Intensity of Attention

Nathan Otto
3 min readFeb 22, 2016

Mastering your attention is all well and good, but how do you think the very few serene Yoda-types, if you are ever lucky enough to meet one, got to be so serene? No one, man or woman, impresses you with imperturbable peace unless it is earned.

How is imperturbable peace earned? Intensity. The serenity you sense, the trustable feeling of “I’ve got this handled, I love you no matter what, I know some good shit, I’m on your side, I’m badass” doesn’t come from the mountaintop. Nope.

The emanation of presence comes from experience coupled with reflection. Generally, it comes from chosen experience, from people who put themselves through challenge after challenge, in service to learning about themselves, their world, and to test their theories of reality.

Adi Da, a spiritual master, asked his disciples “what are your conclusions about reality?” Whatever they are, you are living according to them. People who have “got it” spiritually have tested their conclusions about reality, and changed their basis of living according to the results.

Such tests of conclusions about reality come at the extremes, not in the cushy-mushy middle of mediocre life, where any number of theories about reality can be comfortably entertained.

Intensity is the principle of maximum neuroplasticity, the moments when attention is focused more than one would believe possible, when outer and inner events take on a vividness and strangeness, when possibility insists on itself beyond our falsely made safety boundaries.

The extremes of life and experience, whether of an outer or inner intensity, prolonged or instantaneous, forge a certainty of philosophy, if they are allowed to. In intensity one is changed radically, swiftly.

We are constantly marketed comfort, safety, platitudes and media substitutes for experience. We culturally avoid intensity, and as a result our conclusions about reality are generally tentative and weak, and so are our convictions, which end up strident, stifled, or wavering rather than lived certain as being itself.

We rarely take advantage of this tool that is always to hand, rarely choose intensity to reveal bottom-line, rubber-meets-the-road truth. But it is only way to forge the calm, relaxed, wise certainty that we admire in others, who have chosen it.

As for the philosophers? Herman Melville put it thus, where he describes the intensity of the whale-line, a rope, coiled about a tiny boat, attached to a harpoon meant to be driven into a whale:

For, when the line is darting out, to be seated then in the boat, is like being seated in the midst of the manifold whizzings of a steam-engine in full play, when every flying beam, and shaft, and wheel, is grazing you. It is worse; for you cannot sit motionless in the heart of these perils, because the boat is rocking like a cradle, and you are pitched one way and the other, without the slightest warning; and only by a certain self-adjusting buoyancy and simultaneousness of volition and action, can you escape being made a Mazeppa of, and run away with where the all-seeing sun himself could never pierce you out.

A few lines later, Melville describes the calm derived from this intensity:

And if you be a philosopher, though seated in the whale-boat, you would not at heart feel one whit more of terror, than though seated before your evening fire with a poker, and not a harpoon, by your side.



Nathan Otto

Awaken the incredible value and power of mastering your attention to create a life you love and a world that works for everyone.