Devoting Attention to What Most Needs Attention

What do we give attention to in our daily lives? This is a poignant question to raise and then watch and see. What am I concerned with as I move through the day, moment by moment? What are the concerns that I give attention to most in my life month after month, year after year, decade after decade? What is my energy most spent thinking about – trying to change, or trying to accept?

For any issue that usually grabs my attention, have I ever considered carefully what is behind my concern? What are the assumptions that I’m making, the things taken for granted? Have I looked carefully at whether my efforts are really leading to something beneficial?

At first, looking back over the last paragraph, this sounds like a difficult analytical thing to do. But that’s not how it works, at least for me, in my experience. For me the whole body/mind – filled with a seemingly infinite number of programmed assumptions, agendas, identities, reactions, wants, avoidances that can be triggered at any moment or that can be on hold, watching carefully for a moment in which it needs to start up again – needs to be given the space to reveal itself, to open. And this is something that is simple and direct and whole, not piecemeal.

One thing that our attention is often devoted to is the feeling – in the back of the mind as we move through the day – that despite the chaos, the old patterns, the physical feelings of conflict or inadequacy, the dryness, the underlying sense of isolation and desire for contact, we’ve got some kind of plan or hope that will change all of this. Does this function in you too? “Ok, things are bla bla bla but I’m going to do this, or such and such will happen some day.” And what is the function of that kind of thinking? Does it lead to real looking at what I’m doing this moment, and why, and in what context, and with whom or does it lead to a sort of complacency. “Don’t worry too much.”

A plan or a hope is always in the future. “Some day…” What is it that we are putting off by thinking “Some day. Not now because… but some day.”

I certainly understand the feeling that many people share that retreat is not so important because they are interested in change in their daily life. They may say that they know that retreat sheds some light but because daily life is their focus, they’ll just stick with that. But what am I devoting my attention to in what we’re calling daily life?

If we stop feeding our regular agendas, they will die away. Maybe just for a moment. In daily life, what am I feeding? I feel like it is very difficult to answer this question without stepping away from the whole daily life routine. Agendas, of course, scream “No! You can’t step out of this routine. I can’t step out of it. I have to do this, and this and this. I have to take care of this and this and this. I’m worried about this and this and this that I don’t know if I can handle.”

There is no point to fighting agendas because, like small children and like all of us, they have to be heard and addressed with love and intelligence. So it’s possible to address concerns about food in retreat, or sleeping accommodations, or taking time to go home and take care of pets. All our concerns can be addressed and worked out. I’m very confident of that. So then it’s possible to leave them behind and spend a week in an open, safe, lovely natural setting, where everything is taken care of and where we have the vast support of each other and the whole of life.

Such a week is a dramatic eye opener. For the first time we can start to see the difference between living in undivided affection and being wracked by unexamined agendas, unexamined selves. So it’s true that we have to get out of the “problem” to see clearly what is going on.

What all of our concerns don’t understand is that when they die away, when we stop feeding them, the whole world opens up and the root of a concern is healed in wholeness. So we kick and scream against leaving the world of our daily concerns. We have a million valid reasons. We have a plan for the future. But if that plan doesn’t involve stepping out, stepping back, giving a week to devote attention to what most needs attention, how can their be fresh seeing?

What is it that most needs attention? What is it, right here, under our noses, buried in the routines and hard held agendas of our lives? What is it that we most need to wake up to?

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