When I was pastoring, I always found it difficult to get people to pay attention to the announcements. I think most pastors would tend to agree with me. One day, when I was trying to read the announcements, one of the young visitors to our church stood up and told the adults it was pay attention time. Two things about that morning have stayed with me. One was the effect of those words on the congregation that morning; people actually focused their attention on the announcements that day. The other was the power of that young woman who reminded us all that we have to pay attention to everything, including the announcements.
The last several months, I have remembered how important it to pay attention to everything in my life. By paying attention to my feelings, especially my reactions, I can see where I have grown and where I still need to evolve spiritually. As I have learned to pay attention to my reactions, especially the times I respond out of anger, fear, jealousy, resentment and impatience, I have come to learn so much about myself. These moments have been time for growth rather then self-judgment or self-rejection.
I used to think that if I could change others then everything would be ok. One of the things I have come to understand in my journey is that the change has to begin within myself. As HGTV says, “change the world, start at home.” Ghandi said something similar “be the change you want to see in the world.” So what do you want to see in the world? Do you want to see more peace; then be more peaceful? Do you want to see less jealousy; then be less jealous? Do you want to see less hatred; then hate less? Do you want to see less judgment; then be less judgmental? If you want to see more love in this world, then be more loving. Perhaps this is why one of the New Testament writings tells us that before we attempt to pull the beam out of our neighbor’s eyes, we should pull them out of our own (Matthew 7:5).
Where does one start? I started by paying attention to my emotions. I began by paying attention to what I was feeling in the present. One of the things I came to realize is that my body knows what I am feeling even when my mind is not aware. I have learned to pay attention to where I feel things in my chest, throat, back, etc. I know that when I am feeling fear it is in my throat. I feel anger in my upper back. I also know that I can feel love in my chest. I noticed that I breathe differently with different emotions as well. Everybody feels different feelings in different parts of their body. Once I learned how to pay attention to the physical sensations in my body, then I could begin to think about why I was feeling whatever and move through it, so that I was responding to the feelings rather then reacting to them. For example, the other day someone wrote something to me and as I read the email, I could feel my body tense. I had to stop and look at what I was feeling. As I worked through my emotional response, I was able to come to a place where I could respond out of the loving part of my personality and not the less then loving parts.
I have also committed to paying attention to my thoughts. I try to pay attention to not only what I say and do, but also what I think. I try to listen to when I am thinking something judgmental, comparing, daydreaming, as well as when I am thinking about how grateful I feel, or how much I appreciate someone, or how content I am in my life or how open I am to what Spirit is unfolding within me. If I can pay attention to my thoughts then I can be more mindful of what I say and do. I am mindful of when I am comparing myself to someone else or comparing my relationship with Zoë to someone else’s relationship, or what I think there relationship is. I am mindful of when I am not staying in the present and when my mind is having a daydream about some fantasy, like what I would do if I were employed full timeJ. If what I am thinking is about truth, love and focused on the present, then it is more likely that my actions will be about truth, love and in response to the present.
I have also been paying attention to my intentions. When I say or do something, what is my intent? Am I intending to promote peace and harmony, or am I intending to promote conflict and division? Am I trying to make others inhabit my version of the truth, or am I open to hearing and learning from others? If my intention is to create love and peace in my life, then what I say, do, and think will tend to be more loving and peaceful. I have learned to slow down the process with which I do things until I am clear on why I intend to do what I do or say. It is in those times that I remember the Sufi teaching that says before we speak, we should ask ourselves if what we want to say is truthful, necessary, and kind. If we cannot answer yes to all of those questions, then it does not need to be said.
When I shared some of my thoughts with a friend of mine, she asked me how long it took me to get to this place in my life. I would love to say that I got here over night, but I did not. There are moments that I still find myself experiencing feelings that are less then loving. The difference is that I have learned to pay attention to them, think through them, and then respond out of love. None of what I have learned in my spiritual journey has happened over night, it is an ongoing and daily practice. However, as I recently shared with someone, I cannot ask others to evolve if I am not willing to work on my own evolution.