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How the ability to focus can influence your life.,
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This review is from: Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life (Hardcover)
On very rare occasions I finish reading a book which I know I will return to more than once, and Winifred Gallagher's "Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life" is one of these.
Her central thesis is that in order to make the most of life and what you do during it, the quality of experience is based on how you attend to what you are doing, thinking and being.
As she says at the beginning of the book, the ability to focus on anything in a state of being "rapt" is dependent on interest,skill and culturally and socially aquired ways of experiencing the world. This state is a process by wich you focus attention on a text, a sensory experience or activity to the exclusion or near exclusion of all else for a finite time. It is also about way of giving of yourself, and loving.There is also an element of fear included in being rapt, as beautifully stated early on in the book when she analyses a work by painter George Stubbs of a horse being attacked by a lion.
In short the reoccuring theme is, you are what you pay attention to and this is a guiding principle for many of us throughout our lives, consciously and unconsciously.
At the heart of her theoretical approach is the work of nineteenth century psychologist and philosopher William James who is mentioned several times. He is an author I have read of rather than read, and now due to her use of his work feel drawn to.
Gallagher's project is to reveal how through meditation, psychology and the benefitsof belief religious or otherwise we can enhance our abilities to learn and focus on the life enhancing aspects of our experience. From this point of view it is a deeply religious book but falls short of being explicitly so. However her social conservatism does reveal itself on occasions but not without using strong empirical evidence to support her case. Using disciplines as far ranging as art history, social anthroplogy, science and theology this is no simple self-help book. There are also few cliches and the content and subject matter are never less than challenging.
Elegantly written it ends on a touching personal note, providing the reader with a tiny detail of Gallagher,s life as demonstration of how she applies her own teachings to herself.