What We Pay Attention to Grows
I’ve had this piece in my head all week for three reasons.
The article truly speaks to the moment we are in. I can’t tell you how often folks are telling me that they’re “hanging in there” lately. People are still struggling, seeking, and searching even as things are looking a little up.
Unique to other pieces by social scientists, it offers a few feasible solutions at the end, one of which I want to focus on this week.
It pairs beautifully with a teaching from the Torah portion this week.
First, the solution. In the piece, Arthur C. Brooks argues that one way we try to find more stable satisfaction and happiness in life is “getting smaller.” He breaks this down as a practice less driven by getting rid of stuff and more about paying attention to small things and really being present for them. Riffing off of the recently deceased, Thic Nhat Hanh, when you’re washing the dishes, just be washing the dishes. Every day he says, have an item on your to-do list that involves being truly present for an ordinary occurrence. You never know what it might teach you.
This spoke deeply to me. I have been described by someone who I really love (Hi, Lauren!) as sometimes having “Tasmanian devil” energy when I am feeling stressed. I am not fully there nor do I am make others feel like they are seen.
The idea of trying to be fully and intentionally present seems actionable for me. In small doses, that is how you can develop the practice: dish washing, walking, writing. You choose.
It piqued my interest when I saw a similar theme run through the Torah this week. In Exodus 27:20, Moses is commanded to command the people to perform a specific ritual of bringing olive oil to light the lamps. Interestingly though, the other commandments regarding the menorah are not here. So why is this being placed here is a question asked by the Alshich Hakadosh.
The Alshich argues that Moses is sad at all that he sees around him. He sees everyone else getting to do stuff and wonders what his role will be. He’s “hanging in there.” God comes to assuage this feeling by saying this whole thing could only happen, all the building, all the lighting, all the ceremony because of your role Moses.
As through this, they will be effective in lighting the permanent lamp - as will be explained - to bring them light for the world to come. However without you, they would not have merited this.
Look around yourself, Moses. Pay attention to the little things that are happening. Could any of them really take place without your hand?
Sometimes when we’re working at something for so long, we forget about all the little things that got us there-all of those building blocks that we had a hand in. We feel adrift. We feel that dissatisfaction. We’re just hanging in there.
And here, God reminds Moses to actually look around and pay attention to the myriad ways that Moses has performed greatness. From that shift in focus, our whole perspective has the potential to change. Remember your value by noticing the little things around you that attest to all that you have done, both to yourself and to others.
Moses was like us too in feeling this struggle. But we can be reminded like Moses was, to be in the moment. Pay attention. As poet Adrienne Maree Brown writes, “what we pay attention to grows,” our selves included.
Shabbat Shalom and Happy Weekend, y’all!
Moshe Alshich, Kabbalist, Israel, 16th and 17th centuries, Tzfat, Israel.