self study: if you’re bored, you’re not paying attention

Guest blogger Jamie MacDougall drops the MIC this week on self study. Enjoy!


American poet, activist, and someone I keep high on my guru list, Nikki Giovanni recently wrote of an interview she did with astronaut, physicist, and medical doctor, Mae Jemison. In speaking with Dr. Jemison about her time in space, Ms. Giovanni asked how she kept from being bored. The response came back, “If you’re bored you’re not paying attention.”


Paying attention sounds easy, but it is not something that our society is structured for us to do without some serious mindfulness. When I first started checking into the yoga, my intentions were, at best, to get in a good workout. And if I’m being TOTALLY honest, I thought it would be at least the illusion of a good workout, because really, how rigorous could breathing and stretching be. HA! What I found was the not only was my mat flooded with sweat, but my mind cranked up the volume on the incessant inner dialogue of my navigation of the world. Every time I rolled out the mat my mind sounded louder than any other moment in my life, or so I thought. Truth was that I just wasn’t paying attention. Truth was that I spent most of my time working my ass off so as to NOT hear what my mind was saying.


yogas citta-crtti-nirodaha

The restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is yoga.

Yoga Sutra 1.2


So I started trying harder to pay attention. I committed to listening more than talking, powering off my phone for significant chunks of time during the day, and hitting the off button of the radio in my car on my way to and from work. In those quieted moments, I mindfully, albeit painfully, paid attention. Truth was that when I turned the volume of the outside world down or off, when I took the time in my car or on my mat to breathe – to pay attention, the noise became more manageable, more malleable – it became meaningful.


In Sanskrit, Svadhyaya, captures the whole essence of not only paying attention, but then doing something with what you acquire. Break it down for a minute: The Sanskrit root Sva gives us one own’s self, the human soul while adhyaya offers a lesson, lecture, or my favorite, a reading. So while typically Syadhyaya is translated as the study of the self, I like thinking of it as getting a read of one’s self. Introspection and awareness, simply put – paying attention, is what allows us to gather our coordinates and determine how to move forward in the kindest and most truthful way.


As a librarian wannabe, I am perpetually surrounded by books. They are my go-to in any instance. Most people Google, I Dewey Decimal. There is comfort in drawing on the knowledge of others. But in these moments of stillness, in the practice that is yoga, I have truly realized that while these other sources are solid points of reference, it is in seeing how my experiences and life relate to these words that yield the most genuine action.


It was not by chance that Nikki Giovanni asked Dr. Jemison about boredom. Poets know the power of sitting with one’s self and acknowledging one’s location within the context of the world. Ms. Giovanni may have said it best herself, “A lot of people resist transition and therefore never allow themselves to enjoy who they are. Embrace the change, no matter what it is; once you do, you can learn about the new world you’re in and take advantage of it. You still bring to bear all your prior experience, but you are riding on another level. It’s completely liberating.”

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