Being Bored And Not Paying Attention

This is part of Fire! Ready! Aim! Series: Essays on Lessons Learned by an Enneagram Social 8w7

One of the books that really impacted me was Awareness by Anthony De Mello. He was an Indian Jesuit priest and psychotherapist who died in 1987. This book reads like you are eavesdropping on someone who just took a lot of drugs who has a bit of an attitude and is trying to describe what they are feeling about consciousness to a bunch of sober people. The insights are wonderfully simple and impactful, but you really have to be in the right mindset to grasp what he is talking about and how it relates. So for the most part, I forget what the book is about, but at the same time, I know it changed me. There you go, that’s what the book is like.

He says things like “Loneliness is not cured by human company. Loneliness is cured by contact with reality” and “before enlightenment, I used to be depressed: after enlightenment, I continue to be depressed. But there’s a difference: I don’t identify with it anymore. Do you know what a big difference that is?” and “we see things and people not as they are, but as we are.”As I said, he’s all over the place, but if you can tap into the flow of that book, it will change your life.

Anyway, I started reading through all the quotes I had saved from his book because I wanted to write about paying attention and being aware of our surroundings, and how hard that is for an Eight because so many of us are on some kind of ADHD spectrum. Ever since I can remember I have had a really hard time paying attention. Whether it be in high school classes where I’d go right to the back of the room so I could read my own book or remember instructions from my parents or listening to what an employee is trying to tell me; I have always struggled to focus on what I should be focusing on.

As out in left field this may sound, I have come to the unfortunate realization that not paying attention for me is really about control. I don’t want to pay attention to you right now. I don’t want to learn about what you are telling me I should learn about. I am busy with this thing over here, I don’t want to be interrupted. And so not paying attention ends up being a subconscious way for me to avoid being controlled by someone or something else.

This has really come back to bite me often. I’m known at my companies as the “skimmer” because I skim emails and threads because if I don’t think I have a role, it’s not worth my time to actually pay attention to what is going on. I am constantly letting folks down because when they are giving me instruction, I am not paying attention to the details. My need to not be controlled by someone else has turned me into a horrible listener when I’m not interested. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had the thought “I wish I knew that” only to realize that I was taught it previously I just wasn’t paying attention.

Originally I thought this lack of paying attention was just because I was bored and not engaged in whatever was happening. It’s much more humbling to realize that it wasn’t because I already knew what was being communicated. Being bored it turns out is just about categorizing and putting things into boxes and not paying attention (or being aware) to the uniqueness of each moment and each thing we encounter. Being bored is my own inability to appreciate the beauty that life has to offer. Being bored is selfish. It’s refusing to see the world through any other way but my own perspective. The result of my inability to see anything beyond myself is boredom which leads to not paying attention.  Being bored is just what I tell myself so I don’t need to pay attention.

If you don’t look at things through your concepts, you’ll never be bored. Every single thing is unique. Every sparrow is unlike every other sparrow despite the similarities. It’s a great help to have similarities, so we can abstract, so that we can have a concept. It’s a great help, from the point of view of communication, education, science. But it’s also very misleading and a great hindrance to seeing this concrete individual. If all you experience is your concept, you’re not experiencing reality, because reality is concrete. The concept is a help, to lead you to reality, but when you get there, you’ve got to intuit or experience it directly.

– Anthony De Mello

My concepts of being better than, of not wanting to be controlled, of being disinterested all have contributed to my unawareness. As I get rid of my concepts, I am coming to see everything I have been missing all along and I have a lot of regrets that I wasn’t more in tune with the world around me.  I am learning now to pay attention to when I’m bored and sit in those moments with more focus than I ever have before. I am learning that I am never actually in control, and I should embrace that because when I try to run from it, I end up missing out on life.

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