Loving Attention

Love is Attention“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!

Comments 17

  1. Ruben Berenguel February 14, 2011

    You know, since I started 2011 with the “serious” idea of meditating (and after planning ahead a long list of posts for 100 per Zen!), I see attention from a different point of view. Of course, I prefer the word mindfulness (which happens to have a lovely kanji in Japanese, encompassing mind and heart). It is something I am training as often as I can, and (although it is not supposed to be the goal), makes you see the world around you as freshly baked. Or at least, like it for a few moments every day. The feeling is awesome.

    Being more mindful at what you do won’t mean you do less things! These last weeks I have started working in a lot of different projects (quite a few were stalling after not working on them) and I am overflowing with ideas. But just one at the time… Write it down, take a deep breath and keep on working.

    Cheers,

    Ruben

    • Fabian February 14, 2011

      Ruben, I agree with you on the practical side. Maybe I didn’t explain my argument well enough: I was referring to the high amount of input that tries to reach us during any given moment of the day. This includes possible new projects, but also sights, thoughts, and especially marketing, advertising, electronical distractions. Here, I believe the only way to stay attentive (or mindful) with the main thing we are working on or the person we treating with is to accept that we canot see and hear everything, and be at several places at the same time. Thus, we have to reduce, even if – of course! – we still can work on several projects in a consecutive manner.

      • Ruben Berenguel February 14, 2011

        No, your argument was clear, it was my answer’s fault. We are constantly bombarded with information… we have to learn to just let it go!

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  3. Jonathan Ziemba February 14, 2011

    Why do we believe that doing less is a bad thing? We are becoming a species obsessed with “winning”, with getting the next cool device, the next bigger better thing. We are becoming a species of homo unius libri. Dull and limited in our thinking driven by desires that are not our own, robbing our most precious resource time.

    The beauty of all of this as you have stated Fabian is when we get behind the wheel of our own life and drive. We become the master of the journey, our attention becomes a quanta gift that transcends this blue marble earth.

    I can think of no higher order than to lavish attention on those I love.

  4. Steve M February 14, 2011

    Hope you’re trip is going well Fabian? Nice post. Yep, paying attention is key – it’s so right that when we try paying attention to too many things at once that we actually end up paying attention to nothing – pointless. Attention and focus are key for me – sometimes I’m quite good at them, at other times I fall back into the ‘doing 100 things at once mentality’. It’s all about practice, and progress rather than perfection.

  5. Miss P. February 15, 2011

    The question of whether it is a good thing to want/have lots and lots of friends made me smile. One of my closes friends has so many acquaintances/friends that he never manages to call or write or initiate a date. He told me this pretty early on in our relationship so I never felt bad about always being the one to call. But it did take a talk between his ex-girlfriend and I, where she told me about how he always talked about me and how important I was to him, to actually feel like the closeness was mutual.

    This was one reason why I made it a priority to strengthen the relationships I currently have, before engaging new friends.

    • Fabian February 21, 2011

      Yes, I very much believe there is a practical limitation to the relationships we can maintain. It will differ quite a bit from person to person, but it still exists. For me, this is pretty much a tempo giusto problem… I just don’t feel well if I have to hurry from meeting to meeting and prefer to dedicate more time to every person I meet.

  6. Cristhyano February 21, 2011

    Ahh i’m glad i’m back to read your posts. I’m exactly doing as you say with everything in my life. One example is the time spent on the internet. While i was reading over 7 or 8 blogs and trying to absorve every information, you end up with a mess in your head. So i choose just 3 of the more valuable to me and focus on that. And i had the luck that these three, including yours, doesn’t post too often. So i can read the new text and reflect on it.
    The same thing with my guitar practice routine and my college work. I just do these two things per day, but they take a lot of time and attention and sometimes i just feel that i am not present. It’s funny to notice that. The teacher is talking about the subject to 3 people (yeah, there’s a remaining 3 students in my class) and i often catch myself looking to him, but i did not hear a single word. I was on my mind thinking about things. I became an expert on that. Other day i lost almost all the 2 hour class thinking about a song of Eric Johnson and. So i noticed that i am having trouble with this in other areas too.
    When i talking to the people at home, i am pretend to listen, but i don’t care at all. Since i was a kid i had this way to allienate myself from the “small talk” of others and focus only on my problems. When this at first sight seem to be a good thing, because you waste time with what is really important, it pushes you away from people and you notice that you spend years in the same house with them and simply doesn’t notice. Sometimes there’s a huge situation and my two older brothers asks me what i think about it. Then i notice that i didn’t know about that, i didn’t know what they are talking about and the thing was happening for months. And my older brothers all live in their homes, one lives in another city and knows more about what happens here than me! I’m trying to be better everyday, but it’s a hard old bad “habit” to break that seems to be inside me and taking over everytime.
    Anyway, it’s great to be back to the usefull side of the internet. Have a great time in Germany, pal!

    • Fabian February 21, 2011

      Thank you, Cristhyano! :)
      I think most of us know this problem – but I believe that once we really realize it, get clear about it, we are already half the way down the road to improve!

      Honored to be one of your three “valuable” bloggers! Would love to know who are the other two! :)

      • Cristhyano February 21, 2011

        The other two are Rowdy Kittens and Castles in the Air. I think you must know them.

  7. Amy Martin February 21, 2011

    Your weather dancing must be working , Fabian.

    I can feel Spring tip-toeing in already, with subtly greener grass, moister air and more exuberant birds.

    Let me know if/when you are coming through Wien and we will get beer and change the world.

    • Fabian February 21, 2011

      Amy, I think you are far enough South to feel the improvements… Cologne just got reaaaaaally chilly again! :P
      Would love to meet up in Vienna… I’ll surely travel down there, but probably only in April or May! Will get in touch by mail to grab those world-changing beers! :)

  8. Alison Moore Smith February 21, 2011

    By trying to pay attention to everything, we end up paying attention to nothing.

    So, so, so true. I have a LOT going on in my life, and sometimes that means not paying attention to the MOST important things. I constantly have to remind myself to ignore those things that aren’t crucial and focus, intently and purposefully, on those that are.

    • Fabian February 21, 2011

      Hey Alison, as I already wrote to Cristhyano, I really believe that becoming aware of this in our lives is already a huuuuge step. Then, assuming the consequences and acting accordingly probably will never get easy, but at least we can improve bit by bit! :)

  9. Thiago March 6, 2011

    Truly great post. I’ve been doing so much stuff at my job that requires a great amount of energy in order to keep the quality.
    Congrats for the blog.

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