You Are What You Pay Attention To

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​I like to think of our innermost essence as a blank canvas. It’s the part of us that lies underneath everything we see, say, think, feel, or do. Meditation teachers call this basic nature awareness. Scientists call it consciousness.

It’s important that we connect with our canvas regularly. Without doing so, it’s near impossible to separate ourselves from everything that is happening always. We get caught up in the whirlwind of daily life and find ourselves reacting to everything, instead of more thoughtfully responding.

Meditation, reflection, therapy, intimate relationships, contemplation, coaching, and time in nature are just a few ways to get in touch with your canvas. All of these practices help you create some space between what’s deep down inside of you and everything else, or what a meditation teacher I know calls the “content” that is constantly thrown at your canvas.

But that doesn’t mean the content doesn’t matter. Unless you spend hours and hours a day in silence, the majority of life is being in the thick of the content. And while we can use the above practices to create some space between our innermost nature and all that content, it’s also true that all that content shapes our innermost nature, or at least our expression of it.

In many ways, we are what we pay attention to. The things that we work on also work on us. There is no such thing as “passive” consumption. Everything we take in has an effect on the taker-inner, on us. Our attention is perhaps the most precious resource there is. We need to use it as skillfully as we can.

Whenever you are actively focusing on something ask yourself: “Is this what I want to become?” If the answer is “no,” it’s probably best to spend your attention elsewhere. Same goes for deciding whether or not to take on new projects, hang out with new people, etc., etc.

Are there exceptions? Of course. The problem becomes when suddenly everything is an exception. Most readers of this newsletter have plenty of agency, more than you may think. Every time you pick up the remote, choose a book to read, open your internet browser, or make social commitments, you are cultivating a future version of yourself. And you’ve got some choice in the matter.

What seeds do you want to plant? How are you going to water them?

— Brad

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