If you think you can't do it, you're right.
What's important? I've been asking myself that a lot lately. What is important to me and what am I doing with it? If being fully invested in present is important to me, where am I right now?
These questions weigh heavily on my mind after an unusually varied week, full of everything from writing, to answering an a high volume of emails, to strolling and running through a state forest, to completing freelance web development projects, to playing with my nephew and helping my brother-in-law fix home wiring issues (and getting electrocuted in the process; there's no room for pride in science).
The question of importance is inevitable when the demand on our attention (whether from others or from ourselves) exceeds what is available to us. But there really are no excuses to misdirected focus. As I wrote in my latest essay, our system of keeping time doesn't determine when we act; we determine when we act.
The concept of time is a subject I could talk about for hours. I could run circles around what it is and what it isn't, why it matters and why it doesn't. But one fact remains: I will die.
This physical body will eventually break down and stop functioning; it will eventually cease to act as a vehicle for life. My true self may be timeless and limitless, but this physical body definitely has limitations; its lifespan is restricted by the framework we call time.
How we spend our time and energy within those limitations is influenced by what is, or what isn't, important to us. We can take a reactionary approach to life and simply spend our time doing whatever calls our attention, or we can take a proactive approach and decide where that energy will be focused.
In reflecting on this for the past two weeks, I've found myself spending less time paying attention to my phone; less time checking and answering emails; less time on social media; less time worrying about how to respond to this person or that person; less time wondering what's next or where I should focus my energy tomorrow; less time reading; less time writing.
I find myself spending less time and conserving more.
Things that are not present don't receive as much attention because that attention is being redirected here, where I can be present. Instead of volunteering my time and attention to long elaborate email responses, never-ending to-do lists, phone calls, people, projects, and goals, I find myself reserving that precious commodity for here, right now.
I find myself holding depth in conversation as something worthy of great respect, an outpouring of energy that cannot simply be dumped into every email, comment, and conversation, but rather something that is reserved for special occasions where some passionate voice inside becomes inflamed and pushes that pent up reservoir over the edge.
A few days ago I began my morning playing with my nephew. When I'm visiting my parents I usually play for a minute or two before rushing off to start working on my laptop, catching up with emails, figuring out what project I need to complete for that day, and otherwise "spending my time and energy" doing whatever I think needs to be done.
About two minutes into playing with my nephew, I felt the pull of "this other stuff"; it was stronger than usual. I had stuff to do, things to finish. The morning was already getting late and there was so much to get done.
Instead of giving into this pull, I allowed myself to feel overwhelmed, to "fill up" with this sudden self-imposed surge of demand on my attention; I resisted the urge to get up and go (with lots of help from my 2-year-old nephew).
Instead of getting up and going, I got down on my hands and knees; my nephew climbed on my back.
Then the reservoir tipped.
Wrapping his arms around my neck, he tried to stay on my back as I marched around the room like a wild horse. Laugher spilled from the both of us as he repeatedly slipped off and then jumped back on.
This went on for more than 15 minutes until both of us were exhausted from laugher.
There will always be other stuff to do, people to meet, conversations to be had, stuff to learn, places to experience, work to be done.
But there will only be one now.
We need to be fully invested in that, in the present. Instead of letting it wander aimlessly, we need to bring our mind home.
What's here in this moment is gone in the next and unless we decide to experience life from that perspective, the perspective of the present, we cannot live a whole life.
We can invest in the future and even in the past, but we need to invest that energy carefully and with intent. Unless most of our energy is being invested in the present, where are we really?
I'm going to practice expending less energy in areas where energy easily dissipates. I'm going to practice more proactive conservation and focus, less reactionary and aimless expenditure. More here, less there; more now, less then.
The past and the future do not really exist; what exists is now.
If you set the wrong intention, you'll feel like you're going somewhere without actually going very far. Setting the wrong intention leads to unsustainable effort.
Without the right intention we won't be able to set the right priorities, and without the right priorities effort will be made in all the wrong places.
It's the reason why so many people set the intention to get in shape every year only to return to their old lifestyles within a few weeks or months.
It wasn't a lack of effort or inability to commit that eventually turned them away from getting in shape. It was that getting in shape was the wrong intention and as a result they set the wrong priorities. The thing they felt was so important quickly became not important enough.
Often something that we consider important becomes not important enough because we set the wrong intention. (It's not "get in shape" that we should be focusing on, but rather "change my lifestyle".)
Changing your lifestyle takes a bit more work than signing up for a gym membership, but that's why the former often results in transformation while the latter results in wasted time and money.
If we set the right intention, we'll set the right priorities and our time and effort will propel us towards our goals. But how do we set the right intention? I believe it starts with taking a look at the bigger picture and understanding the why. Why is this important to us?
An oak tree may produce thousands of acorns before a single seed finds fertile soil. It may live for two hundred years producing acorns and waiting for random chance to carry one seed to germination.
Each acorn contains the potential of an entire oak tree along with thousands of more acorns. All that's missing from each acorn is an intelligent force of cultivation.
We possess the gift of cultivation. We possess the ability to plant a single seed with intention, tilling its soil and carefully nurturing it to maturity.
This is our human gift, the gift of cultivation. When we plant seeds, how much isn't nearly as important as the focus of our intent.
It's not how hard we work, but rather how our work helps others.
It's not how much money we make, but rather how that money is spent.
It's not the length of our exercise routine, but rather the intensity of each exercise.
It's not the volume of our experiences, but rather what we learn from each one.
It's not how many words we publish, but rather the intent behind those words.
It's not how much time we have, but rather what we do with each moment.
Increasing volume will not increase our potential to cultivate. We don't need to wait for chance to plant roots and grow; our goals and dreams will spout when they're cultivated. Focus on the quality and cultivation of each action and leave volume to the trees.