Attention, Please

October 04, 2013

Have you ever driven somewhere and found once you arrived you couldn’t remember how you got there? Lately, it seems like I feel that way at the end of the day, too. I’ve arrived at evening, but I couldn’t tell you how I got there. I know I’ve been busy all day, but I couldn’t tell you exactly what it was I’d done. This is no way to live a life of simple pleasures and everyday adventure.

Why am I so oblivious to my own life? Several reasons, actually. Despite repeated efforts to stop already, I still equate being busy with being productive so I rush around trying to pack more into every day. I also tend to live in my head, mulling things over, projecting and obsessing, even while rushing around. And there’s this: I resist being present because I find too much stimulation overwhelming and if I paid attention to every thought and feeling, I’d have a nervous breakdown.

So what am I doing instead of really being there? I’m:
  • Thinking of the next thing I have to do, rather than the thing I’m doing.
  •  Remembering a mistake or embarrassing moment. (My mind is helpful like that.)
  • Daydreaming about how I wish things were.
  • Worrying about the future.

Useful, right? I know I’m not the only one facing these challenges. The good thing is that improving my level of attention to my own life doesn’t require anything expensive or difficult. Just a few behavioral tweaks to bring myself back to mindfulness, starting with scheduling fewer to-dos (but making them of more importance to me), creating buffer zones of time around each activity, and pausing several times a day, just for a moment to take a deep breath and check in with my body and my mind. (Happify has an exercise called the Body Scan Meditation that I’ve been actively avoiding—maybe it’s time?) I’ve even started writing haiku several afternoons each week, focusing each one to reflect the moment I’m in. (They’re pretty terrible, but reading back through them I get  a clear image of where I was and what I was feeling when I wrote them.)  None of these strategies is new (except maybe writing haiku)—I just have to do them instead of just talk about them.

I don’t know if it’s possible to stay 100 percent “in the moment”—or even if I want to. (Daydreaming is fun and I enjoy it!) But I do know I want to spend more time paying attention, not missing my life.

How do you pay attention to your life?

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  1. Thank you for sharing so beautifully. I'm getting better about all this but it takes constant practice. What works for me is writing Daily Pages in a journal every morning (à la The Artist's Way), reviewing the previous day & planning for the current, noting the present. Some of the stuff is I'm sure could be considered mundane, but I've come to embrace it as part of my daily life.

  2. PS I'm going to try your Haiku idea, thank you!!

  3. Rita--You're right, it does take constant practice.

    I do morning pages, too, most days. Helps to keep the trivia and the to-dos from completely overwhelming me!

    Hope you enjoy writing the haiku--it's fun, and not too hard if you don't plan to show them to anyone! :)