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February Newsletter: Paying Attention

Hi friends, happy February!

So we got a new fridge, the fancy kind that beeps when you leave a door open. For most people, this is a cool and helpful feature. For me, it has been the most obnoxious daily reminder of just how many times I do things without actually paying attention. If you’ve ever shared a living space with me, you’d know that leaving cabinets and drawers open, doors unlocked, and my keys in the most unlikely place I’ll check when I need them is to be expected. More than just an annoying habit, I’m starting to think this distractedness is a symptom of something a little more disconcerting: my natural inclination to live in my own world vs. actually experiencing the physical one that’s around me.

It’s fair to say I’ve always favored living in my head rather than in my tangible reality. I consider “brainstorming” one of my favorite activities, prefer the dreaming, imagining and planning parts of a project over ironing out details and executing, and often miss exits and turns during my commute (which is less than 15 min every day!) because I’ve been off in la la land while driving. However, all of the recent changes in my life (mamahood, new house, a growing business) have reinforced this disconnect between my mind and my body, and without deep roots in either a physical home or a spiritual identity, I’ve been drifting off farther and farther into space. Although part of me really likes the idea of being a free spirit concerned only with big-picture dreams, I can’t shake the feeling that I am missing something important by living detached from the small, every-day details of the life that’s right in front of me.

So I went to the Houston Ayurveda Center for a magic pill that would bring me back to Earth. To my disappointment, Sunita did not prescribe herbs or supplements. Instead, she said: if you don’t want your mind to drift, you have to give it a reason to stay. In other words, make your physical reality more interesting, more delightful, so that your mind doesn’t feel the need to escape. Hmmm, ok, and how does one do that?

By paying attention.

A few years ago, back when I was living in DC, I downloaded a free course form a blogger I was following that was all about exploring your 5 senses. The first assignment was to take a familiar walk and write down the door colors of every house or building you passed by. I took off on the same walk I had taken with Bella for about a year and literally felt like I was passing by things I had never seen before. I remember wondering in that moment just how many times I had moved from point A to point B without any regard for the magic that was there for my taking along the way.  And 5 years later, I wonder how many beautiful moments I’ve missed while on my phone or worrying about something that’s already happened, or planning a future that’s not yet here. Missing out on small details on a walk doesn’t seem so dramatic. But if life is nothing more than a collection of moments, I certainly don’t want to be missing out on all the good ones! Besides, there’s something far greater at risk when we stop paying attention – our very own power of intuition.

Our senses transmit information, which can only become nourishing input if we take the time to process. Our ability to properly interpret the signals we receive from the outside world depends on conscious practice, and like any other skill, it weakens when we don’t do it. In fact, when we ignore something enough, we stop perceiving it altogether. Let me give you a very concrete example. There is a train that passes right behind my house every night and blows its horn at 4am. The first few weeks after we moved in, this was so incredibly disturbing that I considered dismantling the tracks myself to stop the freakin’ train from waking me up one more time. But my continued efforts to ignore it have worked…there are many nights now when I simply don’t hear it. Pretty sure the horn is just as loud as it’s always been, but I’ve taught my nervous system not to react, not to send the information to my brain to process. The exact same thing happens when we live our lives ignoring the signals our senses are sending us because we’re off daydreaming or stressing or following rigid schedules. Over time, we lose the ability to interpret what our body is telling us, and isn’t that precisely what feeds our intuition? I mean, what’s a “gut feeling” if not a physical reaction to an external stimulus that makes use feel a certain way?

When we no longer involve our bodies in decision-making, we rely solely on the mind….and if your mind is anything like mine, it should not be given that much power! Not only are our thoughts fairly inconsistent, they are also intent on following some sort of logic. And I’m sure you’ve noticed that life is simply not logical. Some of the most important decisions I’ve made in my life – moving to Houston, marrying Dave, quitting my job to open the studio – have been based on a little thought and mostly heart, gut, and intuition.

I think most of us would like to be more intuitive, more attuned to what we need in order to be happy. And all that requires is paying attention. The more we can connect the dots between our physical experiences and our spiritual, mental, and emotional states, the more we develop our intuitive muscle.

Since we celebrate Valentine’s Day this month, we’ll end this newsletter on a loooove note. A few weeks ago, I went to see Ladybird with my bestie (so good, highly recommend!) In one scene, Ladybird’s counselor tells her it’s clear that she loves San Francisco by the detailed way in which she writes about the city. Ladybird says “it’s not love, I just pay attention”. And her counselor replies “well, isn’t that the same thing, love and paying attention?”

I took the liberty of writing the dialogue as I remember it, so it may not be completely accurate. But the point is this: there really isn’t any better, fuller expression of love than truly paying attention, and there isn’t any feeling more rewarding, liberating, and fulfilling than being truly seen.

We often end our yoga classes with “Namaste”, which translates to some variation of “the light in me honors and sees the light in you.” This month, let’s celebrate love by grounding our feet in the present moment, acknowledging the beauty that’s right in front of us, and offering the special people in our lives the greatest gift – our full, undivided attention.

Namaste,
Carolina

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