attention

Any man who can drive safely while kissing a pretty girl is simply not giving the kiss the attention it deserves.  

(Albert Einstein)

As a teacher, I am well-acquainted with the terms of attention. I am first a magician who must mesmerize students with something that will keep their attention long enough to relay some information that is on my agenda. Then a salesperson who must demonstrate the value of acquiring attention as a beneficial life-long skill.  And finally an educator whose aim is to share a strong, passionate belief in the amazing power of attention.

But what can I say to students about the transformative power of attention in a world where they are constantly being called to attention and then shamed for not being able to pay attention long enough only to get an earful of seemingly useless information? To them, the word attention is loaded with expectation, compromise and perhaps even boredom.

 

The word “attend” means “to expect, wait for, pay attention,” and directly from Latin attendere “give heed to,” literally “to stretch toward”. 

 

With the intention of occasionally closing young mouths while not closing young minds, I begin each class with a few minutes of corporate silence as a way to ask my students, ‘in your actions and your words, to what are you attending? Stretching your mind toward? In this moment, what are you expecting?

The practice of intentional stillness and silence is a struggle for most of them but a welcome break for others.

 

After the silence, I ask:

  • Are you fixating on the details in the fabric? 
  • Measuring each moment with a hyper-vigilant awareness? 
  • Stretching your mind to some perceived perfect place? 
  • Or is your mind an aimless wanderer on a journey to nowhere? 
  • Or have you not even noticed where your attention has settled? 
  • Or quite possibly, are you not able to name the several dozen places your attention has quickly travelled before I have finished asking the question?

 

While there is no right answer to these questions, there is space for students to become of aware of their intuitive or learned style of attention.  And the impact of it.

With the intention of reducing the weightiness of paying attention, what about replacing the word ‘attention’ with observe? Or notice? And with learning to sit with experience with less scrutiny and more openness to what is?

Teachers and parents, can we take some of the weight off the word ‘attention’, add the invitation to observe and notice instead and see if it transforms the ability of our children to be present?  Let’s encourage them to genuinely and gently notice their world as opposed to mentally documenting it, passively disengaging or restless running from what is in front of them.  And more importantly, can we model that for them?

 

 

You can become blind by seeing each day as a similar one. Each day is a different one, each day brings a miracle of its own. It’s just a matter of paying attention to this miracle. (Paulo Coelho)

 

 

 

the reluctant coach

Once upon a time in a land far, far away, I was sitting on a bench in a playground watching my two pre-school sons navigate the jungle gym with a raw, adventurous curiosity that only children who have not yet been formally educated can have.

But since I’d had almost two decades of formal education by that point in my life most of my curious wonderings were tucked firmly away in deep, dusty pockets of parental responsibility, exhaustion and occasional bouts of generalized cynicism.

Feeling protective of my precious pseudo-solitude on the bench when my boys weren’t needing me to wipe something, tie something or solve some emotional upheaval between them, I’m sure I let out an audible sigh when a father and his young daughter wandered into the playground.

playground

With no energy to make small talk, I kept my gaze in the direction of my playing boys taking full advantage of that spacey, far-off look I get when tiredness gets in the driver’s seat of my attention. A stolen sideways glance at the father revealed the slump-shouldered look of a man who likely had even less energy for conversation than I did.  For that, I was grateful.

He mumbled some sort of greeting as he sat down on the bench next to me and for a few sacred moments there was an easy silence that was broken only by our infrequent individual interaction with our children.  But then I heard his audible sigh revealing that he was not as much at ease as I had assumed and apparently felt a obligation to begin a conversation.

“Do you live around here?”

From there, we rode the merry-go-round of pleasantries for a few minutes and then he asked what my then-husband did for a living.  I caught myself hesitating to respond.  Turning to do a visual check of my boys’ whereabouts, I did my best to put on an air of casualness.

“He’s a…ummm…he’s a motivational speaker”.

Clearly unimpressed, he grunted loudly.  “A motivational speaker?  Humph….what does he go on about?”

I stifled my own laughter as I tried feebly conjure up the words to defend my husband’s choice of life’s work to this stranger who clearly thought the whole thing was a load of bunk.   But, in fact, I had struggled to “get“ the idea of my ex’s line of work for a long time.  Yes, I know he was helping others towards a new level of self-development and encouraging them to discover transforming moments in their lives.  He was sincere, he was gifted and what he did was important.  Clearly.  But was it work?

