Most of us have a lot going on in our day. My wife, a congregational minister, usually leaves home a little after 8am and is not back until after 6 pm, later if there is a meeting of the Board or some other group. Even me – for the next couple of months I shall be on the road at least once, if not twice, most weeks. And we are far from unique – and we don’t currently have any children or grandchildren living with us!
Even with David Allen, Getting Things Done, and very large fridge doors with multi-coloured markers things can still be difficult to track. This is especially true for Christians because, in addition to all the busyness, we believe that God is also at work in the world and our lives.
What if that’s true? Might not God and God’s possibly life-transforming efforts be worth some attention?
In the VST Studio for Strategic Leadership we name Paying Attention as one of the basic leadership skills. Sounds as easy has hitting a baseball with a bat – until the ball comes flying towards you at 100 mph.
But how does one pay attention on a regular basis.
This cluster of practices has proved helpful to me in trying to keep my heart, head and soul straight, especially during those days when I only seem to have time for the immediate and urgent, although not ultimately important things.
1. This first practice is a direct rip off of Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages.
“Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages– they are not high art. They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind– and they are for your eyes only.”
In other words, just write 3 pages, stream of consciousness. Once I got into the practice I found that it became more of a conversation rather than just a dump or a rant. Ask questions, dare to write an answer (before you can censor it!).
Ben Campbell Johnson names other versions of the practice, e.g. contemplative listening, but try any permutation as long as it works for you
2. Try and approach the day with a sense of expectation. Not expectation in the sense of “I wonder what crap is coming down today” but “I wonder what opportunities, possibilities, blessings, may emerge today.” My goal is to try and develop the same sense of attentiveness to what God may be offering as I might if I absolutely knew someone wanted to give me $5 million today if I just recognized and greeted them when they approached.
3. Ben Campbell Johnson has a practice that I’m trying to incorporate into my repertoire. If I understand it, it is quite simply recalling oneself to the present. “Come to the present” – helpful when I realize that I have time-shifted into anxiety about the future or remorse/guilt/plotting revenge about the past. Just say the words, “come to the present.”
4. Conclude the day with the ancient and Oprah endorsed practice of a Gratitude Journal. Name 3 things for which you are grateful this day. Some days it may only be “I am grateful I didn’t explode at that awful church meeting!” said 3 times but you get the drift.
A friend has said that the morning practice alone has dramatically affected her life more than any other thing she has done in recent memory – other than having children. It not only helps her pay attention but, in her language, has profoundly shifted how she “holds people” in her heart.
In trying to build a new rhythm to the day I find these help.