August 27, 2015

“Attention is the purest form of generosity.” –Simone Weil

One of the things I feel like I know for sure about teaching is that what students want, almost more than they want anything else, is to be seen. Not as another teenage body in a chair, not as a type or known variable, not as a set of stories from teachers who’ve taught them before, not even as a set of strengths & weaknesses. They want to be seen, truly seen, for the more-than-the-sum-of-their-parts that they are, even they are simultaneously terrified of being seen this way, fully, all the way down to the bottom.

They, like all of us, long to be known. And attention is the beginning of knowing.


Sometimes I forget that attention can look a lot of different ways. As is often my tendency, I fall into the trap of thinking that I need to do attention the “right” way, or that if I can’t “fix” something, I shouldn’t even offer to help. But then I think about how attention gets paid to me: a colleague who heard I was at the doctor quietly checking in to see if everything was alright, Jill leaving a brand-new Carmex on my bedside when I had run out, Shiv noticing a Band-Aid on my toe and asking, “You hurt, Mama? You got a boo-boo? I kiss it.”

We think that attention is no big deal, but in a time when our attention is pulled daily, in a dozen different directions, when we struggle to pay attention to anything for more than twenty seconds at a time, real attention, true attentiveness, can be magic.

Magic like these counter-protesters, who showed up at Houston’s new Arabic Immersion School with signs and smiles to welcome children, the day after a dozen bigoted assholes had crashed the first day of school with their hatred and ignorance. What a powerful thing, to offer a different kind of attention. To say “We see you differently.” To say, “We see you for real.”

Of course, what we choose to pay attention to (or not to pay attention to) impacts us just as much. I have been trying to offer my attention to a more focused and limited number of people, projects, and concerns, to trim away those things that pulled my attention but didn’t offer me much in return. My hair no longer requires much attention from me, which is frankly so freeing that I wish I had shaved it all off sooner. My closet is filled only with clothes that fit me and that I enjoy wearing, which means a) fewer things in there and b) much less time spent managing wardrobe choices each morning. Our kitchen floor is never clean, but it’s clean enough. Our foyer still isn’t painted, still has the swatch of sample paint that I brushed into a square on one wall over a year ago, but you know what? It doesn’t need to be painted for me to welcome friends into my home, to light incense at the altar, or to play monsters/pirates/dinosaurs with my son. We cancelled our cable subscription. We say “no” to a lot of things, without feeling the need to offer some kind of reason. I leave much of the empty space on my calendar empty, which means that I have been able to do things like reach out and spend time with the friends whose attention does my heart good, to show up when a mom with an out-of-town spouse could use a couple hours of babysitting, or give a colleague in a tough situation a few hours of my listening. It means that when I come home from work, I can give my son my full attention, instead of my halfway. I can be present for and with my wife.

Of course, in order to give attention elsewhere, I have to give myself enough as well. There are three things that I know help me operate as smoothly as possible as a human being: meditation, exercise, and reading/writing. It may seem silly, but I’ve been using the Good Habits app for several months now, to track how often I’m doing each, and to hold myself accountable to the kind of “self-care” everyone seems to be buzzing about these days. In doing so, it’s become abundantly clear to me that my hardest, least-fun days are a direct result of me neglecting my own needs, and that it is really about making the time to meet those needs, not having the time. It all depends on what where we choose to give our attention.



This recipe was inspired by my friend, colleague, & kick-ass middle school History teacher, Lea. She, knowing that I adore cardamom and consider it the most majestic of all spices, mentioned that she had, this summer while in Boston, discovered a magical almond butter that contained both coconut & cardamom as well. Since said magical concoction is nowhere to be found down here in Houston and is not available for purchase online, when I saw a recipe for coconut-almond butter on Food52, I knew I had to try and see if I could replicate the good stuff that Lea spent the summer eating with a spoon.

