Pay Attention

Suck it, Gilgamesh!

Are we not men? No, we are Hammurabi!

What are you doing right now? How many different things are you trying to balance? Stop all of them and pay attention. No, seriously, do it. Nobody is going to die in the next five minutes. Unless you’re in surgery or something. In which case go do your job.

I’m here reminding you that you need to pay attention.

This isn’t like in Middle School history when you were learning about the Epic of Gilgamesh and how he killed a demi-god with the help of a hairy little man and together they survive watching the movie Ishtar and end up wearing a cow’s ass as a hat or something. Did you pay attention to that story? Yeah, me neither. This is nothing like that.

I’ve noticed something that bothers me – we constantly distract ourselves. People are always on the phone or listening to music or basically not paying attention. Stop it.


Take a deep breath and let it out slowly. Breathe in. Breathe out. Fill up your lungs, focus on breathing.

Do you feel that? That’s you calming your tiny little primate brain and making it pay attention to one very simple thing that it already does on its own. Feels good, doesn’t it?

Keeping doing for a bit. Focus on your breathing. If you drift off for a second, just focus on your breathing. Your mind is still there, you just shifted your focus. This page will still be here when you get frustrated.


What’s the point of this?

Honestly, the point was to get you to stop for a minute.

Think about how often you’re constantly worried about what to do next. Think about how often you’re thinking about a meeting you had earlier in the week, an argument, or anything else that happened in the past. You think about the past and the future a lot, don’t you?

Now, think about how much time you spend focusing on right now. Be really honest with yourself. I bet it’s not a lot.

Have you smelled this finger?

This is really mature, guys.

We constantly distract ourselves. I have friends who listen to books while they run because running is boring. People talk on their phones while they shop and drive because it’s boring. People will do anything to distract themselves from the task at hand because it’s boring.

You’re boring.

Did you perk up and pay attention just now? I thought so. You probably aren’t boring. You’re probably a fascinating person with diverse and varied interests and I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings, but you’re boring the shit out of me. Fact: life is not full of roller coasters and orgasms. Sometimes you have to peel potatoes. When you’re peeling the potatoes, peel the potatoes. Don’t think about how you’re going to have pie for dessert or how your 14 disk box set of Quantum Leap is going to come in the mail in a few days. Just peel the potatoes.


Zen students are with their masters at least ten years before the presume to teach others. Nan-in was visited by Tenno, who, having passed his apprenticeship, had become a teacher. The day happened to be rainy, so Tenno wore wooden clogs and carried an umbrella. After greeting him, Nan-in remarked “I suppose you left your wooden clogs in the vestibule. I want to know if your umbrella is on the right or left side of the clogs.”

Tenno, confused, had no instant answer. He realized that he was unable to carry his Zen every minute. He became Nan-in’s pupil, and he studied six more years to accomplish his every-minute Zen.

from Zen Flesh Zen Bones, compiled by Paul Reps and Nyogen Senzaki

To put it another way – an ordained monk was so humbled by his own inattention that he once again became a student. We all slip up, but if you try you can manage to pay a little bit more attention to what you’re doing. Take pleasure in the things you’re doing. When it’s time to peel the potatoes, peel the potatoes. When it’s time to indulge in your Margaret Thatcher fetish, don’t call me.


8 Comments so far. Comments are closed.
  1. jbrown414,

    A good read as it is blunt and to the point. I fall in the category of getting distracted, quite often.

  2. Great post, Good reminder for all of us. :) Thanks!

  3. You know how to cut to the core of me Baxter… You’re so wise, like a miniature buddha, covered in hair.

  4. Indeed.

    To roughly quote my teacher when I’d get too distracted or frantic – “breathing, posture, small movements. Everything else will come in time”

    Something I need to remind myself of too often lately heh.

  5. I have a couple things I do when I want to relax. One is to pay attention to sounds. There are always at least six I can identify.
    The next is to pay attention to the sense of touch. Feet in shoes, tongue on teeth, elbow on table. There’s way more than six to pay attention to.
    I’m going to add breathing.
    Best with eyes closed if you can get away with it.

    • That reminds me of something, too. When I’m trying to calm my mind and something keeps distracting me, I acknowledge it, pay attention to it and then move back to pay attention to my breathing.

      I don’t close my eyes, though, I just let my vision unfocus and sort of zone out. I’ll have to try it with my eyes closed next time. Thanks for the suggestion!

  6. That was a refreshing smack in the face. Well done sir.

  7. Someone recommended I read your post after our recent SQLSaturday here in Charlotte. I must say this is solid advice for any Chapter Leader going through the stressful tasks of executing a SQLSaturday. There are a million possible distractions in running a major event and I will suggest this as a guideline to future SQLSaturday organizers. I was able to relax a bit around 11AM during our event and it was very rewarding to be in the moment and observe all that was going on. Good advice for life – thanks.

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