Reflection Requires Paying Attention

December 28, 2020

For many, New Year’s is a time of reflection. A time to look back and consider all that happened over the past 12 months; how events surprised, and transformed, how they wounded and how they strengthened. For many, 2020 may have been the kind of year that we simply want to forget. It may have been filled with just too much uncertainty or loss. Yet, I think that if we just let the year go, if we don’t reflect on all that happened, we may miss all that 2020 taught us—if we paid attention.

In her book Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life, Winifred Gallagher writes:

“That your experience largely depends on the material objects and mental subjects that you choose to pay attention to or ignore is not an imaginative notion, but a physiological fact. When you focus on a stop sign or a sonnet, a waft of perfume or a stock-market tip, your brain registers that ‘target,’ which enables it to affect your behavior. In contrast, the things that you don’t attend to in a sense don’t exist, at least for you.
All day long, you are selectively paying attention to something, and much more often than you may suspect, you can take charge of this process to good effect. Indeed, your ability to focus on this and suppress that is the key to controlling your experience and, ultimately, your well-being.”

Every single day, your life is driven by what you’ve paid attention to and what you haven’t. Paying attention is an act of will. When you pay attention, you are devoting your thoughts, energy, and time to what is happening in the present. Auschwitz-survivor Viktor Frankl wrote “Everything can be taken from man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstance, to choose one’s own way.”

So, what have I paid attention to in 2020?

The following poem captures the spirit of this approach to living.

Everything comes from this
This feeling
Do you feel it
Are you paying attention?
This fire
Inside you
It can burn you into ash
And you will float away in tiny pieces
Or it can fuel you
It will fuel you
It will be the force to guide you
It will be the light to find you
What do you want
Stop worrying
What is your heart telling you
Everything comes from this
This feeling
Feel good
You are here
You are amazing
Do you feel it
Are you paying attention?


Each week, in the hopes of creating community, I strive to be authentic and transparent in my messages. Thank you for sharing the many highs and lows of 2020 with me and for enabling us to learn together.