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Pay Attention

Years ago, I had a client who was seeing me to prepare his body for climbing to the base camp of Mount Everest. He was referred to me by his girlfriend who was a yogi and a devotee of a guru in India with whom I had also spent some time some years earlier. He also attended some of my hatha yoga classes and it was evident that he was not a yogi. During one of our bodywork sessions I asked him what he learned when he visited the Swami in India. His simple answer was Pay Attention. It had become his mantra. His answer caught my attention and the wisdom of this guiding principle has revealed itself to me many time since then.

In the spirit of Walk The Talk, which is one of my guiding principles, I shall share a recent experience as an example. A few days ago I had to take my truck to my mechanic to fix a bunch of things damaged by the rough roads where I live in Costa Rica. When I went to pick it up the work which included changing the front brake discs and pads was not quite finished. I noticed that each brake pad had a flimsy piece of metal like a miniature bike fender attached loosely with a little spring mechanism and that the right one was slightly crooked. At the same moment the mechanic adjusted the position of the metal flap with a screwdriver. I found it odd that he was making such a crude adjustment to a fragile piece and wondered if this insignificant-looking part would have an impact on the performance of my car. I thought of asking him about it but I didn’t, thinking that he might not appreciate my question as he takes a lot of pride in his work and his reputation as a good mechanic. Not long after I drove off to return to my home town and a few kilometres down the road there was a scraping sound coming from the rotations of the right front wheel. I returned to his shop and described the problem to him and he immediately knew the cause. He removed the wheel and discarded the metal flap on the brake pad described earlier. He then did the same with the other wheel. Problem solved. As I drove away I had the déjà vu feeling of having experienced this kind of situation so often. I notice something, often appearing almost significant, that catches my attention but another part of me pushes it aside and I later realize that the sign was worth heeding.

Paying attention to signs is crucial to many other areas of our life besides car mechanics. It applies to every branch of scientific experiment, sports, strategy - whether military, political or business, medical diagnosis, investigation -think spies, detectives, explorers, hunting, intuitive healing, and even creativity. Artists pay attention to unexpected events that pop up in their creative process and often integrate them into the dance, song or painting. 

Pay attention is an imperative that suggests that we need to be reminded not to ignore what appears in our perceived environment as well as our mind space. Why do we ignore things? I once read in a rapid reading course that when one walks into a room where there are lots of people and things going on our brains don’t miss a thing. All of the information is registered in an instant. We are not aware of everything there because our brains are trained to pay attention to things that our experience has taught us to be relevant while ignoring apparently less relevant details. The key to the rapid reading technique was to drop the habit of reading line by line and instead take in the contents of the entire page, trusting that the brain will remember without consciously focussing on the words and sentences. The brain remembers much more than we recall so it is not so much a matter of improving our memory as it is developing recall skills. 

There are many techniques for developing recall skills which have practical applications but my interest here is in sharing how paying attention is fundamental to the art of living. Paying attention is not just a passive noticing but is connected with decision-making. Everyday, everyone of us is required to make decisions: what activity to do, what direction to take, how to respond to a communication or situation, what career path to follow, what person one wants to choose as a friend or partner, should I stay or should I go?, etc. To make a decision we draw on what information is presented to us, what our past experience has taught us, logical calculations and analysis, our inclinations based on our conditionings, and last but not least our gut feelings which rely on our intuitive rather than our rational faculties.  Intuition is not just a gift that some have and others lack. It can be developed like any other faculty.  Just as our selective memory only recalls a small fraction of what our brain remembers, we often ignore apparently trivial or irrelevant details or signs that are crucial to our interpretation of what is going on and what is the appropriate decision to make. I don’t believe that being psychic is a supernatural ability. Some of my clients have thought that I was reading their minds by my questions or comments but actually I was just paying attention to details, sometimes subtle, in their body language and in their verbal expression. I learned to not just notice but to trust my perception or thought and investigate it. 

It is wise not to sweat the small stuff but it is also wise and rewarding to pay attention to the more subtle signs in our environment, interactions and even that fleeting thought that crosses our mind space. Some of the most telling and relevant information comes from our unconscious mind. Dreams are an important gateway to the unconscious mind.  Modern civilization has learned to believe that what we perceive in the waking state is real and dreams and imagination are unreal. However the psychotherapist Carl Jung and father of many of the self-help techniques used today affirmed: “Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.” When we pay attention to what our dreams are telling us by learning how to decode their symbolic language we can receive clear signs to help us understand what is actually happening in our lives and make wiser decisions.

Don’t just take my word for this. I invite you to try it out. Before you go to sleep tonight ask inside or make a clear intention to remember your dreams and record them in writing as soon as you awake.  As part of your morning rituals, take a moment to make an intention to pay attention to all the signs that present themselves in your day, big or small, and apply your awareness of them to the decisions you make. I would love to hear how that goes for you. You can write to me on this website, and you can also learn more about dreamwork in the Services section.

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