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Tiny Wisdom: What We Pay Attention To

“Tell me to what you pay attention and I will tell you who you are.” ~Jose Ortega y Gassett

Have you ever suddenly stopped yourself after realizing you’d been dwelling on something insignificant for way too long?

Maybe it was something that didn’t go right in your day, or something mildly offensive that someone said. Whatever it was, it was something you knew wasn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things, and yet you felt a need to mentally rehash it over and over in your head.

I’ve done this many times before. Though I know it’s draining and not even slightly productive, it sometimes it seems like a proactive way to “fix” or “solve” something that somehow felt wrong.

I suspect it’s also a means to reinforce to myself that I am right and didn’t deserve to be slighted, because rehashing a perceived offense is essentially passing judgment over and over again.

A while back I realized that every time I give power to the little things that might seem bothersome—when a stranger flips me off on the road, or someone doesn’t return my email right away—I am choosing to be that unproductive, anxious energy.

Every time I get caught up in my need to feel liked and respected, and my indignation over feeling that I’m not, I am choosing to be the fear of being mistreated.

Thinking isn’t just an activity—it manifests as a state of being.

As the Buddha said, what we think, we become.

Now I’m not suggesting we should swallow our feelings on events big and small in fear they may somehow define us.

I’m suggesting that we question the thoughts that create our feelings so that we don’t let them consume us—especially when we’re creating drama and unease over something we may not even remember in a few days’ time.

We spend so much of our time focusing our attention on things that don’t really serve us, when the thing that would serve us the most is to focus our attention inward.

If we can observe and understand how our thoughts are impacting us, we can change who we’re being and how we’re experiencing the world.

It starts with a simple realization: We can feel free and present—and be open, here in this moment—if we choose to release the little worries that stand in the way of that.

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About Lori Deschene

Tiny Buddha Founder Lori Deschene is the author of the Tiny Wisdom eBook series and co-founder of Recreate Your Life Story, an eCourse that helps you change your life. She's now seeking stories for her next book, 365 Tiny Love Challenges from Tiny Buddha. Click here to share your story and follow on Facebook for inspiring posts and wisdom quotes.

Announcement: Wish you could change your past? Learn to let go and create a life you love with the Tiny Buddha course!
  • https://plus.google.com/112767041460502214504 Greg Miernicki

    Great post. I have a question: how do you train your mind to be able to break out of these seemingly endless loops that you’re describing? I try to catch myself from falling into them, yet even though I can see that I’m about to fall down this hole at the beginning, sometimes its so inevitable that I cannot stop myself, even at the onset, let alone not being able to break out of it before its run its course through several iterations.

    Have I just practiced my mind into this behavior and now I must un-train it?

  • http://exciramedia.com/ Shannon Steffen

    When I find myself in this place, I turn inward with concentrated breathing. By taking long deep breaths in through my nose and out through my mouth, the tension releases and my mind is focused on that which I can control – my breath.

    This is the one thing that I can do anywhere and at any time to re-train my energy into that which I can control. Needless to say, it works brilliantly!

    Thanks for another awesome post, Lori!

  • Lv2terp

    Thank you Lori for this post, again perfect timing for me!!! I appreciate your words of wisdom very much!! :)

  • Connie

    Oh Lori, how I wish this was posted last week :( I was so upset at UPS not delivering my iPad accessories, I allowed it to consume me, along with not getting the job I wanted and finding out the same day and then getting sick…all rolled into one :’(

    There are times I will sit and replay situations over and over. I decided to start reading ‘When Things Fall Apart” by Pema Chodron, which is starting to open my eyes in a big way.

    One day at a time I say…

  • http://www.bluecollarworkman.com/ TB at BlueCollarWorkman

    “I’m suggesting that we question the thoughts that create our feelings so that we don’t let them consume us” — THis is really a profound thing. And incredibly difficult to do. It seems like my thoughts and feelings are one in the same, but you’re right. My thoughts are actually what create my feelings and what ends up consuming me. That’s a big task to bite off, questioning my thoughts.

  • http://www.bluecollarworkman.com/ TB at Blue Collar Workman

    I have the exact same question!

