“Please read me. Super important. Don’t miss this one!”
Did the title grab your attention? From the time I get up, till the moment I put my phone on its wireless charger, there is somebody who wants my attention. The phone is beeping and buzzing regularly to tell me the latest news flash or somebody tweeted about something or “you have an appointment,” or a “I need to tell you this RIGHT NOW!” text message just arrived. At times, I’m overwhelmed with electronic communication coming at me in so many different ways.
Email is the bane of my existence. I get a lot of it. I choose to get as much as I do, because I’m monitoring many different relationships and connections. I want to know what is going on across many different groups in which I participate. Hard as I try to keep up with it, it isn’t possible for me to read every email I get. There are just not enough hours in the day to read through each one and follow the links to relevant material – nor would it be a good use of my time.
This means I need to filter and make choices. And sometimes I’ll be “off-line” for a few hours or a day and fall hopelessly behind. I feel awful when members of our congregation ask why I haven’t responded to an important email they sent me and somehow it slipped through my virtual fingers. (if you don’t get a response in 24 hours – send it again till I do!)
Many people sending me emails know I’m filtering and may not read it. They craft subject lines, short lead-ins and top-of-the-email graphics that will hook me to open the message up. I’ll do the same when I’m letting people know about my upcoming events I don’t want them to miss. My email box is a loud cacophony of grabs for my attention pleading, “Read me, read me, please, please read me!” or “If you don’t read this message you might be in danger!” or “Don’t miss this opportunity or you’ll be sorry.”
And it isn’t just our email inbox or phone. Newspapers, magazines, outdoor advertising, web sites, shelves in stores (for those who are still willing to be physically present in one), radio, television, online streaming services, just about anyplace we point our attention, someone wants to sell us something. I can’t even fill up my gas tank these days (which thankfully doesn’t happen too often with my battery chargeable hybrid) without hearing or seeing a pitch.
Our attention is a valuable commodity. Social media moguls know this because that is how they run their businesses – they are selling opportunities to grab our attention as we sit in front our devices, watch cat videos and check on what our friends and family are up to. If you want to do an interesting exercise, notice the kinds of advertisements that Google, Amazon, and Facebook present to you. You can reverse engineer who they think you are by what they think you might be interested in buying or who you might want to vote for. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Trump Facebook ad for example, but Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren definitely know who I am … virtually.
The effect of having one’s attention being yanked around constantly may be eroding our ability to focus and sustain attention on anything. I wonder what effect it is having on young minds and on the number of children who can’t focus. All the stimulation supports the advertiser’s desire to get us to buy more and more to keep us hyper-stimulated all the time.
What is so sad about all this attention grabbing is the path to inner peace isn’t found in knowing more and more or consuming more and more. We need enough nutrition, shelter and clothing; enough friendships and intimate relationships; enough safety and security. Happiness and contentment isn’t found in significantly exceeding the enough threshold. And enough is probably way less than we might imagine.
Mindfulness meditation has been the way I’ve discovered how little “enough” can be to meet my needs yet not interfere with my happiness and contentment. Discovering my happiness doesn’t depend on consumables, or status, or reputation, or achievement, has helped me not follow life’s click-bait into wanting this or that. The peace and ease I seek isn’t connected to possessing people or things.
It is extremely radical to discover the unconditioned nature of inner peace. There are no material barriers to be overcome that stand in the way. The path to that experience is learning to point your attention to the wholesome and away from the unwholesome. And if the attention does chase after the unwholesome and unsatisfying, as it inevitably does, the key attention redirecting skill is becoming well practiced in letting go.
An important step on the path to freedom and liberation from the stresses and distresses of human existence is learning the skill of working with the attention … and practicing it.
Note: One way to do that is to come to my meditation workshop November 8 & 9!