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Why Should You Pay Attention?

Everything matters when you don't

Close-up of cappuccino in black cup with saucer with heart shape set in the froth
A cappuccino enjoyed between Evergreen and Perth.

Would you like to have a worry-free life?

Rob and I are travelling to Perth, where four of our five children live. It’s a five-hour trip, with a half-hour break at the café called Williams Woolshed. Rob loves their beef mince pies and I insist on coffee and a warmed slice of fig and date cake with whipped cream. Then we’re back in the car, passing trucks, caravans, hay balers pulled by tractors, and a rare car or two that came off the assembly line last century.

We sit in companionable silence. Rob is driving now. He focusses on the road while I watch the farmlands and strip of native trees lining the highway whizz by and try to think up lines for a haiku about the cappuccino I’ve just had. First line (five syllables): Frothy lip of milk. I struggle to make up the second line which needs seven syllables . . .

Suddenly Rob says:

‘Everything matters when you don’t pay attention. Nothing matters when you do.’

Wow! This deep and multi-layered comment coming out of Rob’s mouth makes me wonder if I’ve inexplicably ended up at a philosophical dissertation in a university lecture theatre. I look across at him. No, it’s still Rob. No neatly trimmed beard and gold-rimmed glasses favoured by professors in their seventies. Just his friendly face. I’m impressed.

These two simple sentences are packed with enough profundities to last the rest of the trip. So as we race through time and space to cover another hundred and fifty kilometres, I tease the sentences out.

If something matters, it means it’s a problem. It needs to be fixed. If Rob doesn’t pay attention to all the vehicles on the highway – those in front, behind, and on the other side – all of them will matter a lot. Any of them could cause a problem.

For example, Rob needs to pay attention to the hay baler hugging half the road just ahead of us with its orange warning light flashing. If he doesn’t, there’s going to be a mess on Albany Highway. But the moment he pays attention to it, it ceases to matter. The fact that he is paying attention to it, takes away its power to create problems for him.

This applies to everything, not just to vehicles on highways.

If you pay attention to what’s happening around you, nothing matters, because nothing has the power to catch you unawares.

If you’re not paying attention to what’s happening around you, everything matters, because everything has the power to catch you unawares.

Paying attention to this moment – being aware – being present – being mindful – is the simple secret to a worry-free life.

Now, back to the second line of that haiku, which can only have seven syllables. Infusion of bean power. Hmm. Does the word infusion have three or four syllables . . . The last line (another five syllables) could be Morning coffee time.

So while Rob unwittingly comes up with a deep and meaningful quotable quote about mindfulness, I create a haiku:

Frothy lip of milk

Infusion of bean power

Morning coffee time

My haiku doesn’t reach the spiritual heights of that Japanese haiku master Matsuo Basho, but I did give it my full attention, so it doesn’t really matter.

With love, Marlane

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A brilliant take on the importance of attention, Marlene, thank you.

Too many professionals, such as lawyers and accountants, claim that their clients value their time. Wrong: it’s the adviser’s attention that the client is paying for. Advertisers by contrast understand the value of attention, and spend fortunes to attract our attention. Too much talk of ‘time management’ is bunkum. Time, like emotions, can‘t be managed directly, but attention can.

Marlane Ainsworth
Marlane Ainsworth
Feb 27, 2022
Replying to

An interesting comment, ctweeden. We can always tell when people aren't giving us the quality of attention we're paying for. Eye contact is a good sign of sincere attention.

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