University studies may seem like an arduous path. A path of which you cannot foresee every blocked road nor every turn you ought to take. Yet, you must embark on the journey if you want to reach its luminous end. What, then, could help you make the most of the effort and, if we want to be really ambitious, bring you closer to that extremely rare human capability that is differentiating mere knowledge from wisdom? With the word itself, we all might be familiar with. But it is its full significance and relation to your future endeavor what concerns us now. That word is ATTENTION.
The first step in the exploration of its meaning takes us to what you bring to class. Or better still, what you don’t bring. It’s quite clear that everyone’s life comprises a myriad of things: we have our family, friends, desires, pets, fears, work, among many others. But it is a demand of attention to be in the “Here and now”. That is, to momentary let the mind free of its various obligations and let it focus on the issue at hand. To let it be truly present. As philosopher Simone Weil puts it: “…to suspend our thoughts, leave
them detached, empty, and ready…”
It depends on the professor, but so far in Uppsala I have encountered more than one that urge the students not to use computers to take notes, as it has been proven that it not only distracts them, but also distracts students around them that are not using computers. If you insist in using one, at least make the commitment to have preferrednote taking software in full screen mode (e.g. focus mode in word).
The second step is more subtle, but not of less importance. It’s a characteristic of human beings to extend their hands into the unknown while standing on experience. And that may not only be natural but needed. The only way of making sense of something new is to see how it changes or fits the known world. A world seen from your own particular perspective. A perspective which in turn is shaped by your experience. But there is a peril to be avoided in all of these: the old might prevent us from seeing the new.
In other words, every time you encounter something new in your studies, you must make an effort to see it for what it is, instead of seeing it as a reflection of your own previous knowledge. With a dismissive attitude (one that constantly repeats “I already know this…” and makes you check your phone) you will close the door to new insights and to the possibility of contributing. And please, try to speak up and contribute! It will not only enrich the whole class but might inspire additional comments from otherstudents that make you see things from a different perspective and grow your own knowledge. Especially considering the international nature of Uppsala classes, where you will find many different backgrounds.
I firmly believe that adding these two requisites of attention to your studies will yield great results, not only in what you learn, but even in yourself, as it might become a life habit. To borrow from Weil one last time: “never, in any case, whatever is a genuine effort of attention wasted”