Thursday, June 17, 2021

Clear and Present Attention


Some years back, I was visiting my brother's family, up in Tehachapi.  My little niece and I were walking around their house, and there amongst the support beams for their balcony, we came upon one of her little wild friends, a pet horny toad, who used to come and visit with her up on the deck; he had apparently quite recently fallen to his death.  She was bereft, so very sad, sobbing with her eyes filled with tears.  We sat together and held his body in our hands and stroked his still soft skin.  

After a time, when her tears had subsided, I asked her if she would like to have a burial ceremony, to honor her little pet's life.  She nodded in agreement and we went to get the garden shovel.  Her mother, noticed us and asked what was going on.  I briefly explained and she came down to join us.  The three of us took turns solemnly digging and preparing the grave.  We gathered some lovely wildflowers from the hillside, laid them carefully in the hole and placed the toad down in there.  Gently we covered over his body as we said some prayers for his well being in a future time.  Then we found and placed some beautiful rocks, ones that she thought he would have liked, right on top.  

Years later, my sister-in-love commented to me how sacred that moment was, for all of us.  She said, "That's why children love you so much.  You give them your clear and present attention."  And it is true, we all need and crave that direct and full attention, not only from others, but also from and to ourselves.  Far too often, in this modern life, we are driven by distraction.  One thing calls us away from our present task, quickly tumbling into another.  We loose the satisfaction of a job well done.  And we barely have the opportunity to even ask about what would be best to do next or what might be most important, right now.   

Just a few short decades ago, multitasking was heralded as a time-saving and advanced human skill.  Now, we know that multi-tasking leaves us with less productivity and lower quality results.  Not being able to fully focus on either task results in a diminished combined performance.  

The same holds true, the research shows, in regards to our ability to concentrate and successfully think through and complete tasks when we are overly stimulated by common substances like sugar or caffeine.  That extra boost may make us feel like we are accomplishing more, and more quickly.  But, in actuality, the results fall short of that illusion.

Another cultural pattern that we tend to hold in high regard is being busy.  We are somehow made to feel 'less than,' if we are not rushing around doing many things, checking our messages, meeting people, tending to lots of details and little emergencies all day long.  Each accomplishment that we do, gives us a small endorphin rush and we hurry off to get another.

Even in conversation, we often are so actively looking for ways to respond, or are so eager to empathize and share our own experiences, that we jump in without letting the other person finish saying whatever it is that they were sharing.  The light of connection goes out of our eyes, as our minds shift into preparing our own thoughts to share.  Perhaps you've seen that.  I know that I have, where someone's eyes become dull as they have let their attention move away from what is being said.  I am often guilty of this particular habit, and I often fall prey to all of the other modern-day tendencies mentioned here, as well. 

But, as my sister-in-love said, there are times when I can give my full and present attention, listening carefully, slowing down, feeling a sense of completion, allowing what is most important in this moment to arise.  And this is true for all of us, with all of these habits.  We can cultivate changes and become more conscious, often just by realizing them and letting ourselves become more aware.  It's okay to 'Stop and Smell the Roses.'   We can reclaim the ability to 'Be Here Now,' as Ram Dass famously proposed.  

Two of my favorite authors, from Australia, Susan Pearson and Martina Sheehan, addressed these cultural tendencies beautifully in their book, Do Less, Be More, which they wrote in 2017.  Instead of giving a 'To do list,' they offer a 'What Not To Do List,' helping readers to avoid rushing off to accomplish more, or dividing their attention with various things.  When we rest between tasks, even if just for a moment, ideas and inspirations have a chance to enter into our thoughts.  Racing around, doing too much and jumping from one experience to another, prevents us from having the ability to let deeper parts of our brain engage and this takes it's toll.

For myself, the times when I have really felt connected to others, and connected to my reason for being in this world, are when I have taken the time to give whatever it is that I find at hand, my complete focus.  I'd rather be right there, in the moment, like that time with my little niece.  If I were to have been checking for messages in the midst of it, or trying to sweep away a few cobwebs and clean something at the same time, the sacredness of the moment would have been lost.  

Those of you who read my blog know that I often like to recall the teaching of the Buddha, who said, "Do nothing.  Time is too precious to waste."  Sometimes doing nothing or at least slowing down and being present in the moment, helps me to feel more alive, more awake and more fully aware.  And it brings me my richest rewards, a joyful and fulfilling way to be.  

I'll leave you with this, from one of my mentors, Peace Pilgrim.  
She put it this way:
"Stay in the present moment.
Do what needs to be done.
Do all of the good that you can each day.
And the future will unfold."
Sweet blessings to each and every one of you.