Attention is the greatest gift you can give


Life throws so much at us, we can forget to slow down and do one thing at a time. I recently heard the story of a woman who had difficulty as a child getting her parents’ undivided attention. Forced to settle for whatever they gave her, she eventually came to believe that she didn’t have anything important enough to say that would warrant their — or anyone else’s — full attention. She stopped sharing her innermost thoughts and feelings with people, resulting in isolation and loneliness.

When I share genuinely with someone, I am unconsciously looking to be seen and treated as the most fascinating thing going in that moment. In acknowledgement of this universal longing, there’s a wonderful African greeting. When a person arrives in a village after being away, they say, “I am here to be seen.” And the response from the group is, “We see you.” Isn’t that what all of us want?

How easy it is to slip into this multitasking business of dividing my attention. I can’t begin to realize the effect it has on my son or other loved ones. Thoughtless as it is, I don’t do it out of malice. I fall into distraction or a story of busyness, stressed out by feeling behind on everything.

Fortunately, I have learned from yoga practice that I can cultivate better attention through the simple act of breathing. Yesterday, when my teacher reminded us that the breath is always there, from the first to the last, I found myself remembering my father’s last breath. And how privileged I felt to be there, giving him my full attention, holding his right hand when he crossed the threshold. It always felt so wonderful to be the recipient of his full attention.

And I thought of my last words with my mother before she died, and how amazingly blessed I am for having been their daughter. And for all the wonderful people in my life, for all my loves and friendships. And for my life itself, my work, my home, the beauty of a new snowfall. Taken on a ride by paying attention.

I’m thinking now of how sweet our dog always is when I come home. She loves to have her belly rubbed and will turn on her back every time, paws up in pure submission and contentment. Greeting my dog in this way, it hits me that sometimes I withhold attention and drift into distraction to manage a sudden fear of loss. To be aware that life is fleeting is to admit that I could lose my dog, or for that matter, my son or husband, at any moment. I know the pain would be unbearable, and yet I choose to go with the advice of Mary Oliver and love them anyway.


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