Pay Attention

How many times have you heard that in your life?

“Pay attention!”

The problem is, most of us where never taught HOW to pay attention. Most teacheres and partents – most people in general – assume that paying attention is a natural skill that we all have the ability to just ‘do’ on command.

And we all do have the ability to increase our attention. But we have to work at it. It’s not something that comes naturally to most.

In his book, Buddhism Without Beliefs, Stephen Batchelor writes:

I open the refrigerator to discover that I have no milk and so decide to go down to the store to get some. I shut the door behind me, turn left into the street, follow the sidewalk for two blocks, turn left and left again, enter the store, snatch a carton of milk from the shelf, pay for it at the checkout, leave the store, turn right and right again, go back along the sidewalk for two blocks, turn right, unlock the door, and go back into the kitchen.

The only evidence I have that any of this has happened is the cold carton of milk now clutched rather too firmly in my hand.

As I try to reconstruct those ten vanished minutes, I recall being engrossed in a memory of something S said to me yesterday that I have been shrugging off ever since. It irked me and has become lodged as a stab of disquiet somewhere in the upper part of my stomach, I can remember that as I walked along, I was absorbed in. what I should have said when the remark was made and what I would say were it repeated. The exact words of my response escape me. But I recall feeling gratified by their sharp blend of insouciance and cruelty, confirmed, in my imagination, by the look of fear on S’s face as he is pinned to a rough wooden floor.

Much of our time is spent like this. As we become aware of it we begin to suspect that we are not entirely in control of our lives. Much of the time we are driven by a relentless and insistent surge of impulses. We notice this in quiet moments of reflection, but usually just get carried along on the crest of its wave. Until, that is, we crash once more onto the rocks of recriminatory self-consciousness, and from there into moods and depressions.

Indeed, so many of us go through our day, mindlessly carrying out tasks while our minds are reconstructing the past or projecting into the future.

What if, when we recognize that we are doing this, we stopped? What if we made a decision to stop living in the and stop worrying about the future and bring our attention, our awareness to present moment?

To the person you are sitting with.

To the feel of the breeze.

To the physical sensations brought about by the task you are performing.

To the beauty and joy you can find in this present moment.

It’s not easy, but doing this does provide a path toward mindful living – living each day – each moment – paying attention, on purpose, to the present moment.

It all begins with recognizing that your mind has drifted. As Batchelor says,

One of the most difficult things to remember is to remember to remember. Awareness begins with remembering what we tend to forget.

This is how we train ourselves to pay attention.

Awareness begins when you remember that you’ve forgot to be present in this moment. Just bring your attention back, and repeat.


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