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Do What You Think You Cannot Do - Pay Attention Every Moment

Updated: Jul 16, 2023

Eleanor Roosevelt quote

Close-up of brightly coloured (Mexican-style) frog affixed to house made of cedarwood cladding.
Miss Frog is paying attention every moment as she fearlessly climbs up a wall at Evergreen.

You can be inspired anywhere.

Once again, I’m sitting in a dentist's waiting room in the city. Don’t imagine mismatched, faux-leather chairs, a dusty plastic flower arrangement, and dog-eared copies of magazines showing all the wonders of living in the country.

This room is palatial. High ceilings, sophisticated French sofas, soft music coming from a grand piano, diaphanous white drapes framing tall windows, a herb tea station, and receptionists with teeth evidently made in heaven.

This upmarket dental practice had been recommended by a relative. I’d been here before and knew that despite the richness of its décor, the charges were reasonable.

I give my name, settle into a cream and gold sofa with tufted buttons, cross my legs demurely, get a tissue out of my bag to surreptitiously dust my boots, and look around.

On a gold-trimmed, marble-topped small table before me sits a book called, I Am Her, written and compiled by M. H. Clark. I can’t resist opening it because I’m obviously the main character.

Each page has exquisite watercolour designs and inspiring quotes. This one from Eleanor Roosevelt catches my eye:

You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face . . .

You must do the thing you think you cannot do.

The last time I’d experienced fear was a few minutes ago, stepping through the dentist’s door. The fact that I was now seated, calmly awaiting my name to be called, meant I had faced it.

But seriously, what Elinor Roosevelt is referring to is real fear: doing the thing I think I cannot do.

Leaning against the classic cream sofa, I consider my options. I quickly dismiss undertakings like climbing Mt Everest or jumping out of a plane. Although these hold a certain fascination, and I know that my level of strength, courage, and confidence would go through the roof during their performance, I’d be better off foregoing the expenses involved in these endeavours and simply daring to live differently in my daily life.

Perhaps I should start with either of these four fearful things:

  • Today I will judge no one.

  • Today I will not say the first thing that pops automatically into my head when someone annoys me.

  • Today I will sit quietly by myself for five minutes and listen to my breathing.

  • Today I will pay attention to each moment.

Although we don’t usually associate fear with these types of activities, for most of us these are huge tasks. Deep down we fear them, otherwise we’d be doing them all the time.

  • We fear that if we don’t judge people, the whole world will go berserk.

  • We fear that if we don’t speak out, we won’t be heard.

  • We fear that if we do nothing but listen to our breathing, we will be thought lazy or weird, wasting precious time.

  • We fear that if we pay attention to each moment, we’ll get all tangled up and never get anywhere.

Pay Attention to Every Moment

Daily life is where it’s easy to live like an automaton.

If I was climbing Mt Everest or jumping out of a plane, I’d be as alive and alert as possible. I’d be paying attention to each moment on the icy slope or in the wide blue sky, ready to do whatever the next moment required to keep me safe.

As I faced the fearful thing, my levels of strength, courage, and confidence would soar.

But in my daily life, surrounded by familiar people, things, and situations, I lapse into a semi-comatose state. I see no need to be alert. The day unfolds in a series of automatic, repetitive thoughts and responses which I think are keeping me safe.

They are doing no such thing. Instead, they are undermining the countless opportunities I’m being offered to live differently – to be brave, daring, strong, and confident.

The Power of Being Present

My name is called. When I rise from the sofa of exquisite luxury and follow the dental nurse who also possesses a set of heavenly teeth, I decide to be as present in each moment as I’d be if I were attempting to reach Everest’s summit.

The appointment flows professionally. There is no hitch in the proceedings. Nothing momentous happens. My life isn’t at stake. But because I’m more present than usual, I feel lighter. The world seems richer. Colours are brighter. People are more interesting. Words are more carefully chosen. There is mutual appreciation. And underlying everything is gratitude that I’m alive and able to participate fully in another day composed of moments, each of them worth paying close attention to.

Paying attention to every moment is a courageous thing to do.

It involves leaving behind the props we usually take with us everywhere. Our burdening bag of props is usually a jumble of things like preconceived ideas, judgements about others, feelings of inferiority, trite conversation, automatic reactions, and cyclical thought patterns that swirl inside our heads and make them ache.

Today, leave that bag of stale props behind.

Today, decide to follow Eleanor Roosevelt’s advice.

Be courageous and do the thing you think you cannot do.

Live alertly, every moment.

With love, Marlane

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