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Paying attention

I’ve been listening to How to Do Nothing, Resisting the Attention Economy, by Jenny Odell. Instead of paying attention to the latest click-bate headlines, likes, shares, and memes, Jenny Odell invites us to pay attention to the land, to birds, to our inner lives, and to cultivate practices that

reveal (that allow us to pay attention to) the blind spots we all have. The title of the book is misleading, in that Odell is not inviting us to actually do nothing. Rather, she is inviting us to embrace the discipline of really attending to what is in and around us. 

I’ve been listening to this book on my morning walks, and it’s helping me make sense of life right now. It’s less about seeing things – National Parks, historic sites, and beautiful trails. It’s more about being; being with my own discomfort, as we shift focus away from our careers, at least for the time being; it’s about being with our kids in new ways, working to minimize our reactivity to their triggering behavior while holding needed boundaries; it’s about being with Juliana in new ways, as we intentionally make time to connect, to play pickleball together, to parent together through the hard moments. 

We knew all of this before we left, of course, but as we’ve been traveling, I find myself regretting all that we’re not doing and seeing, thinking “But this is a once in a lifetime trip! We should be seeing this/that/the other!” But when I spend time with our youngest – who is happy on any beach, stream, playground, or any outdoor space, really – I am reminded that this trip is not so much about seeing, as it is about being. It’s about attending to the place we are, with the things of that place. This is what Jesse and I have been telling each other: “Any place can be magical, when you pay attention. Every place has secrets, treasures, and delights to share.” Being in a place, seeing what’s actually there.

For us, this time on the road is more challenging than my ministry at a large church, or Juliana’s work passing ideas into laws.  It’s challenging because in hard times- when the kids are fighting, things are breaking, the weather is bad and/or we don’t feel well, there is nowhere to turn.  We mostly don’t have the internet to turn to, or busy jobs, or another room to go to. We just have to keep turning toward ‘it’-  parenting, being a family, this life, being present in all its wonders and struggles – that is the challenge and joy.

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