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SAW 20: Intention vs Attention
1. What are some of the things that compete for your attention? Which most often win?
Work, family time, fun, good books, new ideas all compete. I have times pretty well blocked for different things so that they all have some place without too much competition.
2. What are some of the things you’d like to pay more attention to? How do they get shut out? What good things refuse to clamor for your attention or seem to stay hidden “in the background”?
Nutrition, my torn cuticles, writing letters, housekeeping all get pushed aside. The extras get shut out by the needfuls and the best things get shut out by the good enough. My spiritual growth doesn’t clamor for attention, but it is not left unattended, either. Some friends hang back, waiting for me to take the initiative, and so I may not be attentive enough to them. The outdoors makes no demands that I visit, and so I’ve never had much of a ‘relationship’ with nature. I forget to go out and just see a beautiful day. Family members do sometimes call me out, and I appreciate that.
3. How often do you act/move/speak without having a clear intention first? (Reaction vs Pro-action)
Please describe a situation in which you did form a clear intention first, and how that was different for you, had different results, etc.
Maybe 20% is either habitual, reactions to cues or technical events, and doing background things on automatic pilot. A great day is more intentional: start with Morning Prayer, see a to-do list that’s already prepared and waiting, do each thing without resistance, in order, and with dispatch…all that is smooth and peaceful, with no impediments or to remain calm in the face of them. Acting vs reacting usually involves having the computer turned OFF until it is actually needed to accomplish a task on my list.
4. Please give examples of things that have attracted you toward a deep, absorbing interest in them.
Holy Geometry, fractals, complexity theory, ancient star stories
5. How aware are you of your body’s health, posture, pain, needs, desires, imbalance, and limits? Do you think you’d be better off with less or more awareness of this kind?
I have had to be quite conscious of posture due to an injured knee…so as not to create postural problems in compensation for that issue. I’m basically quite healthy, and have paid attention to health over the years – sometimes have been quite confused by conflicting advice. I’ve had to manage a good bit of pain, and wanted to do so without medication. I’m sometimes (used to be ‘always’!) tempted to hop up and race past my body’s needs, but for the most part I wait and let consciousness catch up to and inform activity. Sometimes I forget that getting older implies the need for some adjustments. No more late nights + early mornings. I’ve got to have a good night’s sleep to function well. I’m trying to become more conscious about eating in a way that will help me lose weight…a synthesis of many different ideas that resonate with me…hoping it will work this time as I’ve approached this before without success. I don’t want to become overly self-conscious, or body-beauty oriented…just healthy.
6. How do you respond to your own feelings? If you are sad? Fearful? Angry? Needy? How are you loving or unloving to yourself?
I used to deny them, eat them, push them down. Now I’m more inclined to stop and consider what triggered a feeling, and how to respond without violating myself or anyone else. I still have some tendency to treat myself like a child: just move on, don’t be a wimp, get over it. But I don’t recommend that approach.
7. Have you ever formed a clear intention and then been unable to act on it, or execute it, or realize the idea? What interfered or impeded? How did you deal with it? What did you learn to do differently next time? How did the phase of “powerlessness” feel?
I hate this! I feel thwarted, blocked, stopped, forced backward. The image was so clear, and now I’ve been robbed. I’ve learned to trust God more and more with opening my path to me as I walk forward in it, or blocking it to redirect me. The many experiences I’ve had where such a ‘thwarting’ made something else, something better possible have taught me much. It’s interesting to me that I have less difficulty with a complete blockage than with changes in a situation. I suppose the one causes me to stop, which is conducive to prayer, while the other demands I recalibrate, redirect, make new choices quickly, and in that stress I’m less likely to stop and pray. Memo to self….
8. What ideas that circulate in your mind do not become intentions to act? Are you consciously inhibiting response to negative ideas? Are you unconsciously failing to cultivate response to positive ideas? Are some of the ideas so vague that they stimulate neither form of self-control?
I try to stay out of a mental squirrel cage. If an idea is actionable, I take notes that go into a ‘system,’ and then let it go. If it seems futile, or not action-worthy, or distracting, I will just let it go. If it is impure, or unsavory, I pray the Miraculous Medal prayer (Holy Mary, conceived without sin, pray for those who have recourse to Thee) immediately, and ask Mary for her pure veil to protect me from such imagery. Sometimes an idea is vague, but I’ll note it for a time when I can take time to consider it. I want to respect my own imagination, but not let it run away from/with me.
9. Are you able to form vivid imaginations that actually stimulate an emotional response? Are you able to shut down imaginary scenarios and “mental ” that you consider vain, impure, counterproductive, or a waste of time?
I remember hearing about the Ignatian way of prayer, with vivid mental imagery, many years ago. At the time, I could not work up one of these imaginations, and assumed it was a thing like personality style. Later, as I began to realize the importance of the imagination, and of developing it, I grew better able to enter into imaginary scenes of Christ’s life. I can hold a poem more fully in imagination now than when I was young. This took conscious development. I use my imagination to explore what would need to be done to realize ideas, or to come up with creative solutions to problems. I am not able to shut down those ‘mental movies,’ and agonized and struggled over this for years until I became a Catholic and sought Mary’s help. Nothing is as easy as asking for her help and simply receiving it. All that struggle just keeps the problem in the forefront, I think. Mary intervenes to cleanse the screen entirely.
10. What role does distraction play in your life? Do you seek out distraction (and if so, from what)? Is distraction sometimes a coping mechanism (and if so, for what stresses)? Do you have trouble with interference from unwanted distractions or from a condition (such as ADHD) that affects your ability to deal with stimulus/response well? What attracts your attention in a positive way? In a negative way?
I look for distraction when I want to do one thing and am prevented. Distraction diverts my attention to a crossword or logic puzzle, a murder mystery, or a magazine – just enough mental engagement without any heavy lifting. I sometimes remember that doodling, or doing some form of art or craft has this same calming effect when I am agitated. More often, though, I forget that avenue and head for the other kinds of distraction. I watch very few movies, and no TV, so that is not a form of distraction for me. Once a year, as I enter my two-week, in-home writing retreat, I get some movies to flip through – several in one night, just to get the gist, and just to distract myself from any thought of writing. This is actually very helpful in making the transition to the intense work phase. It seems to get ‘need for distraction’ out of my system all at once. I schedule my regular work times during quiet parts of days when most other members of the family are out, to minimize distraction, and to prevent my work from distracting me from them. New books and ideas, opportunities for great conversation attract my attention positively. Sometimes craft magazines are attractive. Just looking, with no demand to act, satisfies some longing to be involved with making beautiful things. Negatively: gossip is attractive to me, and I have to watch out for it in myself and others.
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