  • Linnaeab

    Lori,
    Well said!For me it seems to be taking a lifetime of small daily efforts focused on eliminating this habit … and I do notice a difference when I look back every few months.Multiple ways of  working with it arrive frequently to remind me:Buddhist retreatsPema Chodron’s booksByron Katie’s The WorkJo Dunning’s energy work and talksand many othersThere are so many ways to work with our minds, and we are fortunate in this period to have them available. From Oprah to isolated retreat, from online webinars & online retreats to walks in nature.And our daily dose of  practical spiritual guidance shared among friends on Tiny Buddha.thank you for being you, Lori.thank you for sharing your exploration of life with us.and encouraging others to share.enjoy,linnaea

  • Linnaeab

    let’s try this again, after typing it, the program compressed it, eliminated all the spacing, making it hard to read! iIf it doesn’t work this second time with 3 blank lines between each paragraph, I give up.and apologize.
    Lori,
    Well said!For me it seems to be taking a lifetime of small daily efforts focused on eliminating this habit … and I do notice a difference when I look back every few months.Multiple ways of  working with it arrive frequently to remind me:Buddhist retreatsPema Chodron’s booksByron Katie’s The WorkJo Dunning’s energy work and talksand many othersThere are so many ways to work with our minds, and we are fortunate in this period to have them available. From Oprah to isolated retreat, from online webinars & online retreats to walks in nature.And our daily dose of  practical spiritual guidance shared among friends on Tiny Buddha.thank you for being you, Lori.thank you for sharing your exploration of life with us.and encouraging others to share.enjoy,linnaea 

  • http://twitter.com/LaSalleChris Chris LaSalle

    WORD!

  • http://optimalternative.com/ Mark B Hoover

    Great post, Lori. My favorite quote for this is from Carlos Castaneda: “The trick is in what one emphasizes. We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves strong.”

    When I find myself obsessing over a statement, an action, a thought, I remind myself of the above and merely repeat: “It’s temporary, it is ONLY temporary.” Soon the feeling passes.

    The crux of it all…we have a choice. We can change our thought stream at any time we wish. Why give power to another when we have it in our possession all the time?

    ~ Mark

  • http://susangregg.com/ Susan

    Aloha Lori,

    Thinking isn’t just an activity—it manifests as a state of being. How powerful and perfect.

    Change our thoughts and we change our life.

    Thanks for putting it so well.
    Susan

  • http://twitter.com/Janwow Jan Marchant

    How much of our thoughts originate from others?  You can ask yourself the question ‘Who does this thought belong to?, followed by ‘return it with consciousness attached’.  If it didn’t originate from you it disappears.  How do you know?  You feel lighter – try it, it works and frees you to a place where the thoughts you own are 100% your own.

  • http://www.sentimentaljourneyz.com/ Vickie Medley

    Great post.  I’ve found that when situations are being replayed in my mind that I’m trying to look at all angles to avoid the same thing happening again.  I’ll finally let it go.  When it comes again, I’ll let it play for awhile and then let go again.  What I’ve found is that after a few times of this I’m totally bored with the whole situation.  In my mind’s eye…I’ve let the emotions run their course without running over me. 

    When people say, “You need to let it go,” it’s not always that simple.  You have to give yourself time to salve the emotions that the situation called up.  That’s what I call taking care of yourself.  But, there’s a fine line between taking care of yourself and indulging yourself in self pity.  Thanks for posting this.  I really enjoyed it.

  • Yem1971

    Great article* even the stuff that you think is a big deal at the time* later when you look back you realize that it wasn’t as important as you thought it was* Sweating small stuff or even what you think is large stuff… is not more important than your own sanity or another person* If I want to turn away from another person or get angry then that is a time that I really need to go inward and take a good look at myself and why I am feeling this way. Take the thought turn it around..like Byron Katie says You are always who you think someone else is in the moment. Our life is very short* too short to sweat small stuff and turn away from others* even if they are negative you can wish them well..send them positive vibrations and return to your own happiness*

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    You’re most welcome!

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    That’s a lot all at once Connie! I hope you’re feeling better this week. I love Pema Chodron’s books. They really put things in perspective!

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    I know what you mean. Sometimes I feel like my thoughts are tangible and separate from me, and I have no choice but to think them. Visualizations help me a great deal! I try to visualize them as air inside a balloon, and then I visualize myself emptying it. When I see the air wafting in my mind, it helps me let go and ground myself in the moment.

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    You’re most welcome, and thank you for being here (and being you) linnaea. I always appreciate your perspective and positive energy =)

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    Wow what a great idea Jan! Thank you for sharing this here =)

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    That’s a wonderful quote from Carlos Castaneda.

    Your mantra reminds me of “This too shall pass,” which I’ve always found quite comforting. It helps me to remember I have a say in *when* it passes!

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    You’re most welcome, and thank you for sharing your thoughts! It’s amazing how breathing deeply can really calm the nervous system. I do alternate nostril breathing when I feel my mind spinning. It always helps clear my head!

