Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Attention, si vous plait!

I had a hard time writing yesterday’s blog.  The problem was that it was ‘hump day’ and I took a look at all my previous entries.  A theme jumped out at me that I hadn’t really thought of before and it struck a nerve.  I wasn’t willing to follow the thread because I was pretty sure I would not like the direction it would take.  So, I wimped out and pretended not to notice what was actually pretty obvious.

I appear to have a problem paying attention.

Seriously, when I looked back, I saw the following statements, only slightly paraphrased here.  Photography helps me pay attention to what I am seeing.  Daily writing forces me to pay attention to the world around me.  When I feel off balance, I need to pay attention to ritual.  My handwriting is bad because I am inattentive to detail.  I didn’t say it but my car accident was caused, you guessed it, by not paying attention.

Holy self-revelation, Batman!  You can see why I chose not to pay attention to this theme last night J

All day long today, I was hyper aware of attentiveness or lack thereof.  I had a lot of meetings, and I have to admit,there were several occasions that I found my mind wandering pretty far afield.  I had to force myself to stay with the discussions.  What is happening?  Have I always been like that?  I noticed that several times in my work day I began one task and somehow drifted to another.  I would set out to look up a piece of information on the web and find myself distracted into another direction altogether.

Am I too old for Ritalin?

It is tempting to blame this on technology- we are distracted every few minutes by emails, and the web is surely designed to make us click here, there, and everywhere.  Web designers will tell you that if a person can’t find the information they are looking for in 10 seconds, they will go to another site.  10 seconds!  Egads.
Last winter I read somewhere that there is something oddly addictive about technology and being constantly plugged into email, Facebook, twitter and so on.  It makes us feel essential and important. Some MRI studies have even shown that receiving electronic communications lights up the same pleasure centers in our brains as cocaine, sex and chocolate.  Really.  I am not making this up. (Well, I don’t remember for sure if chocolate was in the list, but it should be, don’t you think?) 

I suspect that the instant gratification of technology does affect my attention span.  However boycotting technology is hardly a viable option.

Another possible explanation for inattentiveness is that I (just like you, probably) have too many things on my mind.   Yeah, maybe, but I don’t think I am likely to stop thinking about things.   I care about lots of things and lots of people and I think about all of them and plan to continue doing so.

A long time ago, I read a wonderful little book by a Vietnamese Buddhist monk named Thich Nhat Hanh.  It is called “The Miracle of Mindfulness” and I think it addresses my particular dilemma.  He claims that if you practice mindfulness, you can learn to gain control of your mind so that it doesn't wander away.  Apparently, this mindfulness thing can even become a habit. That sounds pretty good.  I think I’ll go find my copy and see if I can pay attention long enough to learn something.

Today I am grateful for great books of all kinds.  How wonderful that the thoughts and insights of so many smart people are so easily available to all of us.

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