What if We Really Paid Attention?

By Don Arnoudse

We live in a culture that has truly gone mad with “multi-tasking”. I confess I’m guilty too. Even as I write this blog, I have my Bose earphones on as I listen to Neil Young singing “Helpless” in his uniquely plaintive style. OK. I’ve turned Neil off for now. At the same time, I believe most of us crave receiving the undivided attention of someone we care about. Attention that is completely focused on us with no distractions. No TV, no laptop, no cell phone, no thoughts of “What’s for dinner?”, or what I wish I had said in my last conversation this morning, or what I need to do before I go to bed tonight.

Just me completely present, wide awake, and paying attention to you. Attention that is full of interest in you, infused with compassion, alive with good humor, energized by the mere fact of our being together and having this conversation. Attention that comes with no judgment about good or bad, right or wrong, do I agree or disagree. Just pure mindfulness of this precious moment together.

When was the last time you experienced this with someone? When was the last time that you provided this for someone else? You say it’s been a long time—way too long you say. What are you doing instead? Are you just drifting through your days letting the noise all around you take you away from the present moment? I’ve heard it said that we now live in an ADD-HD culture. Even if we personally are not afflicted with attention deficit disorder, our whole society is. And the cost to our relationships, our energy, our focus and our ability to squeeze the juice from each moment in life is high.

So, how do we stop being too busy to smell the roses? It takes practice. Practice in being mindful. Practice in turning off the noise, the distractions, and paying attention to what is really most important right in front of us in each moment. The good news is that you can practice wherever you are, at any time. No special equipment required.

First, take advantage of your age. Just be yourself. What do you care anymore about what people think? Let go of thinking about “Who’s watching and what do they think?” Just concentrate on where you are, who you are with, what you are doing and let everything else just go out of your head.

Second, practice paying attention to the small things. Start with your breath. Are you breathing deeply, into your belly as Nature intended? Take a big breath now. Exhale fully. Take another one and notice the anxiety disappear. Feel the sense of relaxation and sense of wellbeing that comes with just paying attention to your breathing. Really taste your food as you eat. Pay full attention to your surroundings as you move through your day. Resolve to notice things you have never seen before.

Third, practice really truly listening to the person(s) you are with. Don’t just take turns talking. Avoid judging what they are saying and looking for an opening for your response. Listen to the emotion in what they are saying. Watch them closely. What are they saying with their eyes, with the look on their face, with their posture? Are they lit up? Are they carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders? See them as though you never saw them before. You’ll be amazed at what you have missed up until now. And you’ll be surprised at how interesting they have suddenly become.

Lastly, practice each day “living in the
moment”. As John Lennon once wrote, “Life is what happens while you’re
busy making other plans.” Don’t let the days slip by while you replay
past and worry about the future. Let others know what you are
discovering. Invite your loved ones to live each moment with you.

So, I’m going to stop writing now. And return to Neil Young. And really listen to him this time.