“Attention is the most basic form of love; through it we bless and are blessed,” Zen teacher John Tarrant writes. His words strike me as the perfect reminder for being conscious about what we pay our attention to – especially on a day like Saint Valentine’s!
I personally believe that love isn’t a limited resource. If we only wanted it, it could be all around us, all the time. And still, we rarely experience it that way: Instead of love, there is often stress, loneliness, fear, or simply thoughtlessness and neglect. “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference,” as Elie Wiesel famously stated.
Could the key to a more loving life lie in how we direct our attention?
Quite obviously, the day only has 24 hours, and we cannot pay attention to everything there is. We generally don’t want to accept that, though! Consequently, most of us will pay some attention to the main situations we are finding ourselves in – a meeting, the road traffic, a dinner with friends. But we will also be more than happy to give some attention to any nice distraction that comes along.
It’s the old Talk-to-your-friend-while-checking-your-Blackberry-situation; the well-known multitasking problem: By trying to pay attention to everything, we end up paying attention to nothing.
So am I wrong and love is limited, because attention is? Yes and no: The crux is that we can behave lovingly in everything we do. We can give love to every person that crosses our path, to every experience we make, to every moment we live. A loving life is really an exercise in mindfulness. Attention isn’t the limiting factor – it’s the key!
When Less is More
This insight in itself may not be enough to treat our ADD. In the end, how can we lovingly pay attention all the time, if we feel so lost in the myriad of things that call for it?
I believe that the only mindhack for treating this problem is to accept the practical time limitations we encounter and make a conscious cut. Living tempo giusto often requires reduction, and this doesn’t have to be a bad thing! Of course there are many people who still insist that we have to do more all the time: Get more busywork done, exploit more networking opportunities, do things faster!
Coming from a different angle, I dare to ask two questions:
- What’s so bad about doing fewer things, but doing them really, really good?
- What’s so bad about knowing fewer people, but knowing them really, really well?
Remember, it’s about being attentive, not about unreachable perfectionism! It’s about simply doing the best we can, even if someone else could do it better. It’s not about reaching deepest intimacy with every stranger we meet, but to be open for the possibility that this intimacy might indeed emerge.
It is about recognizing that our time and attention might be limited – but that this isn’t a practical limitation at all: If we can connect with one person on a deeper level, why should we miss superficial connections with a hundred others? If we can finish one marvelous piece of art, why should we worry about not working on a dozen mediocre ones? If the glass is full, why should we aim for it to overflow?
The Valentine’s Day Plug
Don’t just buy flowers for your loved ones. Everybody does that, and while it means good business for the flower industry, it doesn’t necessarily entail greater happiness for the people you care about.
Instead, bring attention as a gift: Try to be completely mindful when being with those persons (and with everybody else!). And when you are alone, pay attention to yourself, your work, and the places you go to.
As far as I can see, life can be pure loving marvelousness – if only we dare to be attentive.
This post is part of the Love Sparks Festival over at Jasmine Lamb’s wonderful All is Listening blog! Be sure to check out the posts by the other participants! As you read this, I am probably packing my bags or heading to the airport to travel to Germany where I will spend the next couple of weeks dancing for the Weather Gods in order to achieve an early beginning of spring. More from the old continent soon!