Mosquito and the Elephant

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Information absorbs our attention. An excess of information, therefore, results in loss of attention! Unless of course we take care to create greater capacity for attention within us.

Let me tell you a real story of acute attention disorder!

I am at Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I find myself with a small group of people who are waiting for a bus. Standing next to me is a mid-career student of Harvard University. He has a schedule in his hand that tells him that there would be a bus arriving within the next few minutes. Yet, this man glances feverishly at his watch fifteen to twenty times in the next few seconds. Sure enough, the bus arrives on time.

Later on, when I reconnect with the same gentleman at the Harvard Business School, I ask him: why were you so restless? He says, “I can’t help it — I was uncomfortable just standing there.” I then ask him, “If it is so difficult for you to have a date with yourself for just a minute, you might as well think of what kind of a person you have become?” This sets him thinking.

Many young people today are likely to see themselves living this story. With the rash of information spreading like infection, we are beginning to experience greater demands on our attention. We cannot cope with this information overload anymore. We see ourselves as victims of the law of diminishing attention. The troubled housewife is channel surfing for hours on her living room television. Her eyes have a vacant look about them, as she is watching nothing in particular. She is like our watch-watcher at Harvard Square. She is attention deficient. By channel surfing, she is merely outsourcing her anxiety!

The draught of attention is everywhere — from the living room to the marketplace. In the world of commerce, brands germinate and terminate in a short span of attention. In the consumer electronics market in Tokyo, a new digital device can hold the buyer’s attention for no more than 3 months. The Disney Corporation in California introduces a new product every 5 minutes. The life span of a CEO has been less than halved in major Corporations.

The script is the same whether it is the boardroom or the bedroom. One out of every two marriages in the western world fails for lack of attention on the part of the spouses. But the most disturbing of all these attention lapses is that we cannot have an appointment with ourselves even for a few brief seconds! Imagine that our body and soul live like two decent neighbours in adjacent flats in a high rise building. They are located so near each other, but they never get to meet.

We cannot connect with ourselves. We take time off to repair our car. Yet, there is no time to renew our relationship to our self. This is nothing less than suicide. We have quietly surrendered the vitality of our lives to drab economic equations:

while making a living we have forgotten to make a life. What prevents us from relating to the deeper and greater capacities within ourselves? My response is it is our ego. This ego which forever wants to absorb our attention. We want a bigger car not to accommodate our body but to massage our ego. Here is a story that will reveal the hollowness of our ego-driven personality:

A mosquito saw an elephant crossing a

bridge and asked for a ride. The mosquito

said, “Hello mate! What if I sit on your back

and give you some company as you cross

the bridge?”

The elephant said nothing.

The mosquito sat on the elephant’s back. He felt very proud that he

could persuade the elephant to be a co-rider. As they

were crossing the bridge, the mosquito cried out,

“Watch out brother, two of us are very heavy, make sure the

bridge does not collapse!”

The elephant said nothing.

As they crossed over through the bridge, the mosquito said,

“See, how I guided you safely through!”

The elephant said nothing.

Finally, the mosquito got off the elephant’s

back and buzzed, “Here is my business card. If you need

any help in the future just call me on my cell phone.” The

elephant thought that he heard some whisper somewhere.

But he dismissed this as a daydream and

marched on…

The elephant is the enormous flow of our life. The mosquito is our restless ego that thrives by sucking life’s attention. There is an interior life beyond our ego that is connected to a vast and infinite expanse of awareness. Be aware, be the elephant!

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