Have you ever been in a meeting where the tabletop is littered with phones? Sometimes they're face up, ready to distract the owner the moment any notification comes in (even if it's just an promotional email). Other times it's face down - a slight improvement, although if the phone is on silent and not vibrate, I do wonder what purpose it could possibly serve. If nothing else, the phones being visible and nearby certainly act as a magnet for our attention.
All it takes is one tone, vibration or the screen lighting up for us to stop being "here" and to start being there. This happens so quickly and unconsciously that rarely will we be able to stop it. How many of us are in the habit of pulling out our phone the moment there is a lull in conversation or even a brief wait presents itself, say, in a line at the store, in a doctor's waiting room, at the urinal!?
I love phones and this isn't one more anti-phone rant, but I do want us to see how cheaply we give our attention away. Our attention is the most precious commodity we have and what we choose to dwell on in the present moment directly influences our experience. Our habit is to let our attention wander freely, without commanding it, following one pattern of thought to the next, one external stimulus that cries out to be noticed to the next.
While all of that is going on, we might be physically here, but we won't be here.
Our attention is the most precious commodity we have and what we choose to dwell on in the present moment directly influences our experience.
Let me show you what I mean. Right now, in this moment, your attention is on this blog post. Cool - thanks for reading. But there are elements of your experience that are in your awareness that you aren't and haven't been paying attention to. Let's shift your attention to them now.
For example, the feel of your butt on the seat. Notice it. That's been there the whole time you've been reading, but only once it's brought to your attention do you notice it. What kinds of sounds are going on around you? Just stop reading and listen for a sec.
Do you feel the difference? How you went from being here (in blog land and personal head space) to here - this moment happening right now? Once you start to notice these shifts in attention, you'll notice them everywhere and it can dramatically change how you relate to and love other people.
They say the eyes are the window of the soul. That is to say that there is something profound that takes place when you are able to look another person in the eye. There is a kind deep, personal connection that takes place ---- a kind of really seeing the other person, not just their body, or their clothes or their outward appearance.
I think the reason that it's powerful largely has to do with a matching of attention. When you lock eyes with somebody, both of you are directing your attention towards the other and crucially, you are both completely engaged in the present moment together. Full engagement with the present moment is something that happens rarely, and very rarely (if ever) does it happen unintentionally.
You might have experienced fleeting moments of complete presence when you were so caught up in a challenging activity that time seemed to slow down, or in the midst of an emergency when you need to act now. Most of the time though, our tendency is to be so caught up in the inner monologue that runs all day long in our minds that we seldom leave it behind and become fully present. Our attention is scattered, fickle and frenetic, bouncing from one thought to another, one concern about the future to cringing over past mistakes. We spend so much time thinking about things that aren't happening.
This is why when you can look a person in the eye, making them the focus of our attention, you give them a great gift. When you can take command of your attention and set it squarely on the person in front of you, you give them tremendous value by making them the focus of your experience. True compassion for another person requires that one be present to them and their needs, rather than consumed with one’s own thoughts.
This is a discipline, and it takes time to retrain our brains for this. Attention will constantly wander and recalling it will become the great task of listening well, and in listening, loving, and in loving, healing. When you give someone your undivided attention, you are giving them the greatest gift possible. You are choosing to enter into their world, their head space, their mess, and in doing so, you are leaving your own world behind.
Try it and you'll see it for yourself. In a conversation today, mentally tell yourself that the only place you are going to be is right here, right now, fully engaged with this person. Look them in the eye and enter into their world, and you'll feel it.
Also, put your bloody phone in your pocket, not on the table.