August 20 Attention and Awareness



This Monday night Alison will facilitate.  She shares:

       On a nearly daily basis, a good friend of mine takes a lengthy walk in and around the town and outskirts of La Jolla, California. During the walk she takes pictures of beautiful things she finds and posts them as part of a pictorial blog on Facebook. Some days, the pictures are of artfully arranged colorful food on a plate. Other days, it is a stranger's beautifully woven hair, a bright blue door in a pale stone wall, light hitting the ocean at twilight or a cactus that has produced a stunning purple and lilac bloom. I enjoy her blog very much because it reflects her moment of attention to and awareness of the beauty that surrounds us that we oftentimes miss in our hurry to get somewhere or do something. I find it nourishing. Whether she consciously knows it or not, my friend is practicing mindfulness. And, her sharing is supporting the good seeds within me of gratitude and wonder.


       This same friend recently sent me an email about a practice called "Savoring."  According to the excerpt, found here


People who feel like time is abundant approach the present in two ways. There's the practical: they learn to be where they're supposed to be in enough time that they can relax. Then, the more daring psychological feat: they find ways to savor the space of time where they currently are.


Actively savoring the present stretches your experience of time. To savor is to feel pleasure, and also to appreciate that you are feeling pleasure. It takes normal gratification and adds a second layer to it: acknowledgment. That this appreciation expands time can be understood by thinking of the opposite. When you want time to pass quickly, you might wish yourself elsewhere. When you want to prolong something, you hold yourself right where you are.


As an example, the article shares an individual's accounting of summiting Colorado's Snowmass Mountain. When the hiker (researcher Fred Bryant) reached the top,


He was in awe of the physical grandeur, of course.But he also knew he'd likely never be there again, so he did more than enjoy the view. He embraced his friends and told them how happy he was to share this moment with them. He looked back into the past, recalling a back injury that had almost ended his climbing career. He let his mind go to a time when he thought he would never experience this moment. "The realization that it is here now intensifies my joy," he thought.


Bryant projected himself forward into the future and thought about how he might look back on this memory. He thanked God for enabling him to be there, and for creating mountains to climb. Then with "a strong sense of the fleetingness of the moment" and a desire "to remember this moment" for the rest of his life, he made special efforts to capture the scene. He turned in a deliberate circle and recorded small details: a forest of aspen and spruce, a river below. He noticed how his lungs felt, what he was smelling. He felt the cold. He selected a stone from the summit as a souvenir. He thought of sharing the memory of the mountain with his loved ones and thought of his late grandfather, who also loved outdoor adventures. Id. 


Bryant and his fellow hikers were not on the summit for more than ten minutes, but by savoring the moment, the experience and time itself became vaster. Id. (citing Savoring: A New Model of Positive Experience, by Fred B. Bryant and Joseph Veroff.)


       To enhance this skill, Bryant and Veroff created a "Ways of Savoring Checklist" including, for example, trying to become more alert, taking deeper breaths, slowing down when in a happy or positive moment, and thinking of sharing the memory later with others. They also recommend a "Daily Vacation Exercise" where you set aside 10 to 20 minutes every day for a daily vacation exercise where you plan to do something enjoyable with limited distractions! During this time, "try to notice and explicitly acknowledge to yourself each stimulus or sensation that you find pleasurable. Identify your positive feelings, and explicitly label them in your mind. Actively build a memory of the feeling and the stimuli associated with it, close your eyes, swish the feeling around in your mind, and outwardly express the positive feeling in some way." Id. At the end of the week, you can think back over your seven mini-vacations. The importance of this practice is that, "Consciously lingering in pleasurable downtime reminds us we have downtime. And that can make us feel like we have more time than when it slips through our hands." See 

Excerpted from the new book Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done by Laura Vanderkam. 


       In the same way that I am nourished by my friend's blog, I can see how doing such a "savoring" practice also would be nourishing - especially when we are living through a time in which negativity seems so predominant. We need to nourish our good seeds and make a conscious effort to remind ourselves of the beauty of this world and it inhabitants.


       Sharon Salzberg talks about this, as follows, in her book Real Happiness, the Power of Meditation:


"My experience is what I agree to attend to," the pioneering psychologist Williams James wrote at the turn of the twentieth century. "Only those items I notice shape my mind." At its most basic level, attention - what we allow ourselves to notice - literally determines how we experience and navigate the world. . . . Attention determines our degree of intimacy with our ordinary experiences and contours our entire sense of connection to life.


The concept and quality of our lives depend on our level of awareness - a fact we are often not aware of. You may have heard the old story, usually attributed to a Native American elder, meant to illuminate the power of attention. A grandfather (occasionally it's a grandmother) imparting a life lesion to his grandson tells him, "I have two wolves fighting in my heart. One wolf is vengeful, fearful, envious, resentful, deceitful. The other wolf is loving, compassionate, generous, truthful, and serene." The grandson asks which wolf will win the fight. The grandfather answer, "The one I feed." Id. at 35


       Ms. Shalzberg reminds us, however, that nourishing the good seed is "only part of the picture:"


True, whatever gets out attention flourishes, so if we lavish attention on the negative and inconsequential, they can overwhelm the positive and the meaningful. But if we do the opposite, refusing to deal with or acknowledge what's difficult and painful, pretending it doesn't exist, then our world is out of whack. Whatever doesn't get our attention withers - or retreats below conscious awareness, where it may still affect our lives. In a perverse way, ignoring the painful and the difficult is just another way of feeding the wolf. Meditation teaches us to open our attention to all of human experience and all parts of ourselves. . . . Meditation teaches us to focus and pay clear attention to our experiences and responses as they arise, and to observe them without judging them. That allows us to detect harmful habits of mind that were previously invisible to us. For example, we may sometimes base our actions on unexamined ideas. (I don't deserve love, you just can't reason with people, I'm not capable of dealing with tough situations) that keep us stuck in unproductive patterns. Once we notice these reflexive responses and how they undermine our ability to pay attention to the present moment, then we can make better, more informed choices. And we can respond to others more compassionately and authentically, in a more creative way. Id. at 36


       I look forward to sharing with you on Monday night your practice of nourishing the good seeds through attention, awareness and savoring, and being attentive to and addressing the painful and difficult as well in order to further enhance our ability to be present.