smartphone

I’m currently sitting in a coffee shop. I have my laptop on the table right in front of me. The screen is bright and glowing. Even so, here are a few of the things distracting me from my writing:

— The background music.
— The woman sitting at the table behind me watching the news on her iPad. She has the volume turned up quite high.
— My phone, which just beeped to alert me about an incoming text message.
— The activity tracker I wear on my wristband, which just vibrated to let me know that I’ve been sitting for 45 minutes. Whoops.
— My friend’s super cute necklace that has all of her children’s initials on it.
— A large water bottle that I feel compelled to sip from every sentence or two, even though I’m not that thirsty.
— My own brain, which is currently wondering if I remembered to book the hotel rooms for our upcoming family vacation. Also, I have two scarves, which are roughly the same color, but not exactly the same, and I can’t quite decide which one I like better and if I should keep both, because it does seem a bit indulgent to have two scarves that are exactly the same. And the royal baby was named this morning, and her name is Charlotte, which I totally predicted, so I’m feeling quite proud of myself. Did I mention my neck is a bit sore? I wonder if there are some stretches I can do to loosen it up a bit. I’ll just click over to the Internet for a minute, just one minute, to do a little research…

Here is the one thing I actually want to focus on:
– This post.

Sigh.

Let’s take a moment now and go back to my definition of mindfulness:

“Mindfulness is about setting an intention to pay attention in the present moment, with kindness and curiosity, so we can then choose our next action or behavior.”

The first step is about setting an intention to pay attention. This is a crucial part of the practice, because mindfulness isn’t about paying attention to whatever shiny object or flashing phone that happens to cross our path, which is how most of us spend our days, and our lives.

Far too often, our attention is dragged around by whatever happens to catch it. Don’t get me wrong, this is quite useful if you have a baby crawling towards a light socket with a fork in her hand and a deranged look in her eye (yep, been there), but not so helpful if you’re actually trying to be present with another person or, I don’t know, GET SOMETHING DONE.

That’s why the first step in mindfulness is about making a choice to pay attention to something. Sometimes, this is part of a intentional practice, such as when we choose to pay attention to our breath during a sitting meditation or to the memory game we’re playing with our children.

Other times, it’s just an instant in the midst of a busy day. It’s that moment when we notice that our thoughts are bouncing around inside our brains like pinballs and we decide to bring our awareness back to our children. Or our bodies. Or the cardinal in the tree outside of our kitchen window.

It sounds like such a small thing, and it is. But it’s also a powerful one. I said this in the last post, and I’ll say it again: the moment when we realize that we’ve been hijacked by distraction is the magic moment, the moment when we can make a different choice.

And choice is where it all starts.

So, so easy to do, but so hard to remember to do, and at times, even harder to keep doing. The good news is that this is a practice, which means the more we do it—the more often we choose to pay attention to something, even if we have to make that choice 10 times in a minute—the better we’ll get at it.

In the next post, we’ll talk about what it actually means to pay attention.

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