Well, I think I did it, and I think I’ll be doing it again, because I’m somehow almost already through the first batch? You guys, if you are a fan of these flavors, you gotta make this stuff. IT IS MAGICALLY DELICIOUS. I love it on toast (with apple butter or sliced pear, as seen here) & swirled into oatmeal…I think it would also make some kick-ass cookies. And, provided you have a food processor, it’s really a snap to make.


2 cups raw almonds
1 cup unsweetened, shredded coconut
2-3 T coconut oil
2 ½ tsp. honey
1 tsp. ground cardamom (preferably freshly-ground)
A few pinches of sea salt

Toast the almonds first, in a 400° oven, on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Give them 8-10 minutes, until you can just smell them getting toasty and nutty. Pour them into a bowl immediately so they don’t get too dark.
On the same baking sheet, spread the coconut out and toast it for 2-3 minutes. It will get golden very quickly, so keep an eye on it. Pour the coconut into the same bowl as the almonds and let it all cool down before processing.

Add the sea salt to the almonds & coconut and process for 5-7 minutes, pausing to scrape down the sides every few minutes. You may find, like me, that your mixture is quite crumbly—if so, mix in softened coconut oil, one tablespoon at a time, until the desired consistency is reached. At the end of the mixing process, add in the honey and pulse just a few times to fully incorporate it.

Store in a sealed jar—mine has kept for a week with no problem, but if you’re going to keep the butter more long-term, stash it in the fridge—just know that it will get stiffer when it’s cold, and you may want to warm it up a bit before trying to spread it!



  1. Thank you for this. I needed this reminder. Will also check out the app.

    Not sure about the recipe though, as I only like coconut fresh off the tree, and not inserted and commingled with foods 🙂

    Comment by Lynne — August 27, 2015 @ 2:08 pm

  2. Lovely.

    I had missed the Chronicle story about the group of counter protesters. So happy to see that!

    Comment by Valerie — August 27, 2015 @ 4:16 pm

  3. I am glad to see you today! I will say that your dear readers have “missed your attention!”
    And Yes (!) to this butter.

    Comment by Pam — August 28, 2015 @ 4:53 pm

  4. dear nishta, i like everything about your article and it comes just at the right time for me. have been very sick these last few months and have found it increasingly difficult to give my attention to things that don`t really matter. what matters now to me is my son, my partner and for me to pay attention to my health, to be kind to myself and in doing so, paying attention to what is around me, what nourishes me and the ones i love. by the way, showed my 15-year-old son shiv, the dancing ninja- he loved the video just as much as i did. best from faraway berlin, anja

    Comment by anja — August 30, 2015 @ 10:31 am

  5. Lynne-I can respect you being a purist about coconut! Personally, I will take it any way I can get it…but, nothing beats fresh, I agree.

    Valerie-I know, right?? After seeing all of the ugliness on the first day of school, I was so pleased to know that lots of other citizens shared in our horror and showed up to counter the message. Very encouraging.

    Pam-That is so lovely to hear, thank you! I’m sorry to have been absent, and glad to be back to paying attention to a space that offers me so much, including the opportunity to connect with readers like you. Let me know if you try the butter…I’m almost out of my first batch. So good!

    anja-I’m so sorry to hear that you’ve been so ill. Having faced cancer with Jill, I understand how illness can sharpen one’s focus, and that itself is not such a bad thing. I love your set of priorities–thank you for sharing where things are with you these days, and I’m so glad the dancing ninja was a hit in your house 🙂 He certainly keeps things from being boring around here. Sending you much love xx

    Comment by Blue Jean Gourmet — August 30, 2015 @ 9:23 pm

  6. Loved this! Thank you for sharing Nishta! I’m so thankful my desire for that almond butter recipe brought me to your thoughts on slowing down and paying attention. This is something I am also stewing over, and it is encouraging to read about your journey. Hugs!

    Comment by Katie Harris — August 31, 2015 @ 8:15 am

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