Paying Attention

We often practice paying as little attention to something we are doing as we can get away with: You know how it goes: It’s morning. My mind is on my day. I am taking a shower but I am thinking about what I’m going to have for breakfast, what I will wear, and what the day holds in the way of work for me. I am not thinking about taking a shower. I don’t pay attention to the shampoo when I pick it up and the shampoo drops on the floor. I pick it up. Then I get mad because I dropped it and think about how mad I am and then, still not paying attention to the shampoo, I drop it again. I am practicing not paying attention.

All of us know that state of not really paying attention. We read our emails, talk on the phone, listen for the knock on the door, and dream about lunch all at the same time. Nothing is getting our full attention.

We may temporarily get away with practicing that state of not really paying attention when our brains are uninjured. But when we are healing from a stroke or other neurological injury we no longer can afford to minimize our attention. Attention shapes the brain. What we pay attention to we wire in our heads.

One of greatest opportunities to help ourselves heal comes in supporting, encouraging and directing the process of neuroplasticity (rewiring the brain). We help that process if we bring the fullest attention to what we are doing that we can possibly bring.

Our brains are damaged. Connections in our brains are broken. We are trying to build new connections.   Paying exquisitely focused attention to what we are doing tells our brains that these new connections are important. Paying focused attention allows us to see the tiny steps that our brains are making to build those new connections. And when we see those steps we can encourage our brains to reinforce them.

This is attention with our eyes, our ears, our sense of smell, our sense of touch, our sense of taste, our sense of being up or down (called our “vestibular sense”), or sense of being touched (called our “tactile sense”), our sense of where our body parts are in space (called our “proprioceptive sense”), our sense of temperature, and our sense of pain – everything and every way we feel stimulation and receive information.

Attention is a practice, just like not paying attention is a practice. The more we practice focused attention the more skillful we become.