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Elena Brower Headshot

Art of Attention: Eat, Pray, Love. In That Order.

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With gratitude to Elizabeth Gilbert for making those three words, in that order, a household term. Here goes how it works, starting with a brief exposition.

Charmed childhood; diverse town on Long Island, friends who were intelligent, or athletic, or musical, or some combination of the above, several with whom I'm still in touch. Many of us have known each other since kindergarten, so we weren't susceptible to the high school pageant-like beauty competition, thankfully. More than beauty, brains and athletic prowess played huge roles in our little world, and we were driven to succeed, but we definitely knew how to have fun. (Smile, lucky Southside comrades~)

It was an honor to land at Cornell University, and within days of my arrival, I'd found a crew of intelligent, stunning women who welcomed me as one of them. In the first weeks I observed some who were exceedingly careful about how much they ate and even how they ate it. A few of them were super skinny and I wanted to be just like them. So at mealtimes I ate what they ate (no blaming, my choice) and began a bout with anorexia which lasted just under one year.

At 5'8" I went from a healthy 130 lbs. down to about 110 at the worst moment, mid-summer. As an 18-year-old counselor at camp, one day at lunch, I watched with dismay as my 11-year old campers studiously observed me shredding exactly one half of one slice of cheese onto my 10 leaves of lettuce. I knew exactly how many calories were going into my body (a ludicrous 500 per day) and as a result, I was regularly asked by the head of girls' camp to weigh in because I became too thin. I was paradoxically both proud and ashamed, and I couldn't see my way through it for a few strong weeks. It was clear I wasn't myself and my attention was entirely consumed by this bizarre quest.

I began observing the everyday manifestations of this downward spiral -- and realized that being watchful was my only road to recovery. I attribute that inner strength to my parents, who've instilled in me enough self-love that I stopped myself before it became a real medical issue. And I'll never be able to properly thank my sister who alerted them. From that point it took another several months, but freedom came. With attentiveness and a couple of dear friends who courageously offered a more realistic perspective, I was able to pull myself away from counting out pieces of cereal.

Here's the point. We cannot address a glitch in a computer, or any machine, without first knowing it inside and out. If you feel like you might have an eating disorder, or if you notice any destructive behavior in yourself, know that it's mechanical, simply a reaction. It's not a reflection of your highest potential. And when we act in a mechanical fashion, first thing to do is observe our "mechanicalness" until we know it so well, trigger to manifestation, that we can stop it prior to actually doing it again.

Consider this the school of YOU. Study yourself so carefully, without judgment, so that you can see the circumstantial influences, befriend them, even welcome them. This is how we must begin to consciously transact with the highest potentials, within ourselves and with the world.

Our attention is our only real currency, our most tangible commodity.
Only with conscious attention can we inquire if we're harming or serving in any context, and given that information, set out in a healing, empowering direction.

As students and teachers of yoga, our practice is definitely the art of attention, or the art of the refined inquiry. And if it seems unfathomable to "watch" yourself in some difficult daily moment, start on your mat, during your meditation, or while walking, running, spinning, weightlifting. Ask which lung is more receptive or open, which side of your foundation is weightier, or any detail that interests you, and hold this inquiry with you in your practice with some consistency for a few practices. Collect information.

Then in your daily life, you may observe your word choices, friend choices, creative choices, food choices- but keep doing "you" as you are. Which choices detract, which enhance? We are learning how to refine our attention, and our precision leads to true freedom. Making a creative, active art of your attention, you loosen the grip that any external force may have on you and you create a relationship of pure transformation with yourself.

So firstly, EAT. As you do, keep in mind that the real prayers are not the words, but the attention that comes first.

As you offer your simplest attentiveness on your choices, you will find more interior space in which you can literally welcome yourself to any meal, any moment, and make a choice to go in the direction of healing. If food is indeed an issue, your watchfulness is your only prayer, so change nothing. For the next week, just put your clear attention on which attitudes or choices hurt you and which heal you.

And if you need another pair of eyes, be brave; ask someone whom you respect to give you feedback on yourself. Become a virtuoso in receiving feedback. Through watching carefully and asking for help, your "prayer" reveals LOVE, in you, as you, for yourself, and for others.

Every person and every circumstance around us is giving us the information we need to reveal more love. This love first is for ourselves, so we can best serve in the world. With that love we will slowly stop hurting ourselves and begin to enlist our highest selves, and everyone around us, in our healing.

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