The art and science of staying focused

On Saturday I went for a Hindustani concert by Pt Shivkumar Sharma on Santoor at Worli, Nehru Centre. It lasted for two hours with 2 ragas and a Dhun. Rag Jhanjoti was presented with alap followed by 2 compositions.The second one was the Rag Tilang, a light classical Raga. And finally a soothing Dhun brought the concert to a close. The artist was accompanied by both Pakhwaj and Tabla. When a great artist is on stage, even ordinary accompaniments give their best, drawing inspiration from the main artist. Thus the audience gets a great musical treat. I always enjoyed Hindustani better than a Carnatic concert. Now I figured out why. In a carnatic concert, my mind is automatically swayed by the urge to identify a Raga based on positions of notes and AROHANA & AVAROHANA. I will not rest till I figure out the Raga name. If it turns out to be an obscure Raga, I spend best part of Raga alap in this stupid intellectual exercise. After all,for the listener, how does it matter whether the Raga is Simhendra Madhyamam or Keeravani? Both are beautiful Ragas. On the other hand, in a Hindustani concert, this doesn’t happen since my knowledge of Ragas is rather limited. So, I’m completely free to enjoy the melody and every new phrase. This is an instance where ignorance is indeed bliss!

Yesterday’s concert, though excellent, was marred by an unseemly incident. The artist was annoyed by frequent movement of people in and out of the concert hall. The exit gate was visible clearly from the stage and obviously this was a distraction to the artist.So he made a polite request to keep the door closed and not allow anyone either to leave or get into the hall. As expected, nothing happened. He repeated his request. Still nothing happened. At this stage, he lost his temper and said: Untill the door is closed I am not going to continue my concert. Temporarily the door was closed and the artist resumed. However, again the movement of people started again. One wonders why we cannot stay in one place and enjoy a great music just for a couple of hours. Such people disturb the artists, the audience and spoil the ambience in the concert hall completely. If they cannot sit quietly for 2 hours, why buy an expensive ticket and come all the way?

I feel the basic problem with people nowadays is that they do not have patience for anything. The concentration span is very limited. Even in a concert hall we feel compelled to do multitasking. Why does it happen? The answer to this comes from a neuroscientist, who reported recently that our brain, especially the prefrontal cortex has a bias for novelty and has to find something new all the time for excitement. This sets up what is technically called a ‘dopamine addiction feedback loop’. In layman’s terms, the brain rewards with (dopamine induced) excitement every time the mind wanders and goes after a new experience. Therefore our minds get addicted to losing focus(!) and wandering. It doesn’t pay to stay focused. A focused activity has a long-term gain but promises no excitement for the short-term. However, this short-term excitement comes with a price tag, which is that your body pumps in stress hormones like adrenalin and cortisol and you end up being chronically tensed up.

This is the reason that when we are in a music hall, we think of a phone call, then you go out and talk and then eat. While you are eating you get tensed up about missing the concert and rush back to the hall. It’s for the same reason that we love a 20-20 cricket over a ODI or a 5-day test match. Likewise, one would like a one-liner FB post over reading a book. It’s not your fault after all! Blame it on the brain chemistry and molecules!

What’s the way out? No magic formula exists. However, hopefully, appreciation and awareness of the problem itself could eventually help us mend our ways!

Published in: on January 27, 2015 at 12:19 am  Leave a Comment  
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