Paying Attention

“Be where you are, otherwise you will miss your life.” Buddha

This time of year is usually chock-full of significant events for many of us – graduations, weddings, championship games, concerts and other momentous occasions. We spend a lot of time trying to “capture the moment” with pictures and videos. Having a few shots to commemorate a significant occasion is a great thing. But sometimes we get so wrapped up in preserving the moment for all time that we lose sight of the fact that we may not actually be actively engaged in the moment. Framing the shot, zooming in, zooming out, getting just the right angle, just the right light, just the right pose, adding the filter, posting, saving, texting, replying, sending, yadda, yadda, yadda. And what are you left with in your brain? Do you really remember what happened, or are you relying on your smartphone to be your memory? What happens when you dig into your brain for memories of that day? Do you remember the sights, sounds, smells, and emotions? Or is it all just a fuzzy haze of clicking and posting?

A few years ago, our family had one of those crazy late spring seasons where we seemed to be running from major event to major event (having children who were exactly four years apart was just the beginning – little did we know what lay down the pike for us!) Trying to coordinate all of the details, with travel plans, celebrations, and the general overwhelm of all of these significant life events happening within just a few weeks of each other made things simultaneously exciting and exhausting. About halfway through it all, I realized that my memories of the first few events were really hazy, and as hard as I tried, there was a lot I couldn’t remember. I wondered why, and finally figured out that I had been so caught up in taking pictures and videos, posting them and preserving them, that it had taken my primary attention away from actually EXPERIENCING the moments as they happened. My brain was on overload and could only focus on what was in front of my face, which was usually my phone. At that point, I resolved to take one or two nice pictures, then put my phone away and really live in the moment. I concentrated on drinking in the sights, sounds, smells, and most of all, the emotions that accompanied all of these wonderful events. Amazingly enough, to this day, four years later, my memories of those days are gloriously clear and happy. I can roll back the film in my head and remember details of the later events so much more clearly than the first, hazy few when I was preoccupied with trying to preserve every moment digitally.

I’m reminded of a quote from Steve Jobs: Technology can be our best friend, and technology can also be the biggest party pooper of our lives. It interrupts our own story, interrupts our ability to have a thought or a daydream, to imagine something wonderful, because we’re too busy bridging the walk from the cafeteria back to the office on the cell phone.”

Ever since that hectic time, I’ve tried hard to fight the urge to pick up my phone at every occasion and just be mindful of my surroundings and what’s happening in them. I enjoy things so much more, and remember so much more, that not having a picture or video of every moment doesn’t matter. And it’s carried over to other areas of my life. Mindfulness is the newest buzzword when it comes to productivity and time management for a reason. I try to focus on exactly what I’m doing while I’m doing it, to the exclusion of everything else. Sounds so simple, doesn’t it? I have a friend who would say, “not exactly rocket science, my dear…” But for many of us caught up in the habit of trying to multi-task, consciously or not, it’s somewhat of a revelation. Being fully absorbed in one thing – whether it’s writing, or paying bills, or creating a presentation, or talking on the phone, or simply answering emails, rather than trying to check email AND pay the bills at the same time makes me more productive. I get more done in less time, because my brain isn’t constantly switching back and forth between tasks, and for sure I make fewer mistakes! When I get more done, I take more time for self-care, like exercise, preparing healthy meals, and spending time with friends and family. When I take more time for self-care, I’m less stressed. When I’m less stressed, life is a lot more fun!

So, put down the phone. Turn off the notifications – the pings, dings, badges and sliders that distract and distance you from what’s happening around you. Pay attention. Drink in the moment, focus on that one thing. Now will never happen again.

“The present moment is the only time over which we have dominion.”
~
Thích Nhất Hạnh

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