Thursday, March 5, 2009

Pay Attention

I am a multi-tasker.  I am a forward thinker.  I like to think I can anticipate problems before they arise.  I am a visionary.  I have my fingers in a lot of pies.  I have a lot of energy, I rarely sit still for very long.....oh, don't get me wrong here, I'm not bragging, I'm confessing.

About two years ago I came to realize that something wasn't right with me.  I had lost my drive, I had no motivation, and I faced each day with absolute dread of all that needed to take place.  I was not me, or not the me that I had been for many years.  It got to the point where I booked some time with a therapist.  At my first appointment I spent about half an hour listing all that I needed to do, people that were counting on me, the lists, the stuff I just wasn't getting to, etc.

She listened patiently.  Once I stopped my rant she said "I have a picture of you galloping on a horse, behind you are all the people and things you feel responsible for and are worried about following you at full speed.  I have some homework for you.  Turn your fucking horse around." And with that I had permission to stop.

There are a lot of things that got me to that point of seeing the therapist, but I came to realize that one of the biggest reasons for my anxiety is that I had stopped paying attention.  I was so caught up in all I had going on, and all that I was trying to do, what was next - that I became disconnected from the present.

Over this past year my brother has become a student of Zen Buddhism.  I have asked him to explain what it is and what he does and his response is surprisingly simple "It's paying attention".   Central to the practise is zazen - sitting.

For me to sit still and pay attention is quite the challenge.  The attention doesn't begin with all that is around me, it begins with all that is in me.  The beat of my heart, the rhythm of my breath.  The practise of prayer often becomes just a litany of requests and expressed fears and anxieties.  Yet even Jesus taught to pray "give us THIS day our daily bread" he also said "don't worry about tomorrow, today has enough trouble of its own". 

I was driving my 17 year old to the airport about a month ago. He was leaving for an amazing adventure of sailing both sides of the Atlantic Ocean for the next five months.  I said "Patrick you must be really excited about heading to Brazil to meet the ship". 

His response will be something that will stick with me.  "I am looking forward to that, but I am also really happy and excited right now. Its about the present - I have learned that from playing music, when I am playing my guitar I can't be thinking ahead."   As I dropped him at the airport I realized I had crossed a threshold - I was now learning from him.

It takes work to pay attention, but I am amazed at what I have been missing by looking past what is now ahead to what might be.  As another great friend told me when I was going through the anxiety odyssey - "Rory, don't just do something, sit there."



  1. I am blessed by this. Challenged. Encouraged. Thank you.

  2. Thank you Rory ... it is a good word for me too.

    I'm glad your horse got turned around.

  3. Hi Rorry. Jonathan Mentzos here. In a very short amount if time my life became a very overwhelming flood of issues that were overtaking me completely. This article is a good one for anyone being overrun. Thanks. On another note, I like having this connection with you. You guys, whether you know it or not were an improtant part of mine and my family's life-- like an uncle. You've been missed. Thanks

  4. Excellent! I'm bringing the bit about the f*cking horse to dinner tonight. x P

  5. I have read and reread this entry a number of times now. My oldest daugther (15) and I have talked about how difficult it is for each member of our family to be still, to recognize what I already know to be true for marathon training (that a day of rest is a part of the training) is true in life too. As we walked along the beach yesterday, my daughter asked me why I was walking so fast when there was so much to see. I am always rushing, always feeling hounded by the 'next' thing I need to do. I need to find a horse, NOW!