Thoughts and attention matter

Thoughts and attention…what’s the diff and who cares?  Well, the difference is subtle, but so significant, as to be, in my experience, life changing. I’d like to invite your attention to a wonderful organization called the ToDo Institute.   They pay a lot of attention to attention at ToDo, and offer rich and transformative courses, and live by this maximum, “What you pay attention to grows.“   So what?

What about thoughts?  Of course we have to think to function.  Not a problem.   But too often our(my!) thoughts swirl, spin, wind up in rumination, are worrisome, judgemental, fearful… and it’s those thoughts that create suffering and distress for us, and those around us… I know this all too well.  

It was at my first meditation retreat that I began to be able to watch my thoughts.  What a revelation!  Thoughts and attention…what’s the diff and who cares?  Well, I cared! At first it was quite horrifying to notice how my mind just spun and gyrated around and around, and about a very petty topic. I felt like my thoughts owned me, ran the show, determined my experience. And if I/we get caught up in these swirling, agonizing, circular, obsessive thoughts, they will sap our vitality and actually consume us.

When I finally started to be able to watch my thoughts, things began to shift.

attention matters

Here is where attention can come to our rescue and make all the difference. Becoming aware of where we put our attention can pull us out of our thoughts, and prevent us from feeding the cycle.  If we bring our attention back to the present moment, to what’s here, to now, to what we’re feeling, to the light, to the taste in our mouth of a cup of tea or a crisp apple,,, or if we pay attention to a smile on the stranger’s face as we are walking along, you know the drill. But it’s easier said that done. Paying attention and not getting stuck in our thoughts indeed makes all the difference between suffering and ease.

Another version of this message I find powerful is the Cherokee story of the Tale of Two Wolves.  (I wrote about this in an earlier post as well.) A grandfather is responding to a grandchild puzzling over the two kinds of thoughts in our minds: those such as hate, fear, judgment and the like — and those of love, caring, compassion….in short, the battle between evil and goodness.  Struggling with this internal battle, the boy asks, “Which wolf will win, Grandpa, the wolf of hate or of love?”  The grandfather answers, “The one we feed,” ie the one we pay attention to in our minds and hearts.   Thoughts and attention: what’s the diff, and who cares?    Thoughts and attention, a big difference and we all care! 

thoughts and attention

Jill Schroder is the author of BECOMING: Journeying Toward Authenticity.  BECOMING is an invitation for self-reflection, and to mine our memorable moments for insights, meaning, and growth.  Check the website for a sample chapter, or see the reviews to get a flavor for the volume.  Follow me on Twitter, let’s be friends on Facebook

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