Attention to Engagement

The light is filtering in from many large multipaned windows in a beautiful open studio. The floor is a warm polished wood, and the light is bouncing off the water from the lake outside and rippling across the walls. About 25 of us are dancing in this space and yet the room is very quiet, with only the sound of motion, the shifts of breath and weight, the subtle rhythm and rustle of bodies changing shapes carried across the floor and the space. These actions are sensed more than heard. All of the movers have their eyes closed and are deeply engaged in the process of their moving. I feel transported by my own imagination and simultaneously connected to and part of something that moves me. We are in an Authentic Movement session.

Authentic Movement

Authentic Movement is the practice of paying detailed attention to sensation, and the deepening of engagement in imagery processes arising from following sensation. The images arise unbidden, are not instructed to follow any themes, they have their own life force and life cycle. Some images stay for a long time, some return many times, some arrive just for a moment.

The skill is to be able to notice, track and follow the impulses that truly capture your engagement. When an impulse captures our imagination, there is a vivid presence and aliveness that happens within us in union with that movement. As a mover improvises there will be many passing interests, movements that might be playful, fun, innovative, and momentarily interesting. But then a particular improvisational exploration enters the body mind, taking full possession and generating intense energy and imagery. It is an unmediated oneness of body-mind-action.

It requires dedication and practice. Practice at very simple attitudes of mind: – Opening, Allowing, Engaging, Expressing, Releasing. This state is the best spiritual practice I know, moving you between deeply personal realms, interpersonal realms and transpersonal realms in a spontaneous way. I find myself moving in ways that astound me, delight me, enthral me. Unique energetic patterns capture me, not the other way around. It is as if I am a conduit for these energies. I am of service to the impulse itself.

Algorithms and the Attrition of Attention

A. M. is an exploration of the rich relationship between the mind and the body and is a continuous voyaging between sensation and image. It cultivates an extraordinary way of paying attention, being focused without effort, but following the guidance of your own nature. It is pure engagement.

Which leads me to a troubling concern about what has happened to our attention these days and our capacity for engagement. The cultivation of impulsivity rather than mindful choice is our current global state of mind. We all live with an alarming loss of focus and depth of engagement. I have noticed it in myself and in everyone I speak to.

There is a whole economy based on the purchase of our attention. Big Tech is driving your engagement, they are steering your attention toward things that they choose. They have incredible resources that are dedicated to exactly that. Algorithms are way smarter than us.

Making Money from your Mind

The big tech companies are the richest companies in the history of humanity, generating unprecedented wealth from manipulating our attention. They have a monopoly power and no mandated transparency.

Jaron Lanier warns that it is the sheer insidiousness of social media’s stranglehold on our attention that is dangerous. He warns against the incremental creep of these platforms as they gain dominance over our perception. It steals over us, so stealthily, in tiny subtle stages, we don’t notice it happening. Until you simply aren’t paying attention to YOURSELF any more.

That is literally creepy. And this is intentional. Our attention is big business.

Dire Consequences

In the excellent documentary The Social Dilemma, Tristan Harris and other experts within the technology field are sounding the alarm. Their work raises a whole host of other alarms. Social Media Depression. False conceitedness and a pretend confidence. Unrealistic comparison. Fear of exposure in vulnerable young people. Cyber bullying. Corporate technology’s loose attitude toward safety.  Community commentary without contact. I address these in other articles. If we could just keep our attention on this one aspect 😉.

The Natural Cycle of Things

The word Gestalt is a German term meaning the formation of a whole. It is used to describe the natural function of our perception. Every phenomenon, every interaction has a natural cycle that comes to an end. The energy of its prescience, creates sensation, mobilises action and then is completed. It fades out and the need for engagement with it is satisfied and its urgency for your attention naturally, organically subsides. In the ever-continuing news feed, there is a loss of endings. We are losing the essential human capacity to shape our experience around our engagement.

Each cycle of our engagement has its own aesthetic. An entirety to itself. Our engagement is highly individual, unique to us, and very precious. Our technological world is boundless and bedazzling. It repeatedly diverts our attention to keep us “engaged” for as long as possible. Compulsively maintaining our engagement without a conclusion. It offers a simultaneous bombardment of attractions, deflecting, fracturing and fragmenting our attention. We are not able to absorb our experiences. Which leaves us dissatisfied. Attracted. Addicted. Not in command.

Is it too late? Are our minds already f**ked?

We can’t function without social media and technological interconnectivity. But we must use it wisely. We must monitor what is happening to our minds and we must protect our children. And, most importantly, we need to do other things that cultivate our true engagement.

Come to my workshop: Presence, Possibility and Practice on 18/19 March 2023. Call me for details. Join one of my ongoing Authentic Movement groups. Or come to the sacred slowness found in individual therapy, where two minds pay close attention to what is happening with you. Re-engage with what is happening inside you.


Zjamal Xanitha

Zjamal is in private practice as a Gestalt Psychotherapist and has been working with individuals, couples, and families for the last twenty five years. As a counselling clinician her work is client centred, relational, and creatively constructive.