“To pay attention is our endless and proper work.”
Yesterday in the Spirituality Group, we talked about the power of choices. Specifically, our power to make choices that help us to function better in the world. I wonder whether you've noticed, for instance, the conversation that goes on inside your head at any given moment of the day. We can get deeply into an imaginary world while doing whatever else we're doing. Let's say we're sorting through the mail that's come in over the weekend. Most of it is junk that doesn't require our attention. Instead, we're thinking about a conversation we had yesterday with so-and-so. What was said could be taken two ways. On the one hand, it could have been a compliment, but on the other, it could have been said sarcastically. I wonder why he doesn't like me. Maybe I said something that offended him. I wonder what he's saying to other people about me. They probably don't like me either. And so on. While this is going on, we feel our gut tighten, our breath shorten, and pretty soon we're an anxious mess—all from an imagined threat—something we've trumped up in our heads that doesn't even exist in the real world.
We have a choice in situations like this. We can take the position of an objective observer. First, pay attention to that endless conversation running in the mind, how it goes from thing to thing, topic to topic. One minute it's imagining danger, the next it's hungry for pizza, the next it's wondering what the neighbors are doing out in their yard. It is like a monkey swinging through the jungle trees. If we attach to any of it, our emotions change from dark to light, from happy to scared, and now that monkey is in control of our day.
But we have a choice; we can stop that. We can first of all acknowledge it—okay, here is goes, off and running. Then, we can refuse to go with it. We can simply not attach to any of it; let it run like a television or the radio in the background. Instead, we can focus on what we're doing. We can ground ourselves in the present moment, and if our attention wants to go back to the background noise, we can gently but firmly pull it back to what we are doing in the moment. Pay attention to this moment, focus on this moment, stay with this moment--this is a worthy practice. And that's what it takes—practice. We have the power to stop the monkey from dragging us through the highs and lows of imaginary circumstances simply by paying attention to what is right before our eyes, right now. We always have a choice.
In the Spirit,