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Recipe for IPA Step 3: Attention, Please!

beth-circle-head Beth Heller

Be skillful about what you think because your thoughts become actions, those actions become habits, the habits become beliefs and the beliefs eventually define your reality.  

You’ve probably heard this old adage, or something like it, before.  It’s one that teachers, grandparents and even Sunday school teachers love to share. Hackneyed or not, it’s pretty much spot on.  Just like our hamstrings get tight from inactivity, our thoughts about the world in which we live get stuck in familiar grooves, and our beliefs stiffen up like our hamstrings… unless we stretch them from time to time.  

That’s why the third step in recipe for Intense Present-Focused Awareness is start paying attention to the thoughts and beliefs we hold about each other and the world around us and to regularly compare them to reality.  What does this look like?  Here’s an example.  Do you ever have moments where your mind spins off into stress, panic and worst-case scenarios about a completely imaginary problem?  This phenomenon is active in our community interactions, too.  We may think our community is stodgy, or yuppy or frumpy or overly hip, when the honest truth is that we haven’t connected with a unfamiliar circumstances or people in quite a long while.  

Part 3

So here’s the suggested practice for the week.  Pay attention to our community.  

The holidays present a wonderful chance to pay attention to how you think about the people, places and activities in the world outside your door.  Fun and festive opportunities to connect with others abound – from local theater to winter bike rides to winter farmers markets and more. And, it’s a great chance to see how our thoughts and beliefs might shape (or limit) our actions.  

  1. Check out local calendars and start by watching your reactions.  A winter bike ride?  Just for hipsters.  Beer and Wine walk on Broadway?  Fancy people.  New Leaf Winter Farmers Market?  Granola-heads.  Gamblers game?  Too sporty.  Packers’ game?  Bullseye.  
  2. Rather than choosing the bullseye, identify an event that prompted skepticism or snarkiness, and make a point to show up.  Put on your hat and mittens and step outside of your comfort zone, leaving those initial expectations behind. Once there, talk to someone new, experience a new taste, ask questions.  
  3. Reflect back.  Was the experience what you thought it would be?  Did anything surprise you?  

View this exercise as a yoga pose that stretches a tight muscle in our brains.  Each and everyone of us needs to try new things and be surprised.  The space outside our comfort zone is the only place where we can unlock something truly new and creative in our lives.  

And, while you’re on your adventure, remember to use the other tools of mindfulness to help you center and relax so you can be present and to share your experience with us!

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