​Paying Attention and Spending Time

Time and attention: two priceless commodities. Each of us possesses a limited amount of each.

Of course, it is not actually possible to “pay” attention nor “spend” time, notwithstanding the idioms borrowing from the language of commerce and finance. Yet in this epoch, the information age, when our attention is literally commodified and manipulated by well-crafted systems of likes and followers, these idioms feel strangely apt.

Most people do indeed trade time and attention in exchange for money.

In addition, the business models of social media platforms depend on the giving of attention – the more attention a platform gets, the more advertisers will pay. Facebook’s initial purpose may truly have been to connect people. I can remember a time when it seemed this way. Yet once it was swallowed by the demands of invested capital, Facebook’s purpose became maximizing profit.

Because our attention is essential to its bottom line, ever more contrived ways are created to capture our notice. I have yet to hear any convincing explanation of the value of the “story” function on Facebook or Instagram, for example. Isn’t it just a way to have us pay more attention and steal our time? Time we could be spending with our children or lover, gazing at a flower, walking barefoot on dew bejeweled grass, or creating art?

In some real way, we are paying attention and spending time, from which someone else certainly profits. And in each instance, we might ask, who?

We have 24 hours in a day to spend as we wish. Are we spending these hours in ways that are aligned with our well-being, and with the well-being of this gorgeous planet? If we were to look back at this day from our deathbed, how content would we be with our use of it?

Attention is something you likely learnt little about at school, other than that you were frequently asked to pay it! It’s ironic that such commands are common, while the training of attention, an actual education in how to consciously wield this most precious and prized gift, is rare in an educational setting.

A concentration meditation practice is a powerful way to cultivate this capacity of our consciousness. Thus, one way I spend my time, every day, is paying attention to something, or even nothing, both for the joy of it and to cultivate awareness in everyday life of where I’m putting my attention.

Another way of benefiting myself and others with my time and attention is by striving to focus away from machines and screens and what appears on them—including social media platforms–between 8.30 pm and 8.30 am. Just as I generally do not eat any food between these times, I fast from information and stimulation.

It is a stunningly beautiful natural world we live in. Miracles and marvels, endless entertainments abound in parks and trees and gardens, in the eyes of our children, in the simple play of light upon a dewdrop.

We may wish to spend more time paying attention to this timeless beauty and cultivating our capacity to volitionally do so.

How is your meditation practice? When was the last time you invested time in doing nothing, in simply being? Such investment brings incalculable returns.

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