Being Wonder-ful

Attention Practice Chart
For a larger and more legible PDF version of this chart, click here.

In my previous post, I presented my “play-list” — activities that personally bring me joy and delight, that I try to indulge in as much as possible. I suggested that this might be instrumental in my developing an “attention and appreciation practice” — some ways of being that would be more open to my innate sense of wonder, and that might make me more useful and enjoyable to others at the same time. This post explains how my thinking about that has been evolving.

I know myself well enough to know that I’m unlikely to add any new ‘practice’ to what I am already doing — I’m such an experimenter that if it made sense for me to do so, I would have already done it by now. I’ve certainly started enough new ‘self-improvement’ practices over the years, especially since retiring, and I confess that none of them has stuck (the most recent casualty is my meditation practice).

So the most important prerequisite for this ‘attention and appreciation practice’ is that it be ways in which I can do what I am already doing, differently — simply by being more attentive, more appreciative, and more full of wonder.

Regular readers also know that I’ve recently come to believe that we don’t have free will — that the self that seemingly makes decisions and controls our lives is an illusion, one that causes us no end of grief and suffering. We are who we are, and as any specific situation arises we do the only thing we can do. Our inherent (innate and intuitive) and enculturated (conditioned) nature dictates our actions; our deluded self merely rationalizes what we did, or failed to do, after the fact.

So it may seem strange that I’m making a list of ‘activities’ in an attention and appreciation practice, as if I have any control over what I do or don’t do. What’s different about this list is that the items in this list are all about self-awareness, creativity and simple tool use. They’re not about ‘self-improvement’ or doing anything different, just about doing what we are already inevitably going to do a bit differently. Preferably, these tweaks should also make what we’re doing easier and/or more fun.

OK, I’m not sure I buy that subtle distinction myself. But some of the things on this list have become part of who I am in recent years, and generally have made me more useful and pleasant to be around, even though I haven’t really changed my nature or what I do. I may disavow this later, but that’s my story for now.

I created this list by reviewing the kinds of activities I regularly engage in already, and tried to assess the degree to which I am not attentive or appreciative in doing them. I then created a list of self-awareness techniques, creative approaches and simple tools that I have seen modelled by people who are more attentive and appreciative than I, and checked off the types of my regular activities that might benefit from these techniques, approaches and tools. If I thought they were beyond my lazy, self-centred, exhausted, and still only dimly self-aware self to do easily and enjoyably, they didn’t make the list.

The table I came up with is shown above. It’s pretty self-explanatory, but following are a few notes (by row # on the chart) I made that explain these methods a bit better:

  • Rows 1, 2, 16 and 17. These are the four ways that I think greater self-awareness and creativity can help me to be much more attentive and appreciative doing whatever I am already doing, and help me stop doing things that keep me locked in my head, disengaged from the real world, distracted, inattentive and unappreciative — hence the “big” checkmarks.
  • Row 5. Taking my binoculars instead of my camera when I go for walks and vacations was a no-brainer at increasing my attention on the real world right now. My new powerful $15 LED-lighted microscope has given me a similar wonder-ful glimpse of the amazing world right under our noses that we never see with our unaided eyes.
  • Rows 6 and 12. These are hard, especially apparently for males. They require an essential self-awareness of when you’re in your head versus when you’re actually present and attentive, both inwardly and outwardly. I am told I’m starting to do these, though, so I left them on the otherwise-easy list.
  • Row 7. The Teahouse Game entails (ideally at a teahouse where people hang around quietly for a while and are mostly visible across the room) making up possible stories about the people and relationships at the tables/sofas round you, based on what you observe (clothing, mannerisms, body-language) without eavesdropping, and sharing these speculations with the tea-drinkers at your table. You generally build on others’ stories in “yes, and…” fashion. It’s great fun, as long as it’s played appreciatively and quietly, and makes you really pay attention to details you’d normally never notice.
  • Row 8. Making introductions based on mutual interests and passions, rather than on what you “do for a living” or your roles, is a great way to quickly appreciate others and build faster and deeper friendships.
  • Row 13. I wrote this entire post, graphics and all, at my laptop on a “treadmill desk” while walking for 3 hours at 5.5km/hour — the equivalent of a pretty speedy 10k run in terms of exercise value. The desk has a comfy armrest and can be raised to any height that is optimal for computer work as you walk. It’s still not entirely fun, but much easier to do when you’re accomplishing something else the whole time — the 3 hours just fly by.

If any of the other methods or activities are unclear, let me know. This list now goes alongside my “play-list” on my laptop lid, as a constant reminder of how I might become more attentive and appreciative, easily, and have more fun — and wonder — in the process. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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