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October 30, 2013
by Shamrock Counselling, MA, RCC

The Gift of Paying Attention

October 30, 2013 02:55 by Shamrock Counselling, MA, RCC

“Wherever you are, be all there.” -Jim Elliot

In looking back on a time when the practice of mindfulness was new to me, I distinctly remember a specific day when I was wallowing, thinking of all the reasons I had to be down and lonely, intentionally isolating, and feeling sorry for myself. Wanting to honor my emotions, but knowing I was fast headed to a place I didn’t want to be if I kept going on the negative train of thought, I invited myself to take an afternoon adventure. Just paying attention, with all of my senses, to what was around me shifted something in my spirit: enjoying the taste of espresso chocolate chunk ice cream as I unsuccessfully tried to keep it from dripping down my chin, listening to my favorite music as I threaded my way down a windy country road, really seeing the spectacular views along the way, noticing the smell of the earth and the woods through the window, making an impromptu stop at a local gift shop and taking time to run my hands over handcrafted pottery and jewelry. Over time I felt my whole attitude shift: I became more free, sinking myself into my life, wrapping myself in the here and now, finding meaning in simplicity, becoming very aware of how much I had to be grateful for. Julia Cameron writes about the benefits of paying attention in her book “The Artist’s Way.” A few lines have made such a deep impression on me that I often hear them automatically now throughout my days: “the quality of life is in proportion, always, to the capacity for delight. The capacity for delight is the gift of paying attention.”  

When we practice the gift of paying attention, when we are aware of what is in the moment, we can tap into a deep sense of joy and connection. The following benefits are among those realized when this becomes a practice:

Paying Attention…

1.      Cultivates gratitude

“Be joyful in whatever you’re doing, grateful that you’re able to do that task, and fully appreciate every little movement and tactile sensation of the task. You’ll learn that anything can be an amazing experience, anything can be a miracle” - Leo Babauta

I’ve noticed that when I am most aware, I am able to be most grateful. Noticing details changes a general sense of “I’m thankful for all the good in my life” into a much richer acknowledgement of our experience. When I check in with my senses in a moment, take note of all that is around me, and express gratitude for it, a sometimes surprising transformation takes place. Melody Beattie writes of this shift in her book The Language of Letting Go:

 “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. It turns problems into gifts, failures into successes, the unexpected into perfect timing, and mistakes into important events.”

2.      Slows down time

Instead of worrying about what’s just ahead, getting swallowed up in what-ifs, frenziedly multitasking, or living in regret of the past, when I fully participate in this moment something incredible takes place: time actually seems to slow. When I focus all of my attention on the task at hand and become absorbed by the details of what is in front of me now, the rest of the mind clutter seems to fade and I am not as caught up in the sense of urgency that is so pervasive in our society. Ann Voskamp explores this idea further in her beautiful book One Thousand Gifts:

“When I fully enter time’s swift current, enter into the current moment with the weight of all my attention, I slow the torrent with the weight of me all here. I can slow the torrent by being all here. I only live the full life when I live fully in the moment.”  

3.      Gives meaning

“Awareness – one in which you must constantly be attentive – is the most precious kind of freedom. It is, in many respects, the choice between life and death, it’s the difference between living a meaningful life and being dead inside.” -Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus

When I find myself getting caught up, getting swept along in the river of the routine without being conscious of what I am doing or why, I notice a sense of apathy, dullness, and pervasive fatigue. Just the simple discipline of bringing my mind fully to the present and focusing on the who I am with in the moment, what I am doing, feeling, hearing, tasting, touching, smelling, takes the mundane to the level of delight and reminds me that this is what it is all about: this deep breath sustaining me, this new experience opening me, this creamy cup of coffee soothing me, this tear allowing me to grieve. And in the gift of paying attention, once again, life is entered into fully.

"We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures." - Thornton Wilder

How does the gift of paying attention impact me professionally? When I can be fully present with a client, I believe the potential for establishing trust, authenticity and insight is increased exponentially. At Shamrock Counseling we are committed to creating a space of safety with our clients and our horses where full attention is given to the therapeutic relationship. Being witness to the transformation that takes place when this occurs is a gift that cannot be matched.

Contact us at Shamrock Counselling 604-853-7477

Lisa Baker, MA, RCC 604-845-0213 

About the Author

Shamrock Counselling Shamrock Counselling, MA, RCC, CBEIP, NAEFW

We believe the counselling should be an essential service and are committed to helping people find ways to access resources. We take the time to walk you through the process to find the best fit and suit your needs.

Shamrock Counselling can be found at
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