I seem to have very little free attention. I feel that I am easily overwhelmed by the requirements of everyday life, that I just can’t keep up. This affects me on the job and also my work with the group.
Have you examined your tendency to accumulate? Do you understand how much it costs you?
Attention itself is not limited but our capacity for it is. Attention is a form of energy that quickens our life but it is also wears out the nervous system and tires the body, forcing us to rest. It follows that attention needs to be conserved and used wisely. But this is the last thing we consider. We waste attention on a vast scale. And here I would say that accumulation is the biggest problem, a problem that is glaringly obvious but nonetheless hidden from us.
Consider your possessions. How many of them are actually needed for use in the next several days? Would it not be a very small percentage? You buy things in quantity when they are on sale. You keep things that might be useful someday. You buy food for the next week, assuming you know what you will need or want in the future. Every item you take into your possession has a little bit of your attention on it. You are connected to each of them, even if you are not conscious of it. Each item takes up space. Do you appreciate how restful it is for the mind, how restorative it is for your attention, when the room is nearly empty?
Storing things up for the future is not always a mistake. But how much of this do you do? Do you forget what you have and acquire more? Perhaps you need to keep track of it, store it correctly and keep an inventory? That means committing more attention to things.
Then there are all those precious little mementos and keep sakes to remind you of the past, gifts from friends and family, post cards from the dead, photos of home. Perhaps you can afford some of these items. How many? Will your present relationships suffer from inattention?
You may respond that you keep things because they are beautiful. If you frequently experience their beauty, perhaps some of these items are good to have around. What about keep sakes, would your life actually be poorer without them? No doubt it is nostalgic to engage with them from time to time. Perhaps you think it is your obligation to remember your ancestors. Maybe it helps them in the next life. How much are you willing to pay for this?
Memories take attention too, without the intermediation of objects. Most of us accumulate memories. We repeat them over and over so that we can remember them. Or you can pull out the photos of that glorious holiday in Spain. All of this takes attention while also reinforcing personal identities.
If you know what it means to voluntarize your attention, you can begin to take attention back from the places where you have involuntarily left it and re-enter the present. You could begin to simplify your life through a process of de-accumulation. This is what the second phase of your life could look like. Releasing the past, relinquishing your stuff, so that you free your attention for work on self. Also, your family and friends will be spared the dreadful burden of dealing with your stuff when you die. They have enough of their own stuff, as do we all.