What deserves our time and energy?

“Be disciplined about what you respond and react to. Not everyone or everything deserves your time, energy and attention. Stay in your light.”

– Author unknown
This bench at Brumley Nature Preserve is a place to reflect on what’s important in life.

These days it’s too easy to get distracted.

Just one look at your smartphone and suddenly you’re headed down the Internet rabbit hole. Notifications tempt you to check your social media accounts, emails, news feeds, and text messages. Oh, and then there are the games to distract you from all the other distractions coming at you by the screen-loads.

So, how can you know what deserves your time and attention? There are cultural influences that seem to dictate some necessary focus on things like work, family, church, friends, making a living, paying bills. The list could go on, and some of those things may truly deserve your attention. But how do you choose? How do you know what is really most important and deserving of your time, energy, and consideration?

As a seeker searching for a simple, meaningful, mindful life, I am still learning to be more disciplined about the things I respond and react to. I’ve succeeded partly by eliminating some of the content that I see. I have deleted most of my social media accounts, changed my phone habits, and practiced mindfulness more often. Setting morning and evening rituals that include quiet breathing and reflection time have helped, too. Those old habits creep back in, though, and make it necessary to once again pay closer attention and be more discerning about how I spend my time and what deserves my attention.

I decided to devise a bit of a litmus test for choosing what and who deserves my attention. Here are my criteria:

  • lift my spirits
  • strengthen my ability to love
  • invoke compassion
  • lead to truth
  • encourage creativity
  • support my health
  • benefit other living beings
  • remind me I’m a very small part of a much grander universe

People and activities that meet these criteria are what helps me stay in my light. For someone too easily drawn toward darkness, my litmus test steers me to focus my time and energy on people and things that brighten my world and enable me to help make the world a better place for other living beings.

A few days ago, from my rain-soaked apartment window, I watched a red-bellied woodpecker excavating a nesting cavity in an old snag – repeatedly entering the hole, tapping around with its beak, and flinging sawdust out of the old tree. As soon as I discovered this bird, I smiled, relaxed, and marveled at its diligence, beauty, focus, and skill. Spending 20 minutes witnessing this woodpecker in action reminded me that I share a home with many other living beings, invoking compassion, deepening my love for this earth and its inhabitants, lifting my spirits, and encouraging me to add its story to this one. Yes, that little bird was worth my time and attention.

A shaky video of the red-bellied woodpecker excavating a cavity

Last week we helped my parents prepare their house for a carpet-cleaning, then leaving the carpets to dry, we took them for a drive in the country, listening to them tell stories about the history of the area and showing them some new places they hadn’t seen before, taking them to lunch at a local farm-to-table restaurant, and stopping by an old-fashioned soda shoppe for ice cream and milk shakes on the way home. In every way that experience and spending time with them was worth my time, energy, and attention.

Not surprisingly, many of the things (and people) that pass my litmus test are connected to nature, to the land, to the wild things and places on this earth – taking a hike, studying the structure of a flower, listening to the trees, sharing my love of a wetland with others, writing about places that inspire me, getting to know my local farmers, working or volunteering for a conservation organization.

CREW Marsh – Photo copyright Deb Hanson

This is the story of my life well-lived…connecting to people and places through the plants and animals, soils and watersheds, sunshine and rain on which we all depend. These are the things that I know deserve my energy, my attention, my time.

American kestrel

Life is short, and distractions from the things that really matter to you is time wasted. Who can afford to give up their precious limited life-minutes by getting sidetracked with negativity or trivial minutiae? Living my best life means choosing carefully what I react and respond to, being mindful of each moment’s opportunities. It’s always a work in progress.

What deserves your time, energy, and attention? What’s your litmus test? How do you stay in your light?


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