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  • Nick Mabey

The Benefit of Paying Attention

Like a lot of people during the pandemic I now work predominantly at home. And often when I am working at home, I like a coffee in the morning. And often when I like a coffee in the morning, I treat myself to a couple of biscuits (especially if I have earlier been for a run).

It was on one such morning, with coffee and biscuits procured and on my cluttered desk and several things on the go in my head and on my computer, that it happened. I lost the biscuits. Frantic, I searched high and low, picking up every piece of paper, checking under my keyboard and anywhere else where those wonderful chocolate digestives could have gone. The dog was obviously a prime suspect; but he was not in the room and had no access unless he could open doors. Where could they be?

Suddenly I noticed a couple of crumbs on my desk. Tell-tale remnants of a treat consumed but not experienced, digested but not enjoyed. It wouldn’t have been so bad if it had been a boring but essential part of my diet (like water?) but it was a treat for goodness sake! The one and only reason for having it was the pleasure it gave me. And today it had given me none because I had paid those biscuits no attention at all.

So why don’t we pay attention? Let me speak for myself. I numb myself out; I think it is a safety device to prevent me having to pay attention to things that would cause me anxiety or distress or even despair. When I watch, for example, the plight of migrant refugees, I imagine that I would dissolve into a puddle on the floor if I paid that my full attention. An unintended consequence of numbing myself out to pain is that I also sometimes am not paying attention at times of potential pleasure, hence the missing biscuits.

It’s not easy paying attention. We live in a world of distractions. The things that help me are a mindfulness practice and a growing belief that paying attention is not as bad for my health as I instinctively imagine. Mindfulness practice, at its core, simply asks you to pay full attention to some aspect of now – your breath, your body, eating biscuits, anything really. It should be something happening now, not past or future. And the aim is to be able to pay it full attention, without get lost in judgment or self-criticism. Simply notice. Pay it your full attention and notice what happens when you do. Biscuits will never taste the same again!!

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