Thursday, November 18, 2010

Paying Attention

Attention - Concentration of the mental powers; from the Latin attendere: to stretch toward.

Thousands of images, events and fires, both big and small, demand our attention daily -- everything from the kids, to work, to the next apocalyptic disaster around the corner, all vying for limited mental parking space. The parking lot is usually overflowing with a line backed out to the street -- and still, we hope for a little space left over where maybe we can also 'attend' to some of the things that help us stand strong another day - the rejuvenation and restoration we all need to find, if only in the corners of our life, in order to have the reserves and will to rise again, to not only survive, but thrive.

Four facts about mental acreage:

> What you attend to matters.

> What you don't attend to matters as much.

> There's a finite number of parking spots in your lot.

> We each are the parking 'attendant' of our own lot; i.e. it's up to us to carefully attend to who/what enters - OR if we allow everyone/everything that loudly demands entry "NOW!" to enter just because they're loudly demanding [it's always 'now', isn't it?].

We work the gate. We decide to allow entry -- or not. There's no one and nothing else to blame - even if the cars are circling the block, leaning on their horns, flippin' each other off, demanding 'NOW!' like a three year old's tantrum. Best thing to do with overly demanding children is to ignore their unreasonable demands. Just 'cuz they're loud, doesn't mean they should get attention for it.

Patience, delayed gratification and self-restraint don't get a lot of 'attention' these days. It shows - just drive a car for 15 minutes among your fellow travelers if you doubt it.

Not much time is spent 'attending' to Beauty either, Beauty with a capital 'B', not the trivial kind you can buy, but the awe-some kind that stops you in your tracks as you hustle forward in your busy day.

Walk with a two year old discovering for the first time the world laid out before them and you'll experience it: "That leaf! That leaf! Look!" and you know you are in the presence of a 'high being' in a state of awe and ecstasy.

If we can stop to look, we'll see how the raindrops from the night's rain have settled on the fallen leaf like jewels - an ordinary leaf - the same as millions of others, except this one - it captures the glint of sun rising in the morning sky - it magnifies the light, magnifies Life and Beauty ---


we stop to notice it - an ordinary leaf on a slab of ordinary gray concrete, made Extraordinary by stopping, getting close, and noticing.


It takes practice. It's not just for two year olds and crazy artists.

We are the gatekeepers of OUR Mental Parking Lots - and mine has gardens, flowers and vines growing all over it. If I let you in, please park carefully and know this is premium parking space [I don't let just anything in!] and please pay attention to not run over the sunflowers growing along the edges.

To read more, ask your local library for:

'Rapt - Attention and the Focused Life' by Winifred Gallagher

Thursday, November 4, 2010

'Restoration' - the Mental: Avoiding Bad Roads

“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, and a hell of heaven.”
- John Milton

Over a year ago, I started writing about the “Wheel of Restoration.” I had an outline laid out and it would only take me a short time to write the basics of ‘whole person wellness’ as I’ve learned it thus far in my observations in a life-long career in the healing arts and navigating my own health challenges. Thing is, when you set out to ‘teach’ something and you also know that you yourself are a life-long student, sometimes life comes along and knocks you upside the head with some new schooling, some more advanced lessons on the subject -- especially if your eyes and ears are willingly open to being schooled.

I should have known better. I do know better, but I forgot.

To me, that right there is the core of healing: usually, a circuitous path of forgetting and remembering -- and as long as we keep remembering, keep reminding one another, not so much by our words, but by our actions, we keep moving forward in the strengthening direction - the direction of healing and restoration - whatever it is one thinks ‘That’ looks like and however one personally measures it.

I wanted to write down some of the things I’d learned over the past years from working with thousands of clients throughout my lifetime, to pass on to others, especially my children, gathered anecdotes, thoughts and reflections on the lessons I’ve been fortunate to have been shown over the years, reflected in the lives of diverse people struggling and working hard to be and do their best, owning responsibility for their bodies, health and lives, and DOING something about them. Often, a writer thinks that they are writing to or for someone; always, to some degree, we are also writing to ourselves.

