‘what we give our attention to grows’ *
for a few years now I have had a practice of not seeking out the news, gossip or negativity. I see what comes through social media, read or watch pieces if someone sends me something relevant…I know what is happening in the world.
if the news that comes is tragic, I light a candle and/or stop what I am doing to send my loving attention to the people and planet hurt by it. then I return to the business of my life, generating capacity and solutions in communities I can touch and smell and see, who are also surviving tragedies daily.
if it is thrilling or awesome, I revel in it, and if possible I share it. then, again, get back to work. octavia butler has a quote from her earthseed verses (in the parable of the sower) that says ‘pray working’. that resonates deeply with me, letting my life be my response to the world, my prayer for better. I have just extended this to include my attention, that I gift my attention to those things I want to see grow in the world – resilience, brilliance, community, love.
i started this practice of not seeking out the news with the theory that it was cyclical, negative and manipulative, 1984 brainwashing, and that i wanted to have choice over what i gave my attention to, manifesting power within myself, within the communities to which i belong.
I have learned from this practice, and I want to share because it’s opened up a massive space for shift in my life in terms of much more actual measurable time, a healthier more grounded state of being, as well as more purposeful energy in my work and a higher degree of quality in my offerings.
not perfection, but spaciousness, abundance.
first, i learned some humility. addiction to news cycles had confused my system into believing that I personally needed to act on everything I heard – particularly that I needed to intervene in other people’s lives, to save them.
second, I learned that interpersonal gossip is the forerunner of negative media – sharing the business of others with negative intention, coming up with unsought advice and opinions, becoming experts on what others need to change – all of this takes attention away from the thing we can actually take responsibility for and change: ourselves.
this was the biggest lesson: when i wasn’t so focused on the latest random news of others, i was left with myself, and focusing inward has helped me to see what an empty cup I was continually trying to offer every thirsty person I met. if I work without spiritual, emotional, physical and mental health and balance, I cannot create health and balance anywhere outside myself. I was very busy and effective at not creating lasting change. i could have done that my whole life and received accolades for it, people do…but feeding my ego won’t feed my people.
i also learned that charity doesn’t yield survival. and most of the time, if we are asked to respond to a tragedy on the news, it is to engage in charity of some sort – give money, demand money, etc. having stepped my attention back to a more local level (local to people with whom I have some relationship), I see that in the same way my communities do not benefit from saviors or charity, nor does anyone else’s.
even if it seems beneficial in the short term, the act of saving people breeds dependence and deepens inequalities. survival is something that can only be learned experientially at the societal level. it takes longer than charity, but the resilience of overcoming hardship and generating life with others is that crucial beautiful resource we humans most need to cultivate.
there is other content that is really crucial for me to consume. I am re-reading butler’s parables of the sower and talents. her analysis of the intersectional fuckery humans have created is so on point – there is nothing happening today that she didn’t foresee and warn us about. her ways of telling the story of this present we are in and the most likely future are heartbreaking – her solutions are visionary and practical and possible.
I want part of my legacy to be generating live solution experiments, rooted in ideas from Butler’s work, among others. if we all spent half the time we currently spend becoming-instant-experts-on-news-cycle-items-that-last-less-than-48-hours instead practicing solution experiments in our own lives, I think we would tilt the scales towards justice, sustainability and love in olympic gold time.
experiments look like growing our own food in the context of post-capitalism, growing our own internet in the context of political media corruption, being impeccable loving healing elements in our families, mediating and resolving interpersonal conflict in our lives in the context of evolving beyond international war and conflict, intentional decision making and vision embodiment in our social justice organizations in the context of practicing a new society rather than just continuously observing and deepening our critiques of each other.
seek that which feels real, tangible, visceral, and positively motivating. our time is this miraculous limitation, and perhaps the only real limitation we face. each day in these bodies can be purposeful, or can be wasted.
in my life, liberating myself from media and most gossip has given me more time to do the things i often wished I could do – give love and attention to those who need and request it, meditate, eat healthy, yoga, compost, be present in my relationships, be a better daughter sister friend lover auntie, facilitate for low cost or free, write, create, doula, cook…be myself.
now I notice when I coach or work with people who experience scarcity around time, they almost always spend a lot of time tracking, processing and proliferating news cycles on which they personally have negligible impact. I always want to ask what they are gifting their time to…do they realize how precious their attention really is?
my rule of thumb (which is still emerging because I generally hate and break rules, even as my virgo self yearns for and creates them) is to give attention to what I love, so that what I love can grow. not to gossip, either at the interpersonal or international news level, not to hateration in the form of endless critiques or negative analysis, and not to anything which bores me.
it comforts me to know that in a world where so much is horrific, and so much is out of my control, that I can be intentional about my love and my attention. I give my brilliance and my miraculous time to growing health and love and wonder.
and to just testify, i see the changes happening in my lifetime, within my reach, and they are magnificent.
* (heard this a long time ago and can’t find a source, but I believe it, hence going in on it here :-)… if you know the source, hit me with it!)