The Value of Attentiveness

The age of Vespasian [9AD-79AD], for example. People doing exactly the same things: marrying, raising children, getting sick, dying, waging war, throwing parties, doing business, farming, flattering, boasting, distrusting, plotting, hoping others will die, complaining about their own lives, falling in love, putting way money, seeking high office and power.

And that life they led is nowhere to be found.

Or the age of Trajan [53AD-117AD]. The exact same things. And that life too – gone.

Survey the records of the other eras. And see how many others gave their all and soon died and decomposed into the elements that formed them.

But most of all, run through the list of those you knew yourself. Those who worked in vain, who failed to do what they should have – what they should have remained fixed on and found satisfaction in.

A key point to bear in mind: The value of attentiveness varies in proportion to its object. You’re better off not giving the small things more time than they deserve.” – Marcus Aurelius

The undue concern for trivial matters undoes more men than just about any other misapplication of his soul’s desire. In so doing he confuses the intricacies of the important matters in life with the endless array of small, but inconsequential distractions that can, if he is not careful, consume his attention.

Herein lies the double meaning to the phrase: “The devil is in the details.” The failure to handle the significant details with proper dignity and proportion will leave even well-meaning men joyless. Likewise, willfully or unintentionally narrowing your attention to that which is beside the point will invariably lead to a dead end in living.

Where a man places his attention, where he focused the force of his soul’s desire, does more to define him than just about any other activity he might undertake.

7 thoughts on “The Value of Attentiveness

  1. Zach

    This is an immensely important point. While we might have all the energy and power in the world, we only have so much time. The ability to prioritize is paramount, as there are many things that call our attention in every moment.

    There are a multitude of places that you could be, and things that you could be doing. If you can honestly answer and be satisfied with what you are doing right now, with an eye on what you are going to do tomorrow, you are on the right track.


  2. Joshua

    The need in this day is a resounding answer to the call of the ages,
    “Our precious gift of life, will not be wasted! We will do what it takes to let Thy will not our be done, here and now, because we recognize, and have learned from past failures, and are ever thankful for the opportunity to correct them. Let this age be one to be remembered, for its abundance of courage and strength, an age that opened the way, because there were men and women who let their hearts be drawn up in Love with the Truth!!!!!!!!!”


  3. David R

    The ability to alter perspective, to focus quickly on either the tiny detail at hand or on the large landscape of living, is so crucial, and unfortunately so unusual. Lofty concerns that ignore detailed opportunity become disconnected and irrelevant, but losing oneself in detail and being pushed around by inconsequential minutia will likewise neutralize one’s life. How refreshing to recognize the shifting balance of concern, to be specific without losing overall perspective. On this basis we become genuine connecting links, binding the core of meaning and significance to all that we do.


  4. Chuck Reddick

    The sharing of Marcus Aurelius with us has been much appreciated Gregg, and this quote from him has perhaps more meaning than most, at least to me personally. Having spent a good portion of my early life chasing and trying to accomplish somebody else’s goals has and is a useless exercise, and frankly causes one to be exactly who is described by Mr. Aurelius. There are a couple of ways to avoid this trap: 1)live in each moment and allow that moment to have some purpose, 2)identify your own unique Purpose in Life and honor it in all moments, and 3)don’t be so consumed with the end result but instead enjoy participating in this moment and trust that the outcome will be what it should be. Interestingly enough I have discovered that often if not usually the outcome will far exceed what it was when one was consumed with the end result.


  5. Joy

    The fact that through your post we are able to read and appreciate the words of Marcus Aurelius gives indication of one of the few who sought to live a life of true meaning, of one who was obviously not distracted by minutia. Your blog provides such a wonderful daily opportunity to evaluate one’s own life and continually upgrade so that (as Coco said) we can make our existence count to the creator.


  6. Ricardo B.

    I feel that in today’s world, what’s more important than ever, is the need to cultivate a system of values that has in its center a bedrock of virtues. This tremendous power of attention we all carry needs an anchor to stabilize its incredible capacity to move in any number of directions. I say this because of the obvious challenge we all face today, that I’ve faced numerous times and continue to do so, which is to find what truly is important in life, in the life you live, and center your concern there. Without a stable bedrock of virtue, the attention wanders like a craft in a turbulent sea without any trajectory. Desires are not enough I feel, for they’ll get you started in one direction, but desires are finicky and temperamental, and surely enough another one always comes along and causes you to wander off some other place.

    One great understanding I’ve come to learn, probably the biggest blessing for me, is this cultivation of values in virtue. I can easily see that my life could go down a path of misguided attention, or how is it said today – ‘attention deficit’? The soul has the power to submit the life to a life of nobility, understanding and wisdom. What one has to do, daily, is exert the force of the attention into what is real and valuable, not giving in to the fashions and customs of the day, those are not in agreement. A life of principle no less.


  7. Coco

    Terrific post! The popular celebrity question; “If it were possible, what would your mature self go back and tell your young self ?” The answer almost always has something to do with this very point. What we give our lives to becomes the sum of it. This is why identifying your purpose for being here is a crucial endeavor. It can be our North Star as we navigate through the endless details and distractions that are contained in each life. We can make our existence count to the Creator.


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