Paying Attention With A Kind and Caring Attitude
Many of us live much of our lives in action and engagement, so focused on ‘doing’ that we forget to pay attention to the small everyday experiences that surround us. According to recent research, the average adult spends 47% of his waking life not paying attention to what he or she is doing? Imagine if you could increase paying attention by even 5% how much more you would know about your self, peers, and experiences.
As with mindfulness – a practice that brings non-judgmental attention to the present moment – the quality of attention that we bring to each moment can make a world of difference in the way we navigate all of life’s vicissitudes. However, we first need to stop and notice what’s happening with a kind and caring attitude. The idea is to train the mind to just be here (like we already are!) and be aware of the spectrum of thoughts, feelings and body sensations that are occurring, as they are occurring. The next step is to integrate a quality of kindness that wishes our selves and others well. Kindness generally arises from seeing attractive qualities in our selves and in others. Sound impossible? Here are few ideas to ponder.
In every moment, we have an opportunity to pay close attention to our present situation. Whether walking down the street, listening to others, or hanging out with friends, we may say we are focused but how present are we really? Are our minds elsewhere, preoccupied with other worries and concerns? Are we listening selectively? Paying attention in a mindful way is a process of becoming aware of what we feel, think, say and do in the present moment with kind attention to ourselves and the people and situations that surround us. When we are eating, we notice the tastes and textures of the food; when we are typing on the computer, we are aware of the words we are writing and the feeling of the keys under our fingers; and when we are listening to music, we hear the melody as well as the words to the songs.
On the other hand, mindlessness tends to take over when our attention is scattered. Sometimes we are not paying attention to the impact of our words and actions. We may be so preoccupied that we react thoughtlessly, without concern and compassion for our selves, others or the environment. We may let our old stories and habits govern our experiences, rather than choosing to see each situation as a new learning moment.
Building a case to pay attention with a caring and kind attitude is straightforward. Firstly, kindness can give us the courage to look at the parts of ourselves we like least and hold us accountable to the parts of ourselves that need our attention. Secondly, it can improve our emotional health by simply interrupting the self-limiting, destructive thoughts and stories that occupy our mind and cause us stress. The good news is that the development of mindfulness helps us notice our emotions without being triggered by them. It moves us from living on automatic pilot to pausing and paying deliberate attention to what is happening in the now. When kindness and compassion are shared and cultivated, the kindness and compassion within our hearts actually increases. So the question becomes why wouldn’t we want to bring a kinder attention to what’s happening in the present moment?
For decades, leading neuroscientist Dr. Richard Davidson has demonstrated that our brains are constantly growing and evolving. He coined the term neuroplasticity to describe the brain’s capacity to change throughout our life. This includes the brain’s ability to create new cells and form new neural networks. Dr. Davidson’s research shows that mindfulness practice can change the brain and lead to a number of positive outcomes, from increased immunity and stress reduction to clearer thinking and better self-management. This is another compelling reason to introduce mindfulness practice in daily life.
One way to strengthen the attention muscle in the brain is to simply focus on the flow of the breath for a sustained period of time. Sometimes this breathing practice is called mindful breathing or the anchor breath because it can be used like the anchor of a ship to help steady us in different situations. Even if big waves of emotions like stress, anger, sadness, fear or excitement hit us, we can use our breath to regain a sense of calm and balance. In time, and with practice, we can develop and strengthen our capacity to steady our mind and body in all conditions.
Here’s a step-by-step instruction for a 3-minute breathing practice:
- Sit in a comfortable position, making sure the soles of your feet are connected to the ground or floor.
- Let your spine grow tall and noble like the trunk of a tall tree. Rest your hands on your thighs and let your shoulders drop.
- Gently close your eyes or look for a reference point somewhere on the floor where you can return your eyes when they get distracted and begin to wander around the room.
- Take a moment to notice how your body feels.
- Now bring your attention to the flow of your breath. You don’t need to breathe in a special way. Your body knows how to breathe. Simply notice each breath coming into the body with an in-breath, and leaving the body with an out-breath.
- If you notice your mind is caught up in thoughts, concerns, emotions or body sensations, know that this is normal.
- Notice what is distracting you and as kindly as you can, turn your attention back to your breath.
- Allow each in-breath to be a new beginning, and each out-breath a letting go.
- When you are ready, open your eyes or bring your attention back to the room and notice how you feel.
- There are no right or wrong answers, just honest and kind ones.
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