Is paying attention the key?

I find myself questioning a lot. Too much, maybe. I question the root of my battle with anxiety and depressive episodes. I question how I can balance my longing to be free against the notion of what freedom really is. I question my writing and what I want to achieve from it.

I question everything. I guess that’s what this blog is, really.

And I think that constant hunting out of the answer to all these questions is precisely that… a need to find that bigger answer. The one lingering in the corner of the room, tapping you on the shoulder and following your every movement.

How do I live my life to its fullest?

A dear friend and I talk about these questions almost every day. We share reflections on the week gone, help one another work our way through the existential topics that frame our very being.

Recently, with reference to a recent blog post where I spoke about throwing myself headfirst and giving it my all, she said:

“I wonder if your natural tendency, what comes easiest to you, is to be active, pushing, striving it’s quite a fierce approach… so what about the wildness in softening, letting go, grounding, getting present?”

It’s something I’d never considered. Not on a deep level, anyway. Whilst I strive for a mindful life I’d be lying if I said it was a path that came easily. If at all.

I’m fiery by character. A textbook Sagittarius, my passions are intense and my life tends to run on impulses. I follow my gut, always, and fly through every experience as if on hot coals. A moment wasted is a moment lost.

And mostly, it’s a trait that has served me well. That desire compelled me to leave my comfort zone and take on many of the life changing experiences I pride myself on. It helped me get the jobs I have done and grab hold of my achievements.

But it also made me slip through them at full speed; a conveyor belt continuously taking me to the next destination.

Because when I look back, I can’t help but wonder… how different would things have been had I found the space inside me to press down on the brakes and ground myself?

To be in that moment, to pay attention to it, rather than tying up my laces ready for the next step?

I’ve always told myself that my inability to stop is simply a manifestation of my urge to live every second out of life. The thought of reaching the end of my life and feeling any regret for the opportunities missed fills me with a debilitating terror. I want to be able to tell of my adventure, to hold it close to my chest and know that I made every moment count.

And yet… am I really feeling those moments?

Mary Oliver puts it beautifully:

“Attention without feeling, I began to learn, is only a report. An openness – an empathy – was necessary if the attention was to matter.”

Is this, then, the answer?

Perhaps the key is to surrender to a gentler way of life. To stop comparing this place I find myself in to the past and let go of my expectations for the future. To let the water carry me. Let it quench my thirst.

As if on cue, I stumbled across this quote today from the global spiritual leader Thich Nhat Hanh:

“To dwell in the here and now does not mean you never think about the past or responsibly plan for the future. The idea is simply not to allow yourself to get lost in regrets about the past or worries about the future. If you are firmly grounded in the present moment, the past can be an object of inquiry, the object of your mindfulness and concentration. You can attain many insights by looking into the past. But you are still grounded in the present moment.”

It seems so obvious. But I’ve got 25 years of behaviour to unthread to make it a reality.

Because to truly live in the moment… to appreciate being and to show up to it in an open way… it means letting go of the control.

And that is my ultimate challenge.

But recognising that? Acknowledging it?

At least that journey has finally begun.

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