Paying Attention To Your Attention
On Grounding & Focus
In a recent podcast interview, author John Green shared this quote from Amy Cross Rosenthal:
Pay attention to what you pay attention to if you want to know what to do with your life.
I am not so worried these days about what to do with my life, but I have been consumed of late with what is happening to my life. When I get overwhelmingly consumed with what is happening to my life my thoughts get high, spinny, and tight. I disassociate— ruminating on the past, fixating on the unknown future— and lose track entirely of the present moment.
Sitting in my writing chair, listening to Green talking about careful, sustained attention as the path to “hope and wonder and joy” I glanced up and realized that my rubber tree plant, an unexpected gift from a friend, had sprouted four new shoots not five feet from me while I wasn’t looking.
It was a visceral reminder that, for me, the most potent antidote for that high, tight, disembodied feeling of emotional stuckness is slow, focused attention on the natural world around me. Ironically, the tighter my focus on the present, physical moment the more internally spacious I feel.
So, after close investigation of my porch and yard, I headed out to a favorite local ramble, making a point of hiking an offshoot loop trail which I have walked dozens of times, but in the opposite direction. Here is some of what I found.
I was reminded of my child self during the years we went to coastal Maine every summer. I spent all day largely alone— noodling around in the tide pools, slurping seawater from my palms, watching the tiny creatures dart and hide. The pools were like a portal to the ineffable; the whole, miraculous world lived in there.
to see a world/in a grain of sand and/a heaven in a wild flower,/hold infinity in the palm/of your hand and/eternity in a hour — William Blake
I do not believe in faith without practice, theory without application. There is nothing that will make me more quickly want to stab someone in the eye than a philosophical “thought experiment”. If our ideas are divorced from our actions, if we never have to show our work, so to speak, by bringing that work into the manifest reality of our daily lives and relationships, then I am not sure what the point of our ideas actually are.
To do this translation from the world of thoughts and ideas down into the world of habits and actions, to live into our integrity, we have to practice being in our bodies. We have to be in the world as it actually is and not just as we think it should be. We have to offer careful, sustained attention to the present moment without reservation in order to bear witness to the transcendent.
My life is not unlike an immigration checkpoint. Experiences keep showing up, sometimes for discernable and logical reasons and sometimes just because they seem to need to be here. I don’t know why. If I focus my eyes on the back of the line it seems to stretch to an inexplicable infinity and I am constantly overwhelmed. But if I just focus on what is right in front of me— what do you need? what are you offering?— I remember my job. My job is to show up and welcome them in.
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