Pay attention: just another expression for mindfulness

Published 6:47 pm Friday, September 1, 2017

Remember hearing that in grade school? The teacher would shout it out, “Pay attention!” This was usually just after lunch, as our food was digesting, while we were wishing we were elsewhere, and especially when spring would finally come around. With expansive school windows, one could not help taking a peek into the sunshine and blue sky, and notice the graceful ballet of the greening trees. Then, “wham!” hearing those words, our attention is abruptly called back into the present moment. Boo hoo!

It takes discipline and effort to be mindful. This is not such a big deal when we are enjoying ourselves and things are going our way. It is a whole different story when engaged in an activity that is not to our liking, or when all that we do is met with frustration. We all like things to come easy, and why not? It seems that the person next door always has it better, or easier, in one way or another. We do compare all of the time.

The challenging part of being mindful is that we have to work on accepting things as they are. That is tough to do in the world as it is, since we are programmed from childhood to do well, excel in school and land a good job. What happens when the unexpected happens? Everything falls apart, as nothing functions in a vacuum. One thing always affects another, be it positive or negative.

We all hold images of who we are, and how other people see us is important to us. When life disrupts that image, for whatever reason, there is conflict and much opportunity for anger and frustration. It is these last two that are so hard to deal with.

As an example: life is moving along with its usual daily minor irritations, but overall things are usually manageable. Next day, your colonoscopy, that you have been putting off, sometimes for a good reason, like taking care of a sick spouse, shows that you have cancer. Now moving into the unknown, things begin to happen. There is the fear of surgery, the worry of: has the tumor spread, or is it curable? Will I need chemo? How am I going to pay for this? Who will care for my spouse during treatment or, worse, if my life is cut short?

These are very real concerns, and it is not unusual to be in a state of shock upon hearing such news. Sometimes the only practical thing one can do is to be mindful in such situations. One has to step back and attempt to paint the big picture. It is easy to say, and so hard to believe, but this too shall pass. We all know this, but it takes time to process, so one has to be kind and gentle even with themselves.

Mindfulness begins by paying attention to what is going on inwardly for you. To begin to practice being mindful, it helps to remove yourself from distractions. Start by sitting quietly, if possible viewing nature in your backyard or down by the river. Feel yourself breathe. Watch the breeze as it tickles the leaves, or as it ruffles the water’s surface. As your mind wanders, bring it back and gently focus on being where you are. You are part of this world and ever changing. With the power of presence, you have the ability to manage all things. Be thankful for this day as you listen for guidance. Seek and you shall find.

So let’s all try to pay attention to the experiences that life brings us, forgive yourself and others, and know that you are in the hands of your Higher Power. Being mindful of the way you react, and respond to life’s unexpected and unprepared for events, is just one step in the transformation that is sure to come.

Dr. John Inzerillo, MD, is a hematologist/oncologist with the Marion L. Shepard Cancer Center of Vidant Beaufort Hospital.