According to the Gospel of My Inner Script, work had always meant hard labour whether that be manual, mental, emotional or spiritual.  It meant getting tired.  Even exhausted.  It meant not taking vacations.  And it mostly meant people commenting on the unbelievable schedule I was keeping and how dedicated I must be to keep up the grueling pace all in the name of hard work.  Dark circles and bags strategically under each eye along with frequent illnesses helped with this plan.

Loading hay

Fast-forward a couple of decades later .  My boys are now out in the world, on their own.  Ex-husband is very successfully motivating others in another country.   And I’m here, consciously choosing to the change my life-script,  to find a more useful meaning for the term ‘work’ and to create a beautiful, engaging and passionate life/work balance.

After two more decades of informal education ( life experience) and a renewed child-like curiosity, I’m being drawn inexplicably towards an evolving life’s work that encourages others to dig deep to re-discover the best version of themselves.  To give them a framework for re-writing their own scripts and for setting out intentions and goals.  To help them rewire the neural connections that have been feeding the not-so-useful habits and ingrained patterns that are keeping them stuck.   To help them getting reacquainted with their own body and its deep wisdom.  To help them explore methods of daily groundedness and ease in the face of free-floating anxiety or numbing fear.  To challenge them to draw on their skills, their experiences and their unique personality to create a life of abundance, passion and significance.

So how’s that for getting run right over by the freaking karma bus?   Snickering cynic turned life cheerleader.  Sarcastic skeptic turned self-help sister.  Life-long workaholic turned life coach, mentor and ally.

After I stopped rolling my eyes at myself, I realize this work is what I’ve been doing for most of my life. Intuitively.  And it’s a natural progression of my teaching and guiding of overwhelmed adolescent learners as well as instructing in the practices of yoga and meditation. This evolution of a life’s work that hums marvelously with more balance and is deeply aligned with my deepest values has happened right before my eyes.  This is just too good not to share.

Just in case you think I’m branching into this area because I’ve got it all together, think again.  With miles to go before I sleep, I’m considering nifty monikers for myself like The Manic Mentor or Your Anxious Ally.   But I’m quite certain that those wouldn’t be good marketing strategies and my business coach would highly object.

Stick around if you would like to learn some basic strategies that have tremendously helped me to create a clearer more settled path from overwhelmed to okay.

 

overwhelmed to okay

Danette cries easily even when making minor errors like reversing her ‘b’s and ‘p’s while Printing.”

In my defense, I was only 5 years old when this was written.  And Kindergarten was hard!   Even having a magically-kind teacher, who was as close to being Glinda the Good Witch as any human being could get, couldn’t keep the too-muchness of my new learning and social schedule at bay.  Glinda was spot on.  Danette was definitely overwhelmed.

Kindergarten class 1957

I somehow managed to conquer the internal chaos long enough to successfully read and comprehend Fun With Dick & Jane, spelling basic words, counting to 100, master Finger-painting 101 as well as completing several more decades of formal education.

But not all of it was a smooth ride and, in fact, several ages and stages of my life required a treacherously steep climb to maintain any sense of balance and harmony.  Often the overwhelm won over and being out of control, feeling trapped and stuck were the results.

In my first year as a High School Guidance Counsellor, I attended a Professional Development Day where the Head of the Counselling Centre at a local world-class university gave the audience of educators alarming statistics on the increasing numbers of university students with debilitating anxiety.  This trend has consistently been confirmed in my decade of work with my adolescent students.

Now, midway through the lifespan of an average female earth walker, I’ve spent most of my waking hours exploring methods to cope with overwhelm. Some strategies have miraculously turned out to be quite skillful and useful while many have been filed under the heading “Are You Kidding?”

In this blog, I’ll share stories, observations and beneficial strategies for all those who need it occasionally and especially for those, like me, who are prone to being easily overcome by overwhelm on a regular basis.

You shall find serenity

Traveling from the land of Overcome to the plains of Okay is a journey that is entirely possible and extremely liberating.  I do it all the time.  Journey along with me and see what is waiting around the bend.