Pay Attention

Pay Attention



 Click image for link to glossy mug.



Pay Attention

This mug is the first product I created for my store, which seems appropriate as the store is called Attention Bazaar, after all. No, this isn’t intended as a subliminal message to get you to buy things and “pay” the store. It is about the starting point and root of my intention. It is the simple message to pay attention as much as possible, moment to moment in your life and notice as much as possible. That is the reminder in the slogan on this mug.

It can serve as a message to yourself to not let your life pass by while being distracted or in a daze. Pay attention and notice if you are preoccupied with things that are not really that important to you. Come to your senses, literally, and notice what you see, hear, smell and taste and feel. Wake up from walking slumber, from the thundering chatter of your own chaotic thoughts.

This is the place to start with this slogan. Be alert in the present moment. Show up with as much consciousness as you can muster. In recent years there has been an explosion of interest in “mindfulness”. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the Founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program, defines mindfulness as the awareness that arises through intentionally paying attention in the present moment without judgment. When you are mindful, you are fully aware of your current experience. This is the first thing that the slogan on this mug can point to. But wait…there’s more.

At any given moment there are an infinite number of things that arise and can capture our attention. We can’t notice everything. It’s impossible. Even the things that our brains equip us to potentially notice is a very small fraction of what is actually happening around us and in our own bodies. We evolved to naturally and automatically pay attention to some things and not others. Our attention is captured by those things that are potential threats and those things that can meet our needs. We have to be able to mobilise against danger and to notice and pursue what is needed and desirable. We tend to ignore whatever doesn’t immediately seem to fit into either of these categories. This is necessary and good. It makes life possible. At the same time, we don’t have to be on auto-pilot. We can decide what to pay attention to. This is the further implication of the slogan on this mug.

Click image for link to enamel mug.

When we rouse our attention and “wake up” in the present moment, we are ready to respond to immediate dangers and opportunities. Mindfulness prepares us for this. Otherwise, we provide evidence that the old saying is true: “You snooze, you lose.” At the same time, there are many things that we can give our attention to that have to do with future potential dangers and opportunities, for ourselves, our loved ones and the world. There is a future self and a future world that will in some ways be a product of what we choose to pay attention to today. This suggests that some things our brain may instinctively put in the “ignore” category could turn out to be worth our attention. We have to use another part of our brains to think about this, to figure it out.

Here is an analogy to illustrate the point. In our long journey of evolution, we had to adapt to the reality that food supplies were not always abundant. We had to survive periods when there was little or nothing to eat. As the theory goes, this led us to eat as much calorific and sweet things as we could when they were available, so that we could have a store of energy (let’s call it fat) for when there was no food. This was a good solution to the ongoing challenges of survival once upon a time. However, most of us (I assume anyone who is actually reading this) are now not in the same position. We don’t confront routine and extended periods of hunger. Sweet things are not hard to come by, but are continuously abundant and cheap. When we run our old programming, we wind up with an obesity problem, individually and collectively.

Click image for link to totebag.

In the same way, our brains evolved to mostly pay attention to immediate and short-term needs. We didn’t live much beyond the age at which we could reproduce and help our offspring survive to adulthood. Now we have retirement to consider. And beyond ourselves, we didn’t have to account for the long-term consequence of our collective activities on the health of the planet. Similar to eating sweet things without worry about the cumulative effect, we didn’t used to have to think or do anything about these things. We are in a different place now. It has become more important to take a longer view, both for ourselves and for the world at large. This has implications for what it is important to pay attention to. Just as with sweets, there are hazards to only paying attention to those things that our earlier instinctual brain would have us attend to. While the popular interest in mindfulness gets at the first important step of being aware without judgement that arises in the present moment, it doesn’t speak to what I hope to also imply in the slogan Pay Attention. It turns out that our awareness can also be fruitfully given to our ability to envision a future and that being able to make judgments (about what to pay attention to and what to do, or not) is also important.

This is all dependent on the belief that we have volitional control over where we focus our attention. The implication of the slogan is that we actually can pay attention and that we have some choice about what, among the myriad variety of things that we might notice, we actually focus on. Figuring out what those things are is up to each of us as individuals. I can’t say what you ought to pay attention to, aside from general categories of things which I will write about in a future blog.

So, if you generally agree with what I’m saying and you feel it is important for you to remember to make that effort to pay attention as often as possible, maybe you will find this mug a helpful little reminder. If you start your day with a cup of coffee, for instance, maybe having this slogan pressed against your nose could be a good thing.

Click image for women's t-shirt                 Click image for men's t-shirt


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