Intention: are you paying attention?

I remember seeing the first Star Wars movie as a kid.  I was very young, 5 or 6 years old if my memory dates back to its first release in the theaters.  We didn’t see movies very often, so this was a very special occasion.  My mom took me, and perhaps a friend or two, to the theater.

I remember a line outside the theater to get inside — it seemed long.  The building seemed larger than life, probably in part a product of my size at the time, and unfamiliarity with it. Most of all, however, I remember the movie itself.  It captivated my imagination, and my attention was sharply honed into exactly what was going on, every detail etched into my memory.

Sometimes after watching a movie now, I feel like I am hard pressed to remember the plot a week later, let alone the finer details.  What changed?

I blame multi-tasking.  Remember the good ole’ days of computers before Windows or the GUI interfaced Macs?  You would run a single program at a time.  In the earlier days this even meant putting the disc for the program you wanted to run into the drive to select what program you would be running.  If you wanted to jump from a word processor document to a spreadsheet, it involved saving the document I was working on, closing the application, starting the next application, and loading the spreadsheet.

Copy and paste between the two?  What a silly concept.  Run the two simultaneously?  Now that’s just crazy talk.

We have the tools to enable us to look at multiple things simultaneously, and do functions simultaneously.  My phone has many times the capabilities of the original IBM PC.

Technology evolved.

Society did too.  Now that machines can do many things simultaneously, we have imprinted this expectation on ourselves as well.  The difference is that personal computing hardware got a few upgrades over the past several decades.  The human mind did not.

David Allen makes the case that part of the problem people have with being productive is that we try to hold too many things in our short term memory simultaneously.  The result is that we are unable to truly be effective at concentrating on any one thing long enough to actually get it done.

Attention … and intention.

When I watched Star Wars as a child, my attention was wholly focused on the movie.  When I watch a movie now, I’m often thinking about my to-do list, perhaps something I see in the background on the movie will give me an idea on some project I’d like to do around the house, or inspires me to start thinking about something I’d like to post on this blog.  The next thing I know, the movie has marched on, but my attention was left behind in the dust.

It feels like productivity to have multiple things going on at the same time, but often I find that true efficiency comes when I do everything with intention.  That is, I focus on the task at hand, with blinders on.

Attentive Prayer

I think the place I find this most challenging is in my prayer life.  I start my prayer, thinking I know where I’m going, but end up somewhere else.  That’s not altogether a bad thing.  The Spirit can guide us during these times, but sometimes my prayer wanders completely outside of anything prayerful at all, on to tomorrow’s to-do list, I am feeling a little hungry right now, wow this coffee is terrible… oh… wait… God?  You still there?

The challenge to myself: being intentional while being in prayer.

Attention to people

It happens more often than I wish to admit.  I’m in conversation with someone, then realize I’m thinking about the wing velocity of an African Sparrow, only to mentally rejoin the conversation to hear the phrase end with “…but what do you think?”  Whoops.  Conversation foul.

Attention to the right things

Just this past weekend I caught myself doing a slightly different foul.  I was watching a movie (coincidentally one of the original Star Wars trilogy films).   I was tired, wanting to pay attention to it without interruption, when my oldest came into the room with a project he was working on wanting my help.  I asked if we could work on it later, and asked if he wanted to join me in watching the movie.  He politely said “no thanks” and turned to leave the room.

I hit “stop” on the movie and sat up.  “Come back – let’s put it together.”  This was my response to a fear.  Despite my tiredness, my son wanted to do something with me.  There will undoubtedly be a time in the future when I will long for this kind of an invitation.  I don’t want to look back on this 15 minute moment of my life with regret.  It concluded with a big “thank you, Daddy,” making the fatigue worth the effort several times over.

I heard about the obituary of Christopher Robin Milne on the radio.  This is the famed Christopher Robin of Winnie the Pooh fame.  His father, A. A. Milne, authored the Winnie the Pooh books with his son as the human star of the stories.  The sad part of the story is that, according to Christopher Robin, his father focused so much on publishing his books for the amusement and love of the masses of children, that he felt neglected by his own father.  He carried this sentiment the rest of his life, and wrote about it in his own autobiographical works.

Sometimes we can be focused, attentive, and intentional, but on the wrong goals.

One antidote: intentional prayer.

Pray without ceasing.  – 1 Thessalonians 5:17


1 Response to “Intention: are you paying attention?”

  1. 1 Jason Bengel March 24, 2013 at 9:21 PM

    I just had a flashback of DESQview and QEMM. Wow!

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