As we ring in the New Year, and head toward meeting up for the spring semester, I have been thinking a lot about cultivating attention. As a homeschool mama, it’s a topic I often contemplate for my children, especially when I find myself saying over and over throughout the day, “Pay attention!” But what about my attention?
Before I can answer that, I must ask what attention is. For the purposes of our discussions, attention is the turning of yourself toward another person or toward an object or task, and taking notice of it. Attention is focusing on something with your whole self. That’s sort of a weighty definition of something that seems so every day.
Do you attend to things with your whole self?
I’m sad to confess that I don’t. In fact, most of the time my attention is both everywhere and no-where all at once. I’m too busy multitasking to focus on just one thing. And I would bet most, if not all of my Scholé Sisters struggle with this too.
Maybe we should create an AA type group for multitaskers. “Hi. My name is Deborah. I am a multitasking addict. The last time I fully paid attention to something was sometime in 2005.”
I wake up in the morning asking myself, “How much can I get done today?” Can I run a load of laundry, while I cook the pasta for supper, and if there’s time sweep the kitchen too? Can I load the dishwasher in between flipping the chicken on the grill, and not forget to switch the hose to the next garden bed? Can I teach a child to read, while I teach the other one how to do a math equation, and maybe answer a few emails, or make a meal plan? If I lay it all out perfectly I can see where tasks overlap, and maybe if I run through it fast enough I might get it all done.
Then, when I finally sit down at the end of the day, and I look back at the time that seemed to fly by, faster and faster of its own accord, I ask, “What did I really accomplish today?”
Does it really matter that I got all the dishes, laundry, sweeping, gardening, cooking, math, reading, meal planning, etc. done? Did it mean anything? Did I make a difference? Or was it just life passing by, checking thing after thing off of my to-do list?
I don’t know about you, but I feel a sense of panic at how quickly life is ebbing away in my multitasking haze of running from one thing to the next. Weeks pass by like that, and they don’t mean anything. There is nothing enjoyable or memorable about multitasking through a day. It’s all just one big mundane to-do list. This idea depresses me. It makes me wonder, “Am I wasting my life, by not paying attention?”
Someone great said, “Pay attention, everything else follows.” I’m not sure who first said it, but boy were they on to something.
If I set out to teach my child how to read, and I focus my whole attention on her, as we sit snuggled up on the couch, learning to put the words together, not only am I making a beautiful memory, but I am pouring a part of myself into my child. I am building a relationship with her that will last a lifetime. And by taking that time, forming that relationship, I am creating time. I am creating time in the form of a memory that will last, perhaps my whole life, perhaps her whole life. I am slowing down the ebb and flow of time and being present to my life.
If I set out to water my garden, and I take the time to stand there and notice how the water flows along the soil, bringing essential moisture to the roots of a beautiful plant, that grows every single minute of the day, from seedling to mature adult, I form a relationship with that plant. I can truly appreciate its intricacies; its form and shape; what it has been through to provide me with the fruits of its labor. I can cultivate a love for this plant, this garden that sustains me. I can cultivate a thankfulness for its beauty, and its harvest. And I can be full of joy because of this labor of love.
If I set out to do the dishes, and I take the time to focus on the plates, cups, and silverware; on the magic that is a soap bubble; on the people whom these dishes served, I can form a relationship with this task that I lovingly do in service of my family. I can cultivate an attitude of thankfulness for the food eaten on those plates; the conversations had over a meal together; the beauty of an iridescent soap bubble. I can cultivate a relationship with the hard work of caring for my family. I can feel the goodness of that work, as it does more for my soul, my mind, and my body than it does to clean the dishes.
“Pay attention, and everything else follows.”
Let me ask you: Did you taste that sandwich you just woofed down? Did you really listen to the question your child just asked? Do you remember your drive home? What did the sky look like today? What does your clean laundry smell like?
There really is something to stopping to smell the flowers. The more we can learn to pay attention and build relationships with the people around us, the tasks at hand, and the things we love, the more meaning our life will have. If your cup is empty from all of the running around like crazy, multitasking the day away, it’s time to stop and cultivate some attention. I hope you will join us this spring as we delve deeper into the cultivation of attention.
Some of my thoughts about attention have come from hearing Andrew Kern of the Circe Institute speak. For further reading Andrew Kern has two great articles to consider: