It’s All About Attention
The morning tide is out on the Oregon coast. I’m sitting in a hotel room with a Keurig cup of “coffee” and, for the first time in a while, my head is clearing. I’m currently reading, Stolen Focus by Johann Hari. It’s about how our attention spans are diminishing rapidly over time and not purely due to the digital revolution, though that certainly hasn’t helped matters much. I’m about one hundred pages in.
Major Life Transitions & Noise
I got the book an hour before my final session with an existential therapist, who’s helped me through a set of major life transitions over the past two years. The purchase was a promise to myself that I would keep up the self-development fight no matter what. But, as often happens with such things, exploring distraction is proving to be a rabbit hole. “Attention,” I find myself thinking. “It’s all about attention.”
In response to the book, I’ve gone on a bit of a digital cleanse the past few days. I have the majority of apps blocked on my phone, only available for an hour a day. I’m reading and writing more, taking walks, and finding things to fill the boredom. And in this space, I’m remembering something I once knew: What I pay attention to confines me. I’ll return to this in a moment.
Spiritual Practices Suffer
I’ve never been particularly comfortable with labeling myself as a Witch. Though, certainly one doesn’t build an entire life around it without at least some attachment. But, these days, I find the term to be too politically charged to be relevant to me. Adopting it would feel like brandishing the slogan for a political movement of which I am not currently, nor even can be a part. But for the better part of a decade now I have embraced a magical worldview and set of practices without much of a label to apply to my engagement. But that began to change a little two years ago.
For the first time in my adult life, I was completely alone. And in that void, I found myself very afraid of silence. To be honest, this is something I’ve always struggled with. But it got so bad that on most days recently, there hasn’t been a single moment of silence during my waking hours. I have bombarded myself with electronic signals in the noble, but ultimately fruitless attempt to distract. Of course, I justify this to myself in all manner of ways (that shiny bauble of, “I’ll do better tomorrow” is a particular favorite of mine).
But as I’m now starting to turn that tide, I’m realizing something. So much focus on binary systems has clouded my vision and narrowed my focus. It’s made deep thought much more difficult, as well as lateral thinking. And all of this has hurt my spiritual practice greatly.
I am coming to believe that I cannot silo these influences as effectively as I once thought. And I’m also coming to believe that maybe that’s the point.
You Are Not Alone – This Is Intentional
Hari mentions this photo in his book in a section that I found particularly unsettling. He argues that this may be a glimpse into the future, with the elites of the world pleasantly striding alongside the masses whose senses are being assaulted twenty-four hours a day by digital distractions, while those same elites remain free of those same influences. I can’t argue against such a vision. It seems to me to be exactly where we’re heading.
But the good news is that those who know it can do something about it before the crisis of attention becomes an epidemic. I’m going to continue exploring this in the days ahead.
An Much-Welcomed Return
For now though, after only around 36 hours of detox, here are some of the miracles my no longer stolen focus has given me.
- I watched seabirds sail above a low tide for ten minutes.
- I saw deer frolicking by a walking path.
- I read in a tree for half an hour.
- I walked into a karaoke bar and listened as the host begged someone other than herself to sing (I did not sing – some things have little or nothing to do with digital distraction).
- I journaled.
- I wrote this post and marketing materials for a film I’m working on.
- I got lost in the Shining-esque pattern of my hotel’s hallway carpet.
- I drove just to drive.
- I’ve had several pleasant conversations with restaurant and shop staff.
- I read the newspaper and did a crossword (which I couldn’t complete).
- I feel the spirit of calm focus running through me again. And this makes me very much want to re-engage my spiritual practice, something I plan on doing today.
- I feel much, much better.
Until the next post, my friends. Stay weird, witches.