made you look

 

What do you see when you’re not looking?

I was recently driving by a large group of high-school students who were milling about and what cut through the uniformity of the bravado in baggy jeans was a young couple, in the midst of the crowd, motionlessly embracing each other.  There was absolutely nothing unique about them so why did they become the focal point?   It may be reasonable to assume that my attention might have also as easily rested on two people engaging in a fist-fight.  Or a solitary individual sitting alone just outside the hub of the group.  Something different.

 

But I still wondered why that particular snapshot of life grabbed my attention which led me to wonder what other things draw me in.

What grabs your attention in the sea of competing images?

Or what has the power to pull your attention from the backdrop of the ordinary?  A sudden noise, bright colour, shiny object, unexpected movement or something incongruous and obviously out-of-place?

And what is it that gets your adrenaline flowing and the nervous system ramped up to buzzing or even just something that tugs the emotions up closer to the surface?

Is it the unexpected eruption of raucous laughter?  Seeing a police car behind you even when you’re driving within the speed limit.  Or an accident on the side of the road.  Is it the unabashed display of emotion at an airport arrival gate?

If we know that these unique interruptions in the monotone daily pattern draws our attention, is there a chance that we use this same technique to get attention from others?

Do we proclaim loudly that we absolutely don’t want any attention but then still send up brightly-coloured smoke signals to be noticed?  Perhaps we stand out in the crowd with:

  •  the flash of over-achieving competence?    
  • the discordant noise of barely-adaptive dysfunction?

 

 

The bigger question is why do we want that attention?

To answer that question, we may need to sit with the following two questions:

 

Who makes you look?

What do you do to make others look?

 

 

the myth of living in the moment

There was time when I would easily fall into a stony-eyed stare around people who used the language of ‘living in the moment‘. Even as someone who had been meditating for many years, I would secretly rebel with thoughts like

“if you only knew what I was going through right now

or

if you could just spend one day at my job and with all my responsibilities, you would see that I don’t have time to live in the moment”.

Eventually, the chronic irritability, stress-aches, frequent illnesses and general dis-ease of my life led to me to question whether or not I was missing something.

Through continued meditation, yoga, the reading of wisdom literature from many traditions and conversations with others who were walking with the same questions and resistances, I found a place where I could consider releasing my cold, judgmental stare.  It was a micro-start.  A work in progress, to be sure.

The place I found was one where I realized that ‘living in the moment‘ does not mean bearing witness to every single moment as free of stress and discomfort. It does not mean a constant evaluation, categorizing, dissecting and cataloging of my moments to see how they could be made more livable, more acceptable and even easier to manage then share with others.

Attending to this moment means that I see it with soft eyes, not searchlight eyes. Receptive eyes to what is really in front of me and to sit with whatever response comes from it.

But living in each moment is not really reasonable. There are simply too many of them. They come too quickly and leap frog over each other as we tumble and stumble through our days. This reality calls for a bit of intention.  We can select a few moments each day when we choose to stop, sit, soften, notice and receive the moment just as it is.

Maybe the first moments of wakefulness in the morning. Or just before falling asleep. Or at a stop light. Or doing the dishes. Sitting quietly on a porch with a cup of coffee. Choosing to add some moments of meditation to your day.

This is as close to ‘living in the moment’ as I can get. Some moments. Some days. It is what it is.

 

attention

Any man who can drive safely while kissing a pretty girl is simply not giving the kiss the attention it deserves.  

(Albert Einstein)

As a teacher, I am well-acquainted with the terms of attention. I am first a magician who must mesmerize students with something that will keep their attention long enough to relay some information that is on my agenda. Then a salesperson who must demonstrate the value of acquiring attention as a beneficial life-long skill.  And finally an educator whose aim is to share a strong, passionate belief in the amazing power of attention.

But what can I say to students about the transformative power of attention in a world where they are constantly being called to attention and then shamed for not being able to pay attention long enough only to get an earful of seemingly useless information? To them, the word attention is loaded with expectation, compromise and perhaps even boredom.

 

The word “attend” means “to expect, wait for, pay attention,” and directly from Latin attendere “give heed to,” literally “to stretch toward”. 

 

With the intention of occasionally closing young mouths while not closing young minds, I begin each class with a few minutes of corporate silence as a way to ask my students, ‘in your actions and your words, to what are you attending? Stretching your mind toward? In this moment, what are you expecting?

The practice of intentional stillness and silence is a struggle for most of them but a welcome break for others.

 

After the silence, I ask:

  • Are you fixating on the details in the fabric? 
  • Measuring each moment with a hyper-vigilant awareness? 
  • Stretching your mind to some perceived perfect place? 
  • Or is your mind an aimless wanderer on a journey to nowhere? 
  • Or have you not even noticed where your attention has settled? 
  • Or quite possibly, are you not able to name the several dozen places your attention has quickly travelled before I have finished asking the question?

 

While there is no right answer to these questions, there is space for students to become of aware of their intuitive or learned style of attention.  And the impact of it.

With the intention of reducing the weightiness of paying attention, what about replacing the word ‘attention’ with observe? Or notice? And with learning to sit with experience with less scrutiny and more openness to what is?

Teachers and parents, can we take some of the weight off the word ‘attention’, add the invitation to observe and notice instead and see if it transforms the ability of our children to be present?  Let’s encourage them to genuinely and gently notice their world as opposed to mentally documenting it, passively disengaging or restless running from what is in front of them.  And more importantly, can we model that for them?

 

 

You can become blind by seeing each day as a similar one. Each day is a different one, each day brings a miracle of its own. It’s just a matter of paying attention to this miracle. (Paulo Coelho)