Advent 2: Your attention is your property


This is bark from a Douglas Fir tree along the Nooksack River where I take my retreats. Every time I go to that sacred spot, I notice more. I walked past this elder on a drizzly morning, my hat pulled down over my ears and the roar of the river behind me. It pulled me in, reminded me how ancient the universe is and that I’ll come and go while it persists.

Rick Hansen says our attention is our property. Only we can guard it, and we should guard it carefully. This year, I’ve been trying to pay more attention to trees, more attention to children, to silence, to the seagulls outside my office window, to how it feels to stay in the shower for a few more minutes.

There are lots of ways to say this:

Wherever you shift your satellite dish, that’s what you pick up.
What you focus on grows.
You are what you eat.

Shifting my satellite dish has meant taking some very practical measures. Among them:

  • I receive no notifications on my phone except for texts.

  • I read the NYT for 30 minutes every morning, but I don’t watch the news. I prefer not to hear certain voices or see certain faces, and I certainly don’t want everyone’s commentary on every nuance.

  • I use social media, but with a lot of rules. I have only actual people I know and care about in my private Instagram feed, and have a public one for following artists, writers, and other luminaries. I still have a Facebook account (for now), but spend about 5 minutes/day there and don’t use it as a news feed.

  • I don’t subscribe to any newsletters in my inbox.

  • I don’t give my email to stores so I can get discounts. I’d rather pay more and be left alone.

  • I keep completely separate inboxes—my work and personal one on my desktop, and my junk mail as web-based that I have to open other windows to see. That way, I see it far less often.

These guidelines aren’t for everyone, but they help me see the trees. And boy, they are worth it.