcome institutionalized violence and on the other hand, be showered by the multicultural love and wisdom from neighbors-- this small community strives for integral nonviolence and supports activities that foster fearlessness, courage, autonomy, unconditional love and compassion for all beings. Every Friday for the last 10 years, the anchors of Awakin Oakland, host "Wednesdays on Fridays", an open-house meditation night that was inspired by a family in Santa Clara who has been doing this for close to 23 years [2020] No teachers or gurus. No set agendas or proposed beliefs either. Just one strong principle -- when you change within, the world changes
This entry was posted in ARTivism, Awakin Oakland, education, meditation, Mindfulness, science, WednesdaysOnFridays and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to What If We Fought Back to Reclaim Our Attention

  1. Such wise words. Of course, you realize that they are being shared using the “magic” of the Internet. Maybe it is how we use the internet that is the key. If we are mindful of its power, especially when when we need to stay in touch right now with loved ones, we might create the world envisioned here in this beautiful piece.

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