Shifting Attention

Self Healing

Healing from challenges such as anxiety, trauma, and grief can be enhanced with the practice of attention. Often times we just react to our emotions instead of taking a moment to decide how we want to react, or if it is worth our time to react. During times of depression and loss, it is helpful to stop agonizing over the past when we can. Even medical research tells us that worrying does not help the healing process. Rushing off into what if’s or getting stuck in the mantras of could’a, would’a, should’a, only increases stress.

Shifting Attention

The simple practice of shifting our attention is a way to reduce stress. An easy way to shift our attention is to take a few moments to ask what is happening with our senses. Taking time to notice what is present such as the picture frame, the furniture or people in the room gives you the opportunity to shift your attention. The theory behind consciously shifting attention is found in Morita Therapy which was developed by Shoma Morita  , M.D. (1874–1938)

Sense Awareness

Exploring with the senses can bring a sense of calm back into the body. For example, when grieving, one might see a photo of a passed loved one. To experience their absence with less pain, we might pick up a framed photo, feel the frame, look at its placement on a shelf, and dust the area where the photo sits. Doing so, we can symbolically sweep away the pain. Placing the photo back in a special space as an opportunity to transform our response to the loss. We might thank those who made the camera that was used to take the picture or utter a simple thank you to the loved one in the photo. We can think of something they did that we appreciate about them. We might then smile or cry tears of gratitude.

Using Attention

Taking time to concentrate on what is around me moves my attention away from concerns, if only for a moment.  By noticing what I am sitting or standing upon, the color of the sky or the people in the room shifts my attention. As Gregg Krech of the ToDo Institute teaches, it is possible to refocus at any time during the day with the question, “Where do I want to place my attention?” Focusing energy on the answer, if only for a moment, carries me away from anxiety and depression. Noticing a skill or talent I was shown or past gifts from my former loved one, I keep them in my heart with appreciation. Placing attention on what makes me smile and if only for a moment, supports the healing process. Experiencing the moment with each of my senses, I can take a break from anxiety and use the moment to rest and heal.


Even when the world seems dark and fear grabs at your gut, it is possible to find peace of mind. Feeling overwhelmed and filled with anxiety, we focus on the loud and demonstrative voices of fear and anger. Doing so we do not hear the whispering of compassion flowing in life. What we often miss is that Life does not tell us, instead it asks us, ‘Where do you want to place your attention?”

Morita Therapy asks us to be conscious about placing attention. We can place our attention on our difficulties and sing the blame song, “he done me wrong”. Another option is to shift our attention. It can be done with the simple practice of accepting. Oddly enough, accepting in the midst of difficult circumstances is possible. When we feel our hands are tied, sometimes accepting is the only thing to do. Accepting is not about giving up. Accepting is more about assessing what is happening. After accepting what is occurring or what feelings and emotions are raging, then we make a decision as to what to do about it. Part of managing depression involves expanding our view and taking actions that include caring for self.

So often, traveling with my counseling clients through the fears from abuse or the anxiety from illness, loss of job, or death of loved ones, we discover strength. We explore ways to see events with a lens that focuses on lessons learned. We let go of projections others place upon us. We find ways to drop the never-ending tape of Could’a, Should’a, Would’a. One of those ways is to practice listening with heart-mind to what is. What is includes all the causes and conditions that made it possible for us to be in the moment. Shifting our focus is a technique for quieting busy minds, even in the midst of chaos. An effective way to shift our focus is to be active. We do not have to define ourselves by our pain and suffering. We can get up and engage with the world. That can be as simple as washing dishes, fixing a cup of tea, or taking a walk. During such activities, we focus on the sensations of our body. Placing awareness on the soap suds on our hands, or the warmth of a tea bag, the aroma of flowers or the wind upon our face we setting aside ruminations of what could have been and clinging to the past. We can experience, if only for a moment peace.

Opening up to life creates the space for letting in happiness, if only during the instance we wipe a tabletop or pet a smiling dog or cat. Pain and suffering exist. Yet, with life constantly flowing, we do not have to let them define who we are. With an open heart and mind, we can place our attention with full awareness. Doing so leads us to peace, even when in the midst of chaos.

  –  Carol

Carol O’Dowd, MPA, MDIV, MI, RP
Prajna Healing Arts