Cultivating Attention Pt. 3

Starting and Ending your Day Intentionally

By:Deborah Brenna

This semester we have been discussing cultivating attention. So far we have grappled with our need to cultivate attention, and what that might look like, but we have yet to fully discuss practical ways to build up our attention muscles. In this post I will discuss two ideas for starting and ending your day in an intentional, focused way. In the next post, I will discuss a few activities that we can use to help train our attention.

As I consider the things that rob us of our ability to pay attention, the thing at the forefront would have to be our large to-do lists and a sense of overwhelm. Heaven knows mothers are over taxed constantly. As we’ve discussed before, we are pulled in a million different directions, at any given moment of the day, and this doesn’t in any way help us pay attention to the moment we’re living in.

So how can we avoid the pull, and focus on now? The answer is what I like to call, “keeping your life.” A few semesters ago we were talking about the art of keeping, specifically keeping notebooks. I’m a planner, some of you are also planners, and some of you are not. Those of you who are not, might not like this idea, but I encourage you to try it anyway. Keeping your life is taking 5 or 10 minutes every day to look at your day. Keep a notebook and a calendar where you can quickly write out the most important things that need to happen in a day, is the easiest way to do this. Having a simple list can help you to focus and pay attention to one task at a time, and live in that moment without worrying about what you have to do in the next.

I’ve lived flying by the seat of my pants. I was stressed out a lot. Now, I keep a planner where I have our school week planned out, meals planned out, chores, a master list of things I need to get done in any given season, and a calendar that I can reference for all the things we have going on. This sounds like a lot of work, and yes setting it up the first time took a little while, but now it is invaluable to me. I can take a look at my week on Sunday afternoon and see what I need to get done that week. I can look at it daily and know that there is time for what I need to do each day, and not worry about the rest. I can start my day focused, and attend to what is needful. My planner honestly gives me rest.

And speaking of rest, when we’re looking at our day, at our week, we all need to look at what we can cut. I don’t know a single woman who isn’t doing too much. And that too much leads to burn out. It robs us of our ability to live in the moment and pay attention to the important things. Schedule your life for peace and not overwhelm. Focus on the priorities, and remember the rest will get done when it’s supposed to.

The next thing that you can do to help focus your attention and build all those wonderful things, like intimacy, joy, and rest, is to take a few minutes each day to intentionally pay attention to where you and your loved ones are at. Take 10 minutes (or more if you have it) to focus and reflect. You can call this what you like, prayer, meditation, an examination, journaling time or whatever works for you.

I personally like to spend time in prayer before my day starts and when it ends. I take my triumphs, worries, needs and the people I love before God and trust that he will take care of the rest. This gives me a good deal of peace, but it also helps me to see what’s going on in my life and my family. I pray over the people that I love, and it serves a dual purpose of helping me pay attention to what’s going on with them. It’s an opportunity to pay attention to the places that need my attention most. I also practice the art of examine. I look at the things I did really well during the day, what I did poorly, and what I can do better tomorrow.

Here’s a general example of what a reflection might look like that you can adapt to your needs, whether you are religious, secular or somewhere in between:

At the beginning of the day:

Think about where you are personally. What are your needs, desires, goals, fears, concerns, struggles? How can you address these today?

What are you thankful for in your life right now?

What things are you struggling with? What things are you doing really well?

Think about those around you. What are their needs? What do you need to do to support them?

What do you need right now to have a good day?

At the end of the day:

What happened today? Where did you do really well today? What things do you need to work on?

What are you thankful for?

Were there any ugly moments? Do you need to apologize to anyone?

Are you worried about anything? What can you or someone near you do to help ease that worry?

The main point here is that a few minutes each morning and evening spent intentionally paying attention to your life can really make a big impact on your ability to live in the moment. How do you intentionally focus your attention?

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