What we notice

Have you realised that when you are annoyed with someone, you notice different things about that person, than you do when you are feeling love for them? Instead of the smile that you adore, you may notice something you don’t like as much. The smile may be there, but you don’t pay attention to it. The same thing is true when you are heading into a task that you are looking forward to, versus one you are wishing you could avoid. The people and the circumstances around you may be the same, but because of what’s going on inside you, you will notice very different things.
Our emotional state is not the only thing that affects our attention. The assumptions we make also determine what we notice and pay attention to. If you assume a project will be difficult, it often turns out to be true. If you trust the person you are speaking to, you will tend to pay attention to the true things they say and discount the ones that are not, whereas the opposite would be true of someone you don’t trust.

‘Spiritually speaking, what we pay attention to is vitally important.’

Spiritually speaking, what we pay attention to is vitally important. We are in this world to become angels and that means we should try and pay attention to what is good and true. Opposing evil influences try to get us to pay attention to very different things. What we pay attention to determines our eternity.

Our starting assumptions dictate what we notice. For instance... ‘people who confirm themselves in such basic assumptions concerning faith alone and who have not been governed at all by charity, pay no attention to, and so to speak do not see, all that the Lord has said so many times about love and charity.’ (Arcana Caelestia 1017, 794)

That starting assumption, that we get to heaven by believing the correct things, means that we don’t see the teachings in the Word that say what we love and what we do determines our character. Other assumptions also affect us. When we assume that a loving God is looking after us, we see the world very differently than when we don’t. When we believe we will live after death, we pay attention to different things than when we don’t.

Sadly, it’s not always our assumptions that get in the way, but our desires. Swedenborg reports trying to correct the thinking of some people he met in the next life, but recorded that… “when I said this was not the case, they did not want to pay attention to reasons, because they had assumed the falsity as a premise, and therefore wanted to corroborate it.” (Spiritual Experiences 1581).

Likely all of us have denied an obvious truth because we had decided ourselves in opposition to the person saying it. This becomes even more dangerous when we find ourselves resisting something we read in the Word. By contrast, good people pay attention to the evils present within themselves daily, because they want to change and become better (Arcana Caelestia 8391).

We are blessed to be in the presence of angels who pay attention more deeply than we often do. Instead of noticing our fumbling attempts, they pay attention to our intentions and desires (Arcana Caelestia 4227, 1645). This is a gift we can offer those around us.

A person could look at a glorious sunset and see the presence of the Lord in it (Divine Love and Wisdom 351). Or that same person could see light reflecting off particles in the air, which refract the blue light into the atmosphere, but let the red pass straight through. Both are true, and even illuminating, and persistently paying attention to one or the other kind of information changes us.

Since we are what we pay attention to, it can be useful to reflect on what we notice. What areas of annoyance are coming up for you on a regular basis? Are they useful annoyances to pay attention to, or do they distract you from being a happy, useful person? What areas of joy exist in your life? Do the angels rejoice with you, or might they want you to change some of them?

It’s sometimes hard to control our emotions or change the underlying assumptions that guide our actions, but we can start by observing what we pay attention to and choose to redirect that attention. This will have a profound effect on our lives.