“To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.” Mary Oliver
They say that energy flows where attention goes. In every moment, our senses are flooded with signals. They are so many that our mind can’t really process all of them without overloading and getting stuck. According to a study by a neuroscientist named Manfred Zimmermann, 99.9996% of the information that you sense, goes unnoticed by your mind.
And it is on that tiny fraction of information, that we source our words and actions.
What defines the direction of our attention?
Is it a conscious choice or an unconscious one?
Sometimes I feel that my attention is informed by a chase. Something I need or have to achieve. I know when my attention is chase-driven because I always feel a step behind. My vision is narrowed on the object of my pursuit, and the rest of the world becomes blurred. I soon go out of breath and find my self exhausted.
In contrast, when I choose where to put my attention, my vision opens, time expands, and I feel energized.
Think about the things you’re giving your attention right now, do they make you feel energized? Is it a chase you’re in, or is it a choice?
My grandfather knew when it was the right day to prune the vines. He always knew when it was the right night to go out fishing for eels. He couldn’t really explain how he knew it, but he did.
My grandmother knew how to make a perfect traditional cake. Many people from the village used to bring her the ingredients and she never disappointed, no matter how different the flour or the eggs were. Though, she didn’t know the recipe. When we manage to elicit a structured formula from her, the results weren’t as good.
Yesterday evening a dear friend told me about his great grandfather.
He was the man everyone called to get fruitful grafts on the vineyards. Throughout his career, he kept a daily log with all his weather observations. But what made him successful was his ability to retrieve the right information from his yearslong almanack and know the most propitious moment to make a successful graft. He couldn’t explain how he knew, but he did.
They all knew without knowing. Each one of them knew, deep in their own essence, how to read the invisible signs of the universe.
That is wisdom to me.
The subjective knowing beyond the objective knowledge.
Unfortunately, the subjective knowing can’t be modelled or structured, and so it cannot be taught.
You can only acquire it through observation and experience.
It takes time, discipline and awareness.
And the willingness to detach from the outcome.
“The only difference between stumbling blocks and stepping stones is the way in which we use them.” – Adriana Doyle
Yesterday I had an enlighting conversation with my dear friend Umberto. We were talking about how tough times can be unique sources of learning and growth, or heavy stones dragging us down.
It is up to us to decide what to do with our pitfalls.
I was also sharing how things that I experienced as massive failures when they happened years ago are now events that I cherish as part of my growth.
Yet, to put failures and tough times in the right perspective when you’re living them, it’s definitely hard.
As usual, Umberto shared a fascinating metaphor to explain this.
“It’s a matter of volume occupied. The more space something takes within your life, the heavier you perceive it. When you widen your space, that same thing becomes smaller and smaller, until it’s almost irrelevant.”
Quite obvious, no? If you put any object right in front of your face, it looks huge, but as soon as you put some space between you and the object, it becomes smaller until it almost disappears.
But how do you do that? It looks like time would be the only thing needed to gain a wider perspective on things. However, it’s not. How many people do you know who are still chained to their past failures and can’t see beyond them?
I believe the key is to practice the art of detachment. Your not your failures, and you’re not your successes. Only when you learn to detach from the outcome of what you do, you can walk away from it. And gain the perspective needed to transform failures in learning.
Some times my mind reminds me of a chihuahua.
A friend has one of those tiny cute dogs, and I’ve done the dog-sitter a few times. It’s incredible how much energy it’s squeeze in such a small being.
There were moments in which there was no way to keep him still. He was running all around full speed, jumping from the char to the sofa, on the table. No matter how much I tried to calm him down, to pet him or to offer him some rewards. He just kept spinning around like crazy until he was exhausted. Over the months, I’ve learned to let go. There was no point in trying to control him. So, I gave him the space for his crazy running until he was ready to interact with me.
Some times my mind does the same, and it goes all over the place. It spins around, bouncing from memories to ideas, going from one place to another, from one thought to something else completely unrelated — all of this without any apparent logic or purpose.
In the beginning, it was upsetting. In particular, when it happens when I’d like to focus on something, or I am meditating. Like before writing my morning post. I was disappointed by my inability to keep my mind where I wanted. But then I realised that trying to control my thoughts is pointless. I had to let them run wild and free until peace comes. The beautiful thing is that very often with peace also come the answers. And a previously invisible pattern emerged from what were unrelated thoughts a moment before.
I love frameworks and schemas. I love finding them and, some times, creating them. And the simpler they are, the better.
I get the chills anytime I find a frame that helps me read the reality at a glance. A useful framework is like a treasure map. It provides me with guidance to move through reality and find what I’m looking for.
Frameworks and structures create also order. They draw lines dividing and connecting things, so I can make sense of what I experience.
At the same time, I cherish chaos and the shapeless space outside and between frames and structures.
Lately, I’ve realised how much energy I spent trying to fit into some frames or boxes while at the same time, I was evading or escaping them. It is as if a side of me wants to belong to something while the other side craves the freedom of nothing.
Not sure what this post is about. There are morning when I wake up with such clarity that my fingers write on their own. Other mornings are foggier. I have glimpses of something, an image, a word or a feeling. Those days, writing is like walking in the dark. My steps are hesitant, not knowing where I will end up. If I ever get somewhere.
This morning is one of them. And weird enough, when it’s too dark to see, maps become useless. So, maybe this what this post is all about. Reminding me that maps are useful, but when it’s dark, my only guidance is my senses and my inner compass.