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REDUCE DISTRACTIONS AND FOCUS ATTENTION Here are five practices that can be useful tools in reducing distraction and focus attention. 1: APPRECIATE IMPERMANENCE I saw a cartoon in which two people were finishing their dinners at a Chinese restaurant and had just opened their fortune cookies. One fortune read, “You are going to die.” If you let this fact sink in — that life is short, and we all die — it can actually act as a powerful motivating force to help maintain focus and priorities. Everything changes and is impermanent, so are we fully present and making the most of this fleeting moment? Are we fully aware of what we are doing? Appreciating impermanence clarifies priorities, and it helps us identify any frenetic and ineffective activities we’re being distracted by. We see clearly the things that exhaust us and distract us from experiencing the blessing and opportunity of each particular day. In Mindfulness and Zen meditation practice it is often said that the span of our lives is like a dew drop on a leaf — beautiful, precious, and extremely short-lived. Life is remarkably unpredictable. Whatever you want to accomplish, whatever is important to you, do it, and do it now — with as much grace, gratitude, and sense of ease as you can muster. None of us knows what life will bring. In any moment everything we take for granted can change. Of course, if we dwell on impermanence constantly, we become paralyzed with fear of loss. But we can use an awareness of change on a deep and wise level to focus our priorities and increase our appreciation of the sheer beauty of existence. 2: CLARIFY DREAM PROJECTS AND NEXT STEPS Make two lists. Title the first one “Dream Projects.” Title the column next to this “Next Steps,” and list concrete action steps toward implementation of each Dream Project. What is the very first action required toward completing each item, and the step after that and the one after that? You may experience a sense of genuine relief just by listing “next steps” in relation to incomplete projects. The act of identifying clear actions can have a freeing effect and make you feel that you’re making progress even in the face of habitual internal resistance, ineffective social systems, economics, and politics. It can be daunting having many projects hanging over your head, so this helps clarify the actions needed to move each project toward completion.

3: QUIET TIME AND SILENCE Quiet time, reflection time, think time at the beginning and end of each day. This could include focused thoughtfulness over a cup of coffee or tea, while taking a robust walk, or while still lying-in bed first thing in the morning, a full meditation, or perhaps just silence. In any case, commit to giving yourself this daily gift of a few moments to sit quietly and gather your thoughts. These can be some of the most pleasurable, precious, and practical moments of the day. They can help to reframe your focus and energy in unexpected ways. 4: SAVOR BORROWED TIME Borrowed time is when we take a brief moment to do nothing. We just breathe and smell the sweetness of the air, think briefly about the task we just completed or are about to start; or listen to the birds flying, one’s heartbeat, or the conversations around us (without participating in them). These refreshing bits of time can be just a minute or two long, and they can happen many times throughout the day if we let them. They are, quite simply, daydreaming, but we shouldn’t view them as guilty indulgences. One helpful result of engaging in the more disciplined practice of meditation or mindfulness is that it makes us more relaxed about “do nothing” time. The quietude is familiar. All of these practices become the “pause that refreshes.” After a while you may begin to see your entire life as borrowed time. Imagine, for a moment, that you have died and now have a chance to return to this life. Now what? What would you do differently? How would the quality of your decisions and actions be influenced? 5: REDUCING STRESS Experiment with beginning each day, or most days, with meditation practice. Explore routines and rituals to center and relax during the day. Just breathing deeply and from the diaphragm three or four times, several times a day, can be a great start. Commit to stopping. Notice the warm power of the sun or the sound of the freezing rain; smile; drink a glass of water; close your eyes for a minute or two; stretch your arms and legs, giving your neck and shoulders or hands a mini massage. It can be any activity that refreshes and makes you pause from the whirlwind of activity that you have created. As this creation is mostly unconscious, you can now begin use a more focused attention and reduced distractions to reprioritize and create activities based on your true nature, your higher self.

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