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    You’re most welcome Susan =)

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    Hi Greg,

    There’s a book I read a while back that may interest you:

    http://tinybuddha.com/blog/giveaway-and-author-interview-the-misleading-mind/

    The author offered one idea in answer to question 6.

    I hope this helps!

    Lori

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    I love the book Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, and I especially love the subtitle: It’s All Small Stuff. It’s such an empowering realization that very little is a true crisis.

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    You’re most welcome Vickie. You brought up a great point about the fine line between taking care of yourself and having a pity party. I find it helps to ask myself what I’d tell a friend if she was dwelling on something. It’s always easier to give advice than it is to take it, so Iif I can step outside myself, it’s usually easier to identify what I need to do!

  • http://www.breakingthehabitofme.com/ Breaking The Habit Of Me

    Hi Lori,

    Great post that perfectly outlines how our thoughts create our feelings.

    Vickie raised the point about emotions, which I think is important. We can see the illusory nature of the thoughts and the feelings they generate when we practice this, but the emotions still reside in the body. I have got this wrong, and gone for a long period where I have been focused and happy despite experiencing some major issues, and eventually the emotion hits me because it needs somewhere to go. It can end up being debilitating mentally or manifest through illness.

    The trick is, I have found, to see the thoughts for what they are but let the emotion free without “chasing” the thoughts. It is the chasing of the thoughts that leads to the self-pity party, and identifying them too much with the emotion. I hope that makes sense.

    Also, don’t get me wrong. I have had some small success with this but by no means have I mastered it yet :) Definitely a work in progress.

  • http://optimalternative.com/ Mark B Hoover

    A very prized proverb (Gam zeh ya’avor):

    One day Solomon decided to humble Benaiah ben Yehoyada, his most trusted minister. He said to him, “Benaiah, there is a certain ring that I want you to bring to me. I wish to wear it for Sukkot which gives you six months to find it.”
    “If it exists anywhere on earth, your majesty,” replied Benaiah, “I will find it and bring it to you, but what makes the ring so special?”
    “It has magic powers,” answered the king. “If a happy man looks at it, he becomes sad, and if a sad man looks at it, he becomes happy.” Solomon knew that no such ring existed in the world, but he wished to give his minister a little taste of humility.
    Spring passed and then summer, and still Benaiah had no idea where he could find the ring. On the night before Sukkot, he decided to take a walk in one of he poorest quarters of Jerusalem. He passed by a merchant who had begun to set out the day’s wares on a shabby carpet. “Have you by any chance heard of a magic ring that makes the happy wearer forget his joy and the broken-hearted wearer forget his sorrows?” asked Benaiah.
    He watched the grandfather take a plain gold ring from his carpet and engrave something on it. When Benaiah read the words on the ring, his face broke out in a wide smile.
    That night the entire city welcomed in the holiday of Sukkot with great festivity. “Well, my friend,” said Solomon, “have you found what I sent you after?” All the ministers laughed and Solomon himself smiled.
    To everyone’s surprise, Benaiah held up a small gold ring and declared, “Here it is, your majesty!” As soon as Solomon read the inscription, the smile vanished from his face. The jeweler had written three Hebrew letters on the gold band: _gimel, zayin, yud_, which began the words “_Gam zeh ya’avor_” — “This too shall pass.”
    At that moment Solomon realized that all his wisdom and fabulous wealth and tremendous power were but fleeting things, for one day he would be nothing but dust.

  • Moonlover62

    Your points are well-taken!

    Not only do I tend to dwell on the small things that may have been hurtful or annoying; I tend to focus much of my thinking of the past or the future when all we really have is the now. The old adage about the “present” being all we have, and therefore a “gift” serves as a good reminder.

    To feel free in the present means recognizing that the past is over and done with, and the future is yet to be. If I can keep this in mind and focus on me and my state of being vs. ghosts from the past or what will happen tomorrow, I will be well- served.

    And I can work towards becoming the person I want to be.

  • Beatriz Sosa-Prado

    Great post! The body does what the brain says!

  • https://plus.google.com/112767041460502214504 Greg Miernicki

    Thanks for the recommendation, I’ll see if I can pick it up for a read :)

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    Thanks Beatriz!

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    I love what you wrote about not “chasing” the thoughts. After I wrote that Buddha quote (what we think, we become) I thought about the irony: We are not our thoughts–we are more than what we think–and yet our thoughts create our world. So creating a disconnect from our thinking, and not identifying with our thoughts requires us to understand our thoughts are powerful, but know we don’t have to give them power. 

    I haven’t mastered this either, but I work at it!