833rd Week: Where We Place Our Attention

Walking in Central Park a few days ago, I found myself deeply nourished and uplifted by the return of the green and by the powerful wind that accompanied my walk and workout. Again and again, my eyes were drawn to the green, to the beauty of the trees again filling out their leaves, creating patterns of light and shadow that have been missing over the winter season. And, the wind brought with it a sense of invigoration that was, in its own way, quite delicious.

At some point along the way, I also noticed a trumpet player who competed with a singer who has a weekly gathering of children on Saturday mornings. Fortunately, the sound of the trumpet didn’t overpower the singing and guitar playing of the entertainer and his class of young ones. Then, I also noticed the ever-present helicopters that hover over the park these days as a tourist activity, usually beginning sometime around 9am, taking away the silence that is so precious here in the city.

What struck me most is that these sounds didn’t seem to take away from my deep enjoyment of the return of green and the beauty of the tall trees all around me. This got me to thinking about how important it is to notice where our attention is absorbed, where we focus and what we notice. Even though the sounds were obvious, they weren’t in the foreground of my awareness and I also noticed how my lack of irritation allowed both the trumpet and the helicopters to slip into the background. There have been mornings where these kinds of sounds seem to pierce through my wish to drop into silence or into awareness of the beauty around me and irritation takes the place of pleasure. Today, for whatever reason, it was powerfully clear to me that my focus of attention allowed for the pleasure with no hint of irritation.

For this week’s practice, I invite you to pay even closer attention to what you focus on, where you place your awareness, and what you choose to notice. I could have shifted into dwelling on the helicopters or the trumpet and that would have created a whole different quality of experience. Just as I couldn’t make those situations go away, notice how it is when you are faced with something you can’t change but where you can shift your focus of attention to something else. It might be noise, a smell you don’t like, disruption of some kind—anything that might normally create irritation or some other reaction in you. Then, notice what happens if you shift your awareness to something that inspires, nourishes, or pleases you in some way. 

Without question, there are times this kind of shift works and there are times it doesn’t. An interesting thing to notice is what’s different in you when you are able to allow things that would ordinarily irritate you to shift into the background of awareness. When you do this, the foreground of awareness can focus on what nourishes you in any given moment.

A key part of this kind of practice is that you refrain from judging yourself if you do slip into irritation or impatience. It happens to most of us all the time. For this practice, it’s a matter of noticing the benefits of being able to choose where you place your focus and attention because of how these choices affect your internal quality of life. So, as I’ve said countless times, if judgments arise, pat them gently on the head as they move on by. Allow them to just move on through on the stream of consciousness that never stops flowing.

Also, please remember to bring along curiosity as your constant companion, as it supports an openness to exploration and discovery. Even if you find you are irritated or impatient with some disturbance, bring your curiosity to that experience, perhaps inviting yourself to wonder what might have helped to ease the intensity of your response.

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