Intentional Attention

I think most of life boils down to how I spend my time and how I spend my money… Contrary to popular belief, the key questions of practical existentialism is not how much I earn, where I work or live, what I say I believe, what I proudly don’t do or what I studied. To understand our own idea of ‘the good life’ we simply need to look at how we spend our time and money, that will tell us all we need to know. Despite clever rationalisations, how I spend my time and money defines me; nothing else. We resist this type of thinking because it penetrates our self deceit and it exposes the contradictions of our own intentions. Nevertheless the big questions are easy to evaluate through observable tangibles. Once we recognise our inconsistencies, we can start to discuss a way out, a way forward.

And so the question of who gets my attention becomes the most relevant of all. Do I give my eyes and ears to advertisers? Do I give my eyes and ears to Facebook virtual friends? Do I give my mind to best selling authors or pastors? Do I give my time, energy and mind to ‘the market’? Who teaches me what is cool? Who teaches me what is important? Are we taught how to prioritise our time and money, how to allocate our hours and energy? You are who you give your energy to. Who demands my attention and cash? If ‘time is money’, maybe the two can be synthesised into the concept of attention. The revealing imperative can then be articulated as ‘who gets my attention? Your attention is your most prised asset. Do you allow others to steal it for free? Advertisers pay TV channels big bucks for your attention, your attention has market value. More so, it has eternal value and significance. Now, do you have intention of attention? Are you intent on choosing attentiveness? Do you let others decide or manipulate where you look and what you listen to. I want to drive my own life, create and determine my own surroundings. The secret is not in making good choices in the moment, but in creating content and milieu that will imply different choices. The secret to a better life is putting myself in a different place with different options. It’s a pity that the skill to direct and conserve our attention is taught in neither school nor university.

Somehow we get trapped in the quality of our toys and the coolness of our brands, as they speaks to our fragile inner identity. After a ‘long week’ or ‘difficult day’ we find ourselves weak and we let go, relaxing and surrendering our attention to cheap and easy entertainment, corporations or people that catch us in our moments or leisure, but then sows subtle seeds in our minds, seeds that germinate and stay present long after we switch off the TV, put down the phone or drive past the billboard.

The superficiality of the situation seems disguised by the universal desire to ‘have’ instead of to ‘be’. How can we become free? By recognizing the battle for our attention and affection. Everybody is competing for your mind space. Are you fighting back or being swept along? To know the answer, look at your clothes, look at your budget and look at your diary. No point in lying to ourselves.

Life-Lines

I think it was my friend Tom who questioned our common usage of the term “dead line”. At first I thought it’s an insignificant play of words, but the more I think about it the more I realise this is another symptomatic usage of language that responds to and creates real life. The idea of a dead line is that if you do not deliver on the day, you will die. Obviously 99.99% of deadlines not met will never result in actual death.

Where it becomes a deadline, is not if you fail to deliver, but if you try to deliver! By taking on the pressure and arranging your life as a series of efforts to meet deadlines, you are actually sapping the life out of your existence and the negative emotion, stress and fear makes the deadline chasing a long line of sub-quality life (death) striving to deliver things to people who use you. Even a legitimate target becomes skewed and perverted when marketed or seen as a deadline. So, whenever you hear yourself or someone else speak of a deadline, know that they are already dancing with death.

So, turning our deadlines into lifelines, imply changing the way we look at dates of delivery. Become free. Do your best and know that the consequences will be part of the rhythms and seasons of life. The ups and downs both contain beauty. Never be trapped in a cycle where you live for milestones, be it exams, promotions, awards, jobs, bonuses, or whatever. All we have is the journey, the road we walk every day, the way we think and feel every day. Sure, there are exceptional times when we put in a bit extra to ensure timely success. But if the exception becomes the rule, when the ‘season’ becomes a lifestyle, be warned that your deadlines have spread their death much wider that the expected day of delivery.

So, make your deadline your lifeline and experiment with ultimatums to discover more about others and yourself; your courage, your beauty, your emotions and your friends.