Attention is vitality. It connects you with others. It makes you eager. Stay eager. Susan Sontag
Cultivating attention is an Essential Practice and Panacea as it enables you to fully engage with life:
Picture an audience at a gig; many audience members are entranced – watching, listening and dancing to their favourite band. Others are busy recording the gig on their phones. Who do you think has the more enjoyable experience? Jon Kabat Zinn suggests that the best way to capture moments is to pay attention and I’m inclined to agree with him.
Imagine a parent and child together; the child is immobile, fixated by the colours and sounds emitted by the television (s)he’s watching, while the parent is equally engrossed by whichever social media site (s)he’s logged on to. Or the parent and child are on the floor, playing a game together, each delighting in the others’ company. Whose is the more fulfilling encounter?
Attention is an important ingredient if effective communication is to occur. I can recall many times, as a child, asking my mum questions to which I only got vague, distracted responses. I was aware that she wasn’t really paying me attention, and as an adult I understand that she had problems of her own, not least of which that she was hooked on Valium. The message I got at the time, however, was that I wasn’t worth listening to.
If you want to show anyone, but especially your loved ones, that you care, try giving them your undivided attention. You might be surprised by the satisfaction you get from connecting with that person on a more than superficial level. Not only that, genuine interest in another person is said to make you more attractive. Note – genuine interest! You can’t fake it.
Makia, one of the seven principles of life according to the Hawaiian Huna tradition, states that ‘energy flows where attention goes’. This means, essentially, that what you focus on the most is what you get in life. It makes sense that if you concentrate on making the best of your life then you stand a better chance of accomplishing that.
Is your attention directed towards what’s important, that is, to what you do want, or are you side-tracked by the media and the unrealistic expectations it promotes? This can lead to a focus of attention on what you don’t really want, and/or what isn’t in your best interest.
Sometimes it’s necessary to carry out tasks that don’t particularly interest us (washing up – no, I don’t possess a dishwasher – and ironing are tedious undertakings in my book), but we can learn to pay attention no matter what we’re doing, especially if the chore can be carried out in short bursts of activity. Try this exercise to help you keep your attention where it needs to be.
It’s beneficial to learn to pay attention to what life itself is trying to tell you; you can even ask for a sign. A billboard, an overheard snippet of conversation, a song coming on the radio; these are all examples of how life can give you the right message at the right time. The more you practice this, the more reliable it seems to become.
I wrote a memoir last year and couldn’t help wondering if I should attempt to write a novel. Just before Christmas I asked for a sign to show me whether or not my intuition should be acted on. The same day, seemingly randomly, I came across an article on the internet that gave me my answer. It was an interview with Mitch Albom about pursuing a career in writing. A particular question asked by the interviewer stood out for me:
How do we know when a story is worth telling, or when we’re on to a compelling narrative?
As did Mitch’s reply:
…if it’s a passion to you then it will be for someone else.
That was enough to convince me to ‘follow my bliss’ and my novel is now a work-in-progress.
Where you do – or don’t – place your attention can tell you a lot about yourself and your priorities. Keeping your senses open can lead you down exciting paths that might otherwise remain hidden.
Paying attention, I’d argue, helps you to live from your essence and contributes to a fulfilled and purposeful life.
What grabs your attention?