But I’m too Poor to Pay Attention!
Last time we discussed the phenomenon that “nobody has time to meditate” these days (CLICK HERE). Life is too fast-paced and fragmented! All the digital distractions, work, and life responsibilities keep us ‘on demand’ all the time. We’re plugged in (even if wireless), turned on, and always in motion.
There are numerous benefits of ‘slowing down to the speed of life.’ What I’m referring to here is not the “life” that we’re swept into and are duped into believing is a life. I’m talking about a “real life,” one that is vibrant and thriving, not just surviving. Living a life that is intentional and pulsing. How do we get there? If we use digital devices (and I imagine you are reading this on one) it is very challenging to slow down and ‘smell the roses.’ Considering our lifestyle and environment, and the pressure to participate in the high-speed pace, we need to intentionally devote specific times for this deceleration. Mel Robbins, the motivational speaker says, “You are not an on-demand service. You don’t have to be available all the time.”
Being in a constant state of motion (mentally or physically) prevents us from living in the moment and enjoying the now. It’s as if we’re always on the outside of our experience, or even worse, as I tell my clients and students, “we’re swimming with our eyes closed, banging into the walls.” We are inattentive to what is going on in the here and now. Getting stuck on the “machshova merry-go-round” (as we discussed HERE) we miss what is going on around us. As we mentioned last time, this practice of paying attention, intentionally and in the moment, does not need to be a formal, sitting meditation or exercise. By setting aside any time to live more presently and in the moment, we can bring ourselves to a greater presence of mind and the ability to become more self-regulated.
So, probably the most important skill to practice is the skill of paying attention. As William James, the father of Functional Psychology said, “The faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention, over and over again, is the very root of judgment, character, and will…An education which should improve this faculty would be the education par excellence.” Jon Kabat-Zinn, who developed the MBSR program and Massachusetts General said, “Dis-attention, leads to disconnection, leads to dysregulation, leads to disease, leads to death.” He knows since he developed programs to help cardiac patients in their recovery.
Bottom line, we cannot be “too poor to pay attention.” Even if we just “tweak it up” by paying attention to small things repeatedly throughout the day such as sensations, behaviors, and experiences, we will eventually come to a more settled state of mind. Then we will be able to live IN the experience with greater calm, ease and presence. Although, most of the concepts I discuss in this blog are from the end of the 20th Century, and the beginning of the 21st, they have been known by the Torah, much longer. Here’s what the Rambam from the 12th and 13th Century in his famous work, Shemona P’rakim said, “You should know that these emotional qualities and personality traits flaws that don’t settle other than through repeating the behaviors many times and over a long duration and by becoming accustomed. If they are good behaviors, what will result will be either an enhancement or a diminution.” Maimonides knew about the neuroplastic effect of repetition, way before neuroscience was a glimmer in scientists’ minds. Let us all trust the great potential for growth from the process of intentional, continuous, repeated efforts. Even if they are small, “slow and steady wins the race!”
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[…] When I work with my clients and friends, it is increasingly obvious that because of our continuous digital connectedness (and especially recently during Covid) we are more “disconnected.” Our “social distancing” has been detrimental to true interpersonal connectivity. Additionally, in many other areas, people are having a hard time staying “connected.” We’re all having difficulties with paying attention and staying on task. You may recall in various articles, we talk about the meditative skill of coming back to the present moment. I call this ability, “the meditative motion of the mind.” […]