Monday, July 13, 2009

Pay Awesome Attention #1: Bathroom or Bust (and Trust)


I've done it so many times, I cringe to count.

I need to go to the bathroom. (But I can wait.)

I should go to the bathroom. (Aw, I'm kinda busy right now. I'll go soon.)

Yikes...I gotta go to the bathroom now! (Whew, I just made it.)

How embarrassing.

But I am in good company.

My new little childcare friend, age 7, gets so involved with the book she is reading or making, or the design she is drawing or coloring, that only enough wiggling and jiggling send her flying into the bathroom in time.

My 5-year-old niece, engrossed in a new story she is making up or enthralled with the current episode of “The Amazing Misadventures of Pippie, the Naughtiest Teddy Bear in the Whole World” that I am spinning, suddenly clutches herself and says, “Ooh, I hafta go to the baffroom” and executes a dash worthy of a seasoned athlete.


Now, I am not 5 or 7 years old, nor recently potty trained. Yet often enough I am just as reluctant to break away from whatever I am doing to take care of nature's insistent call. Even “knowing better” doesn't prevent me from overlooking body signals like a full bladder or an empty, rumbling stomach.

Why do I do it? Because so many important things—tasks, desires, plans, thoughts—grab my attention. Like the little girls, I can easily become intensely absorbed by whomever or whatever is in front of me.

Lucky me, right? I mean, isn't this single-minded focus exactly what exasperated parents and teachers request (demand?) from fidgety or dreamy-eyed kids? What frustrated spouses and impatient employers expect from half-listening or time-frittering adults? Don't we want kids and adults to be fully focused on the story, task, or conversation at hand—and then move on to the next person or thing to be heard, done, nodded to?

Sure. Single-minded, checklist attention gets things done, and I will continue to use it.

But here's the sneaky double-pronged paradox for me:

Laser-beam attention on something external I am doing

while ignoring an essential inner signal

is not awesome attention.

And intense concentration on someone only to dismiss her or him

in my mind afterwards as no longer useful, entertaining, or valuable

is not awesome attention.

And more and more, I want to pay awesome attention

awesome attention that awakens me

at this fresh moment

to the goodness

in me, in you


Awesome attention is fed by our ancient instinct for awe, that open flow of wonder and gratitude that says, Wow, I have this body that knows exactly when to inhale and exhale, precisely when to shut down in sleep to repair itself, and to my relief, pointedly when it needs to remove excess liquids and solids.

And awesome attention is when I can notice your shadowed eyes, carrying fatigue, overwhelm, or sorrow...and silently hold you in my heart.


Awesome attention is strengthened when I tune into a flash of intuition (“inner knowing”)—without categorizing it as trivial, useful...or anything at all.

And awesome attention is when I hear you wistfully describe to me yet again a vague idea, a maybe-someday wish—without needing you to make it happen on my if-I-were-you timetable...or ever at all.


Awesome attention is sustained when I recognize Life itself is calling me right now to

slow down

be still

notice my fingers moving on this keyboard

look up and see the sun making shadows with the leafy tree branches

—all without expecting an inspired flow of words to pour out as my reward.

And awesome attention is when I can see you rushing around, stressed out—and neither scold you nor try to fix you (because, of course, I know how).


Spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle calls awesome attention presence and the power of now. Others name it mindfulness, which mediation teacher Jon Kabat-Zinn describes as “awarenessing...befriending this deep capacity of the heart and stand in how things are now.”

I can only do this “standing in how things are now”—this being a witness without tinkering, this being-with without interpreting—one moment at a time. Lucky me: despite years of thinking tomorrow won't give me what I want unless I plan, that's all that Life ever gives us: one moment at a time.

Do I, once upon a time a fierce devotee of making-it-happen (or for sure it wouldn't happen at all), trust that this gift of moment by moment is enough?

Do I trust that I am enough—just as I am, in my current work-in-progress version of Kathy—to receive and open this gift ?

Right now, I will say yes to both.

Even as I notice I need to go to the bathroom again.

Isn't that awesome?