Intention vs. Attention

I was reflecting this weekend on the topic areas I have written about for the past few months on this blog versus the original intention I had at the beginning.

Sunrise from my window
Sunrise from my window this morning as I wrote – gorgeous!

One intention was to comment on politics and privilege from my unique perspective as a bi-cultural Latina woman. I still do that now and then. But more often, I have shared about topics like mindfulness and taking care of my health. So I wanted to consider why the blog morphed as I committed to more of a daily routine of writing. Here’s what I came up with. I would love to know what you think.

  1. It is best to write about what we know. Since I know myself better than I know anyone, writing about my own experience, and my own journey seems to be a good way to start. It limbers up my writing practice, and allows me to reflect on what I have learned from a personal perspective.
  2. “Research is me-search.” I am a clinical researcher by training, but the topics I find most interesting are my own little n=1 experiments in health. For those of you not familiar with this terminology, “n” is the number of subjects/patients you include in an experimental sample. When I experiment with a new wellness practice, I am the sole participant so n=1. There is no control group, so it is not a “valid” sample in the methodology we typically use. But of course, there are subjective measures we can use to validate our own experience. I rely on those rather than on statistical work to conclude whether I will continue particular wellness practices I try.
  3. Taking care of ourselves well is a radical act. I believe we do not live in a culture that does not properly value taking care of ourselves, and women struggle with this most. We give lip service to taking care of ourselves, but we also cut corners on sleep and fill our lives with unnecessary obligations and distractions. We must step away from the “busy-ness culture” that is supposed to signify our importance in the world. This helps us have space to truly thrive. But so few truly commit to this path.
  4. Until we care for ourselves, we will not have long-term resources to help others. I began finding in my personal life about 2 years ago that I was putting my work and family ahead of taking care of myself. It was taking its toll on my health. I did not like the results. I did not like constantly feeling tired and strung out. But I felt desperate to make a contribution “to the world” because I saw political and economic systems I did not feel were serving people. A decade before that I had been very involved in political campaigns. But that had burned me out, and required much personal sacrifice that I simply could make at this stage in my life.
  5. We are in this for the long haul. Any type of societal change is slow-moving, and requires sustained effort. What is done in one day has fairly little impact. But what is accomplished over time, with many small efforts (and many people) daily is what creates a movement. If more of us were to look inward, take care of ourselves and our needs, and thrive personally, we would likely have more time and energy to care for others. This includes our families, our communities, and our society as a whole. Not that we can stop caring for others as we care for ourselves, but just that we cannot care for others at the expense of our long-term health. This will serve nobody.

So these are my initial thoughts on why my blog has morphed from its original intention. I may come back to writing more about politics and other topics about which I am passionate. Right now, I write about what I most want to learn and master. That is where my attention is most focused, and writing about these topics clarifies my thinking.

Thanks for reading. Hope you have a wonderful week!

Sunrise 2 from window
Sunrise a few minutes after the other photo – I just LOVE the colors of morning!

Flowing vs Overflowing

Do you ever have a sense of marvelous ease in your day? A sense that you are in a “flow state” and things are proceeding exactly as they should. You just ride along as the current carries you.

You look up hours later and realize you have been so engaged in a task that you have lost awareness of time, and maybe it’s already dark out. Or you suddenly realize you are hungry, but you were absorbed in something so deeply that you did not notice at the time. It is kind of a beautiful experience for someone like me (or maybe you?) who struggle with distractions.

But how often to we achieve this state? How often do we give ourselves the opportunity to do uninterrupted work? How often do we single-task, instead of spreading out our focus?

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According to Cal Newport, author of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, we do not do this nearly enough. When I first read the book summary, presented by my “GetAbstract” subscription at work, I felt immediate resonance with the concept. Then I heard an interview with him on the Hidden Brain podcast last July, and I knew I would need to figure out how to do more deep work in my career.

In the age of social media, overflowing email boxes and communications technologies like WhatsApp and Jabber (my company’s instant messaging platform), it is a challenge indeed. But I like a challenge. And I think the ability to focus deeply and intentionally on things we care about is worth it. Some may argue that this is what makes a happy life.

So how do we make that more possible? For me, it has involved cutting WAY back on my daily consumption of social media. I used to turn on my phone in bed in the morning, read facebook posts and the news from the coziness of my bed (it was -12F when I got up this morning -26F with windchill – ugh). Then I would usually open up the email, first personal and then work to see if there were any urgent items.

This would put me into “reactive” mode, taking in all of this information before even giving myself a chance to truly wake up. Not the best way to start the day. That practice shifted to consuming podcasts rather than FB and news about a year ago. I decided my emotional state was not equipped to consume news in the same way I used to devour it daily. I really love public radio, and I still listen sometimes in the car on the way to or from work.

We all have choices about what we do, and how we engage with the world. It is pretty mind-blowing to realize we have more control over our thoughts and emotions once we learn to separate them out from circumstances. Learning this has helped me understand when my “anger” button has been activated, or in neuroscience terms, the amygdala. Anger can be a useful emotion, when we are fighting injustice, but rage tends to be destructive. Fear can be a useful emotion, when we are outrunning a predator or facing a potentially dangerous situation, but panic is rarely helpful.

So I choose to cut back. I need to keep flowing, keep working toward things I believe in. I work toward more peace, more justice, more access to the rights and freedoms I enjoy for more people. Overflowing with inputs, distractions, material possessions, entertainment, and other “over” indulgences does not serve me. So I make deliberate choices about how to spend my time.

Distractions may always be a factor for me. My mind runs and plays like a puppy, roaming around, picking up random scents and running down those trails. But that is also conditioned behavior, following the urge of distraction. And it can be unlearned with practice, thankfully. My meditation and yoga practices are teaching me that.

May you be clear-headed and focused today. May you engage in whatever deep and important work you are doing right now, with full mind and heart. Thank you for reading, and now go get back to your creative effort. Namaste.