I’ve met some amazing people over the years; they all had something to teach me. Some taught me what a person willing to take ownership and responsibility looks like, others were an example of other roads - ones I’d rather not go down.

Remember those television commercials where an elderly person falls on the floor and helplessly cries out, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”? Motivated to never be like that, my elderly mother’s response was: “Never lose your ability to get yourself up off the floor!” As an independent widow she knew the importance of this. To her, what would save her if she fell was herself -- her own ability to rise up again.

She practiced what she preached, intentionally getting herself down on the floor daily to do floor exercises --- and then getting herself back up again - sometimes by ‘hook or by crook’ - but always, she got herself back up.


That’s what I’ve been busy doing for the last five years, since my personal world went through a revolution. I fall, metaphorically speaking, and by hook or by crook, I work at getting back up, even if it is sometimes frustratingly, two steps forward - a limp and a half back. Still, always forward, thankfully. There are a variety of floors one can fall down upon - and as many ways of rising.

When in a revolution, become a revolutionary. Resist! Fight! Rise up and stand toe-to-toe with the Challenger. Rise Again! And again, and again, and again.

In the summer of ’09 I began writing what was going to be this short series on ‘Restoration’ and Healing. I divided the wheel into four quadrants and was writing on them one by one: the Physical, the Emotional -- and then we came to the Mental....

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! [inside joke for the one or two who know the man behind the curtain]

I thought I could easily and quickly write about the Mental Quadrant - the ‘how-to’ of maintaining quality mental activity and ability. And it’s true, I have learned a lot about that over the years. I’d even recently been studying the subject in my personal recovery from medically-related cognitive issues. Evidently I was going to ‘study’ this from a deeper place; I was swept down the slippery slope, obliging me to “get myself back up” just as mom had instructed.

It wasn’t easy - and in the condition I found myself in, I had nothing to say on the subject -- not until I got back up that slippery mountainside.

When we find ourselves sliding down that mental slope, it’s usually because of a combination of events and circumstances, mixed with lowered ability to ‘spring back’, fueled by a cocktail of adrenaline and other bodily stress hormones. All come together in a confluence with our name on it --- and > SNAP! < .... there we go..... down that slope.

And there I went. Reflections on the Mental Quadrant [which is the governor/determiner of the Emotional, also] are actually all chronicled in these writings of the past year - mostly between the lines, behind the language of poetry: chrysalises and monarchs; haiku, cutting to the bone; and the occasional essay of musings on personal topics such as mortality and endurance. I wrote about sailing high seas, both my young sailing son’s actual waters, and metaphorically, my own personal paddling through choppy seas. I couldn’t hit it directly - straight on - I had to come at it sideways; I had to tack my way forward. I dug my paddle in and pulled hard.

And I’ve been pulling since, digging the paddle into the strong current. This moment of paddling, the only thing of importance. Forward >>> the direction.

When the body becomes not as steadily reliable, when you feel as though your life-long chassis, the old, steady-and-ready vehicle that it once was has somehow betrayed you, then preserving mental ground becomes of utmost importance. It always was important, but it was taken for granted that there was wiggle room. Now, with other parts challenged, mental strength becomes more highly valued. We NEED our rudder of stability and clarity. It needs our attention. Where we place our attention can literally be the difference between life and death and most definitely IS the difference in the ever-fluctuating quality of life.

Where we place our attention is key. A stable, alert, awake, creative, problem-solving mind is what we all want. But how do we create that? Like a fit body, for most of us it isn't just going to happen. It will take work and attention.

We begin at the beginning: WHERE we place our attention.

To be continued....

[Other writings on ‘Restoration’ are archived from July ’09 to present, some under that heading, others hidden in 17 syllables of haiku or instructions from Rumi.]