A few weeks ago, my brother took me to get my first Tattoo. As I sat in the chair with my arm extended, he put his hand on my shoulder and said to me, “Pay attention. Nothing else feels quite like this. You’re gonna want to know what it feels like.”
It was great advice. The outline of a guitar pick, the symbol that most reminds me of my dad, only took about five minutes to drill into my skin. I could tell how, without my brother’s reminder, I might have shied away from the pain, flinching or holding my breath, distracting myself somehow.
But instead, I did what he said, I paid attention. I noticed how, when the needle touched down, my arm was flooded with sensation, like twenty or thirty bees stinging me at once. I breathed the fire of the feeling into my whole arm, my shoulder, my fingertips, my left ribs. Within a few seconds, the pain relaxed to something more like pulling off a Band-Aid. After thirty seconds of this, Frank-the-tattoo-man, would pick up the needle and retrace the portion of line he just drew. Each time he made fresh contact, the cycle would begin again, BEES!…bandaid. BEES!…bandaid. Until five minutes later the tattoo was complete.
Since that day, I’ve realized my brother’s advice isn’t only for special occasions. It’s actually advice for life. The next day I found myself on an airplane with intense turbulence, an experience I frequently brace against, or try to ignore like it’s not happening. In that moment, his words came back, “Pay attention, you’re gonna want to know what it feels like.” So I opened myself to the experience. I felt my belly drop. I noticed the fear in the back of my neck. I released my tightening jaw, I felt my heart beating. I felt alive.
Last week, I was learning how to surf. This is a big deal for me because I find waves mostly terrifying. The first day out I felt like I was under attack and couldn’t really believe everyone else was out there for fun. But on the second day, I remembered! You’re gonna want to know, I settled myself down internally, and opened to the experience. I felt what it was to be tossed around beneath a wave. The quiet, the big, the smooth, the surrendered.
This morning I woke up to the sound of sprinklers. For breakfast, I bit into my favorite kind of doughnut. I watched my best friend’s baby yawn and smile and cry.
Pay attention. Pay attention. Pay attention. This is your life! You’re gonna want to know what it feels like.