I was having a conversation with a friend of mine the other evening about attention. What a beautiful gift you are giving when you offer another person your undivided attention. John Tarrant Roshi says, “Attention is the most basic form of love”. We all need attention, and we are not getting it.
In fact, I would say that as a society, we are starved for attention. Everyone is talking, no one is listening. We are in a vicious cycle – we are all needing to be heard, which could be translated as, we are all needing to be loved, but because no one is deeply listening, no one feels heard, so their need to be heard increases. So the question becomes, are you willing to be the one to break the cycle? By being the one who is actually listening? And by listening, I don’t mean be quiet long enough for the other person to finish while you carefully construct your contribution to the topic. Nope. I don’t mean that.
I love Roshi’s definition of attention being the most basic form of love, especially when I’m thinking about how each of us can be the one to start changing society. Just think about what it feels like to have someone hanging on your every word, so interested and delighted to find out what you are going to say next. It’s an amazing feeling. It makes you feel not just heard, but valued and important. Loved.
But this feeling is all too rare. I bet you’ve had the experience of sharing something important with someone and as soon as you finish they are sharing their own story that is kind of similar or some wisdom they have on the subject, failing to acknowledge any of the points you just made. And while you’re talking, you can see it in their eyes that they aren’t really hearing you, can’t you? You can. Because humans are incredibly perceptive. And how does it feel? Just thinking about it makes me feel a bit lonely. This experience reinforces up all the things that aren’t true about us as individuals with valuable things to say. Giving someone your attention reinforces what is true about them (and you) - you are special, you are valued, you are important.
So being the one who gives attention has serious advantages. I am going to share the three that I thought of, and if you have more, do share…
1. Giving full attention feels really good. When you give attention, you become really present and curiosity take over. And when you are curious, life gets exciting! I mean who knows what this person is going to say. They may have a point you would have missed had you been busy thinking about what you might say next. When you become present, life flows into the conversation that could not be there if you were in your head, sorting through recycled material. I like to say, who cares what I already think I know, I am more interested in what I don’t know. And I am not going to find out if I am not paying attention. And the truth is, you don’t actually need to plan the next thing you are going to say, because what you say on the fly without thinking is going to be way more interesting, spontaneous, fresh and relevant to the conversation you are having.
2. When you are willing to offer your undivided attention, people are way more interested in talking to you. Because you are offering something to them, your love. It’s a huge gift. You can be the life of the party, just going around listening to people’s stories and asking questions about them. Trust me, you will be remembered and invited back!
3. You are actually way more likely to get attention if you offer your attention first. The other person will typically relax after having been listened to and without even realizing it, they will be more available you. You get what you give… Think about when you have been in an argument with someone, don’t you feel way more willing to hear their side of things if they have given you the floor to talk and say your peace without interrupting you?
So back to the other night’s conversation, my friend who is also a flight attendant was telling me how it makes her job so much more rewarding to offer customers her attention. She can see how it makes a huge difference in the world. She gave an example: when someone is upset and you choose to just listen to their story without taking any of it personally, it calms them down and the situation doesn’t tend to escalate after that. It’s interesting because the plane is its own little world and you can see up close how your interactions with passengers can affect their whole experience on the flight and often the experience of those around them as well. It really makes a difference. And, as my friend so wisely put it, it’s not that hard.
So next time you are in a conversation, see if you can offer your undivided attention to the other person. See how curious you can get about their story. Instead of turning the focus back on yourself and your life, see if you can keep diving deeper to find out more.
And just notice how the experience is for you. How long are you able to do it? Is it challenging to stay focused on the other person? Is it easier with some people and harder with others? You may find it’s harder to do with the people you love the most. Try it with your partner. Or with a family member. It can be very healing for a relationship. Remember, “attention is the most basic form of love. Through it we bless and we are blessed.”
If you feel inspired to share your experience with this or if there is a topic you are interested in exploring, Send an email to cathy@thelifecoaching spot.com