The Key to a life of fulfillment is to ‘PAY ATTENTION!’
“The simple act of paying attention can take you a long way.”
-Keanu Reeves, actor
My suitcase disappeared on one of my trips recently. It just failed to show up. I stood there in the baggage claim area stupidly watching everybody else’s luggage before I finally admitted it was lost and reported to the baggage claim. I could feel my irritation grow as I filled out the forms in triplicate.
I was told my bag would certainly be on the next flight, but it wasn’t. It didn’t arrive before I went to bed, and it didn’t arrive during the night and, no one came bouncing over at breakfast to tell me that it had been delivered at dawn.
I was not happy. All the assurances I received from the airline personnel did very little to calm the storm in my mind. I felt helpless and out of control. There was certainly nothing I could do.
After breakfast, I left stern messages for the airline staff at the hotel’s front desk and fumed out to take a walk.
It was a beautiful vibrant spring morning in Scottsdale, Arizona. The air smelled wonderful; the spring flowers were in bloom, and the gardens and lawns were gloriously green. But I was at war with myself. “What if my suitcase had disappeared in some airline black hole? What about my new shirts? My favorite shoes could never be replaced. Why didn’t I bring a travel kit in my carry-on? How could I have been so stupid?” I had five pages of notes for a chapter in my book in my suitcase, and I had nothing to wear for my presentations.
Suddenly I realized I had walked four long blocks. I was angry. I had disappeared from the beautiful spring day and deliberately walked into a dark little pit of irritating misery.
I took a deep breath and looked around me. I smelled the spring flowers and felt the sun warming my face. A mama duck followed by eight tiny baby swans by in a sun-drenched pond. I felt myself grinning from ear-to-ear. I realized that the worst that could happen was that I would have to buy some clothes.
On the way back to the hotel, I remembered a Zen story about a middle-aged man who had fought his way up the corporate ladder. On the way, his marriage fell apart; he was estranged from his children, bored with his money, and physically ill.
Then someone told him there was a wise man who knew three secrets to a happy life. So, he instantly quite his job, sold his home and began the quest to fine the wise man with the secrets of happiness.
He traveled throughout the world, enduring many hardships, but at last he was rewarded. He found the wise man sequestered high on a mountain. Kneeling before him he said, “Master, please tell me the three secrets of a happy life.”
“Most certainly,” replied the Master. “The first secret of life is to pay attention.”
The man was delicious. He could certainly do that! “And what else, Master?” he begged.
“The second secret to life,” said the wise Zen Master, “Is to pay attention.”
The man could scarcely believe his ears. But the wise old Master made it even clearer. He closed his eyes and said, “Ant eh third second of life, young man, is to pay attention.”
A light went off in my brain as I realized that most people never really pay attention. Like me, they live in their head, fantasizing, making up our own narrative, worrying and fussing. I was certainly not paying attention on my walk. To pay attention you must be in the moment, not in your mind. I needed to be ‘in’ that beautiful, not in the nasty pit of lost luggage.
Fritz Pearls, the great pioneer of Gestalt therapy, said that most anxiety and stress is caused by “…living in a dead past or an unborn future.”
Guilt from the past and Fear of the future. Healing, however, is in the present.
When you began to understand and embrace the importance and practice of mindfulness, living in the present, life suddenly takes on a whole new dimension. Appreciation, joy, ecstasy, and healing are the payoffs.
James Mapes is the founder of Quantum Leap Thinking™, creator of The Transformational Coach™, expert on the psychology of “applied imagination,” best-selling author, highly acclaimed business speaker, consultant, seminar leader and personal excellence coach.