Year of Attention | #32
the secret ingredient is joy
Hello dear friends,
It’s been a few months since I last wrote to you. Many things happened that I could tell you about, so many that it’s hard for me to find the time to tell you everything. In fact the dread of leaving something important out has kept me from writing anything at all. So I’m declaring update bankruptcy! No news about the past, only about the present.
I think you know by now that I do yearly themes instead of resolutions. 2020 was Year of Writing, 2021 was Year of Health. For this year, I’m doing Year of Attention. It’s a bit different this time around, because I already have a bunch of things I plan to do related to attention: get back into a regular meditation practice, audit how I spend my time and make sure it aligns with my values, understand group attention better, and figure out if attention is a limited resource or not.
Here are two things that have been top-of-mind lately.
Enjoyment is the secret ingredient to stable attention.
This is a quote from my friend Tasshin. I think he was mostly talking about meditation when he wrote this (he’s a monk and an expert meditator), but the more I look the more I see it in other contexts.
For example, my kids. Most of the time they are little birds flitting from one game to another: jumping on the couch → what’s happening outside → papa came downstairs → snack time → etc etc. But sometimes when they get into a drawing session or lego building fantasy, they can spend half an hour peacefully playing in one place. There’s no way to make them do it on command. The only way it happens is when they’re engrossed in something fun.
All parenting ideas are also management ideas, so of course its the same at work. The world is full of amazing things happening all the time. With the internet in your pocket, there are a dozen incredible distractions always just a few taps away. How do you stay focused on one thing for long enough (hours, years) to make something truly valuable? The secret ingredient is joy (I wrote about this before).
Artists Marina Abramovic and Ulay started an intense love affair in the 1970’s, living and performing out of a van. When they ended their relationship, they decided to walk the Great Wall of China, each from one end and meeting in the middle for one last embrace. That was the last time they saw each other. Then in 2010, as part of her MoMA exhibit “The Artist is Present”, Marina shared a minute of silent attention with each stranger who sat in front of her. On opening night, Ulay arrived without her knowing.
Here’s the video of their reunion. I cry every time I watch it.
The whole performance is a beautiful meditation on attention as a precious gift. People waited in long lines just to experience one minute of completely focused attention. That’s how starved they were, how much they wanted to be at the center of someone’s universe, even for just a brief moment. Marina sat eight hours a day, six days a week, for two and a half months, and still didn’t get to see everyone who wanted to sit with her.
(I was linked to that video from this lovely piece on attention)
Attention is so valuable, and we cannot get more of it. How much of our attention do we toss carelessly into the world? If we spent even an hour a week attending as fully as Marina does, what magic would we bring back into our lives?