What Gets Our Attention Rules Us
Uncertainty shapes us. It is not our enemy. Knowing how to navigate in the midst of chaos is our opportunity to learn what gets our attention. And life is always testing us in some way: are we responding with fear or courage? Dread or curiosity? Panic or hope?
It’s always a choice.
The healthiest way to begin is to simply start. When we know what no longer serves us, we can stop and let go. We have the capacity to stop and start anything. We can also simply continue in the same exact way when we choose certainty and predictability.
It is up to us to decide what we give attention to as every situation and every person comes to teach us about ourselves. And during these times, it’s not always easy to stand up for ourselves. But if we don’t, who will?
We Are Not Victims of Circumstance
When we live in a big city, we may find ourselves frustrated in traffic. Instead of getting to our destination quickly, we are in bumper to bumper traffic with drivers who may frustrate us.
But here is the truth. If we are not on the road at that very moment, would we be experiencing traffic? Perhaps we are part of the deep congestion that our city experiences with everyone traveling in the same direction at the same time?
And wouldn’t you know it, there are always people trying to cut through the traffic, in a rush to get to whatever destination. Often, those people are also us. The heavy delays in driving times get our attention and can create anxiety and stress. But what if we are traffic? What if there is no one to blame?
And, maybe the time in the car is an opportunity to breath and look out the window? Perhaps we can have a long conversation with someone who may really need us to listen? And maybe that someone is us?
This is our time to pay attention to our own power and what we are actually creating in our life and world. We have the ability to place our attention anywhere we choose.
Giving Attention to Self-Talk
Putting attention on our self-talk matters deeply. So many of us go to war each day with ourselves. My friend Samuel recently found himself in a meeting questioning why he said what he said out loud. His opinion and insights were not very popular since no one at the meeting wanted to hear the truth. And Samuel found himself spending the rest of the meeting questioning and criticizing himself for speaking out.
It’s not always easy to know the rules of the game we find ourselves in. And while Samuel was so busy flogging himself for speaking out, a number of people came up to him after the meeting. Some had tears in their eyes as they thanked him for saying what they were too scared to express.
Samuel wondered as they all worked at the same company, why it was not acceptable to be vocal about what is hurting the organization. He had the best intention to answer questions he was asked honesty.
But in the long term, he didn’t want to play the game anymore so he left for a workplace where he could talk openly. Samuel didn’t want to spend his life chastising himself. And he believed in himself enough to trek into the unknown. He paid attention.
When Things Fall Apart, We Pay Attention
“Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know
… nothing ever really attacks us except our own confusion. Perhaps there is no solid obstacle except our own need to protect ourselves from being touched. Maybe the only enemy is that we don’t like the way reality is now and therefore wish it would go away fast.
But what we find … is that nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know. If we run a hundred miles an hour to the other end of the continent to get away from the obstacle, we find the very same problem waiting for us when we arrive.
It just keeps returning with new names, forms, manifestations until we learn whatever it has to teach us about where we are separating ourselves from reality, how we are pulling back instead of opening up, closing down instead of allowing ourselves to experience fully whatever we encounter, without hesitating or retreating into ourselves.”
― Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart