The Wisdom of Paying Attention

At The Mansio Center, we believe that our deepest healing takes place when we include our mind, emotions, body and spirit in the process. Paying attention to our daily experiences can bring awareness to our patterns and enable us to make changes.  I would like to share a personal experience to demonstrate how challenging, and rewarding, reflection can be.

In May I made a decision to train for a half marathon. I printed a schedule and began to increase the lengths of my daily runs. Once a week I added a mile to my longest previous run, until eventually I would make it to 13. It was at 7 miles that I hit the wall.

 I admitted to my husband that I was no longer having fun running and wasn’t sure why I was doing this training. It was a big commitment, each weekend doing a long run. I needed to get out first thing in the morning on the hot, muggy days, missing the enjoyment of sitting on the deck, watching the birds. All my open time seemed to be filled with running. I told my husband that I didn’t want to do the run.

Immediately after this doubt-filled conversation I impulsively went onto my computer and registered for the race! My inner critic persuaded me that setting goals and achieving them was a good thing, and I didn’t have enough of them in my life. It convinced me that I was wavering because I was not committed. Now that I was registered, I would stop resisting the training. I felt a lift in my spirit. I was back on track.

The following week I noticed my mood and energy shift. I felt irritable. My motivation was low. My hamstrings were tight and my back, stiff. I was discouraged because until that point, adding miles had been rather painless. Now I struggled with 3 miles!

One drizzly day I decided to just run 2 miles. I imagined making the choice again, not to train or run the race. I felt lighter, energized and I smiled as I ran. I envisioned returning to a pace of life that nourished me.  Exploring my thinking about the goal, I wondered if I was trying to prove something. I concluded at the end of June that I wanted to let go of the goal and stop training, forfeiting the cost of registration. I felt refreshed and free, returning to 2-3 mile runs. I believed that it was better to listen to the nurturing part of myself rather than the task master part.

A few weeks after letting go of the goal, I noticed a desire returning. Could I still run 7 miles even though I wasn’t training? Yes. The next week I wondered about 8 miles. I did that as well, telling myself that I was just doing this for fun, not training. After running 9 miles the following week, I knew I could succeed at meeting my goal! I just had to trick myself into running without feeling pressure! On September 2, I completed the half marathon.

Paying attention to this process taught me many things. The first lesson was to keep listening, even after making a decision. There are layers to our behaviors and choices. We can explore them with curiosity rather than judgment. Second, I noticed that I resist setting goals because I am afraid that I won’t achieve them. What I needed was a more playful attitude, bypassing my perfectionist part and my task master part. There is a difference between the ethic of work (just plow through) and the ethic of play (I wonder what will happen if…). I learned that I could train in a way that suits me rather than rigidly following someone else’s plan. I also learned that it is perfectly fine to change my mind, even more than once!  Finally, in the thrill of completing the goal, I noticed that sometimes I walk away from opportunities when things get hard and I get afraid.  I miss out on experiencing the joy of moving beyond what I have done before. This is the wisdom gained by paying attention, and being curious about thoughts, feelings, emotions and desires, all physical expressions of the body.

By Donna Scott, LCSW