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Home » Columns » In Tent On Paying Attention

In Tent On Paying Attention

Publishing Date : 10 April, 2018

Stuart White
The World in Black-N-White



The Lone Ranger and Tonto are camping in the desert, set up their tent, and are asleep. Some hours later, The Lone Ranger wakes his faithful friend.


"Tonto, look up and tell me what you see." Tonto replies, "Me see millions of stars." 
"What does that tell you?" asks The Lone Ranger. 
Tonto ponders for a minute.  "Astronomically speaking, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, it tells me that Saturn is in Leo. Time wise, it appears to be approximately a quarter past three. Theologically, it's evident the Lord is all powerful and we are small and insignificant. Meteorologically, it seems we will have a beautiful day tomorrow.

What it tell you, Kemo Sabi?"


The Lone Ranger is silent for a moment, then speaks. "Tonto, you Dumb Hoss, someone has stolen our tent." The above story is a good lesson in missing the obvious. Chances are that you were surprised by the Lone Ranger's response. However, the first sentence of the story alludes that the Lone Ranger and Tonto were camping in a tent. It should have been clear at Tonto's first response that he was missing the obvious.


Well, I have my own recent tale of missing the obvious. I had just passed this Easter weekend which was an especially long break of 5 consecutive days to refresh, regroup and recharge the batteries.  So, after this much-needed break I awoke on Wednesday morning ready to jump back on the proverbial treadmill. The day was a whirlwind of meetings, chores, deadlines…and It felt like the first time I stopped was when I was getting ready for bed. I got undressed and as I reached to take off my footwear I realised I had been wearing odd boots - one black and one brown!  

The shame, the humiliation!  I frantically ran through the events of the day in my mind from leaving the house at 05h30 in the morning to the meetings I attended, replaying the events of the whole day never noticing my odd boots! Nobody else did either – unless, of course, people were just too embarrassed to point out my mistake.  That last thought was the worst – did they think me senile, simple, colour blind or just plain eccentric?


Like Tonto in the tent I had failed to notice something obvious right under my nose (and down a bit) ; how had I missed this despite personally taking the boots out of the cupboard, the many times I must have looked down during the day, crossed my legs…and so on?  Is this indicative, I thought, of my tendency to function in such an inattentive unfocused way, which if true, surely points to a rather superficial experience of life? I know that we can miss the detail and the beauty and also the tragedy and suffering simply because we aren’t properly present in the moment because we are swallowed up by activity and can’t see what’s in front of us but mis-matched shoes all day is a miss too far.


I take comfort from the fact that there are worse cases. The most extreme  I have heard about happened last year when a man in Moscow who was reportedly too busy playing a Star Wars virtual reality game, to play the real reality game of life and thus failed to notice a cut on his head, which proved fatal. The man had been gaming while wearing a VR headset and tripped and fell on a glass coffee table, breaking it but game guy that he was, he got right back to his console where he bled to death. 


His body was found by his mother and the autopsy concluded that his life could have been saved if he hadn’t continued playing and instead sought medical attention. The game that proved to be good enough to die for was from the Star Wars franchise – you may think it science fiction but it’s a true story.  He may have won the odd inter-galactic battle but ultimately he lost the war.


‘Mindfulness’, ‘the here and now’, ‘real time’  and ‘paying attention’ are all super trendy these days but it is more than just a fad for Buddhist monks and bored housewives.  Attention and mindfulness shape the brain. What we pay attention to is literally what we will build in our brain tissue; our neurons wire in responses to what we focus upon. It is about noticing and being with something without trying to change it.


In this instance had I become aware of the mismatched boots I would have certainly reacted and indeed that is a benefit of awareness. But the attention which we talk about in a mindful way is about taking the time to fully explore, to discover whatever there is to know about something, to watch as things change by themselves without our trying to ‘fix" anything. Attention is patient and attention is kind. No rush. No burden. No criticism.


What bothers me about the shoe story is that it signals how easy I can miss things. Was I sleepwalking that Wednesday morning?  What thoughts preoccupied my mind that I couldn’t distinguish not only a colour differentiation but a design one too. (It’s even worse than I make it seem because I omit to mention that the one boot is a size 7 and slightly tighter than the other size 8 boot, yet even the physical sensation which must have existed was missed - for a whole day.) I fear that the tragedy of most of our lives is that we’re asleep at the wheel and no one tells us to wake up.


So, I intend to start paying attention more instead of going through my day in a trance – a trance of activity where there is no smelling of roses or noticing touch on my skin or the nuances of people’s reactions and behaviours. It’s the choice I make about how to live with deeper appreciation of the world around me. I need to slow down and recognise the little things……like finding the perfect match.

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