July 10, 2013

8 Ways to Wake Up & Pay More Attention.


“The world is not cyclical, not eternal or immutable, but endlessly transforms itself, and never goes back, and we can assist in that transformation. Live on, survive, for the earth gives forth wonders. It may swallow your heart, but the wonders keep on coming. You stand before them bareheaded, shriven. What is expected of you is attention.”

~ Salman Rushdie, The Ground Beneath Her Feet

1. Drop Everything and Breathe.

First thing in the morning, either sitting up or lying down in bed—pause, be still and take 10 deep, full inhalations through the nose coupled with 10 relaxed, complete exhalations through the nose or mouth.

You can also do this practice every hour on the hour, or whenever the mood strikes you. Savor the breath like a cup of delicious tea or coffee. Take this special time to do nothing but luxuriate in the inhale going in and the exhale going out. There is absolutely nothing in your very important day that can’t wait 10 breaths to get started.

2. Drop Everything and Read a New Author.

In the land of elementary school, we have something called D.E.A.R. time, which stands for Drop Everything And Read. For 20 minutes, students clear their desks and minds and pick up a book to read silently and independently. There are no notes to be taken, no worksheets to complete, no comprehension questions to answer.

Grown-ups, too, can benefit greatly from this practice. Are you in a reading rut? Break away from your favorite genre. Browse Amazon or Goodreads for intriguing titles. Discover a new author. (I suggest a few personal recent favorites: K. Renae, Edward Mannix, Salman Rushdie, or Cheryl Strayed.)

3. Detach from Your Device(s).

We’re all guilty of it: aimlessly scrolling down a touchscreen while in the company of our friends and beloveds. Try turning off your dumb phone or iWhatever when in the company of real, live humans. Email, Facebook, Twitter and the news will still be there tomorrow.

As Douglas Rushkoff writes in his book, Present Shock, “Whatever is vibrating on the iPhone just isn’t as valuable as the eye contact you are making right now.”

Extra Bonus Challenge: Turn off or at least silence your device as you idly wait for an appointment. Just sit. It’s going to be okay.

4. Get Out of Town.

Or, ideally, out of the country. There’s nothing like a little (or a lot of) travel to open our minds, wake us from our habitual drowsiness and make us pay more attention to our self and surroundings.

As my second-favorite quote from Salman Rushdie’s The Ground Beneath Her Feet reminds us: “The only people to see the whole picture are the ones who step out of the frame.”

In exploring someplace new, you get to soak up another culture or subculture and are also granted the super power of seeing your own home with fresh eyes upon your return.

5. Denounce a Vice or Three.

Giving up bad habits is tough, but abstaining from our addictions definitely raises our level of awareness from day one. Is your chosen abuse of a common substance (like smoking too much pot or really needing that glass of wine with dinner every day or eating excesses of refined sugar)? Maybe you perpetuate less tangible, but still detrimental practices like gossiping, coveting others’ perceived perfection, or belittling yourself internally with hateful self-talk? In any case, cut it out. For free guidance and inspiration, see also zen habits or A Year Above the Influence.

6. Infuse Your Days with Gratitude.

If you are reading these words, you have so much to be grateful for. You are literate. You have access to books and knowledge and wisdom. You can see. Probably you can also hear and taste and smell and touch too. Most likely, you have a family and friends and a home and a bed and food to eat and water to drink. Please focus on appreciating what you can do and what you are blessed to have and who you are blessed to be, rather than dwelling on what you lack, what you desire, and who you’d rather be. Infuse your daily life with genuine gratitude.

Stand up tall and press your hands together at the center of your chest. Spread your fingers, and feel the symmetry of palm on palm, each finger pressing into its twin. Take a deep breath in through the nose and exhale through the mouth with a sigh. Raise your arms up over your head and stretch. This is a beautiful moment. It is, after all—with all its multifaceted creation and destruction, grace and grit, transcendence and squalor—a wonderful life.

7. Make Love Not Trash.

The landfills are filled. The less trash we can produce, the better. Living between two pueblos (Panajachel and Santa Catarina Palopó, in case you’re wondering), we have no municipal trash service. This inconvenient truth has led to my becoming much more conscious about buying food with little to no packaging and sorting waste to minimize what goes into the trash bag. Most of our waste is organic, so we throw it on the compost heap to eventually be reused as fertile garden soil. The plastic wrappers and bags that inevitably enter the household are shoved into plastic bottles, a.k.a. bottle bricks. Recycling is important, but paying more attention to how we can reduce and reuse is key to saving the environment.

8. Be a Barefoot Walking Buddha.

Practice walking meditation. In other words, walk in slow motion and pay attention to your feet. It’s summertime, so why not practice barefoot in the park (or your backyard if you’re less of an exhibitionist)? Feel your soles touching the ground and gliding through the air as you take slow steps in a line or circle. This is one literal way for “Generation Mindful” to walk our talk.

What is expected of you is attention.

What do you think of these suggestions? What other practices would you add to this list? Please share the article and/or leave a comment below, if so inspired.


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Ed: B. Bemel

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