One of the most significant gifts we can give in this modern, busy time of ours is our time. With so many demands placed upon us, we often find ourselves talking or listening to someone who needs us while we are also driving, watching TV, answering our cell phones, text messaging, making dinner, going through a stack of mail, or taking in everything else going on around us. We’re only half there. Sound familiar?
The sages of both East and West understood the importance of focused attention—of being mindful and fully aware in the now. The Christian monastic Basil of Caesarea, for instance, said, “You cannot succeed in loving God or your neighbor . . . if your mind is perpetually distracted.” To the Zen masters, full awareness of and openness to what is taking place in the moment is indispensable. A famous Zen master put it this way: “When walking, just walk. When sitting, just sit. But above all, don’t wobble!”
It’s impossible to be fully giving unless we are giving our full attention. That may sound obvious and even simple, but how often do we do it? How often do we maintain an unbroken connection with those who need us?
The Unbroken Circle—Learning from Lovers
Giving your undivided attention is a gift that is both nurturing and healing. It breeds that rare and precious commodity of true intimacy and connectedness. To understand this better, think about how you can tell when two people are deeply in love. As the saying goes, lovers only have eyes for each other. Each one’s gaze is fixed on the beloved—so much so that they don’t notice what is going on around them.
When we are locked in that warm embrace of an unbroken circle of energy, we know that at that moment we are the sole object of our partner’s attention. We feel deeply loved and supported. In fact, a focused, heart-centered connection is an essential ingredient for good relationships in any setting.
I watched the transformative power of focused attention in action when I was supervising a large department of editors and researchers. I would be at my desk hearing about issues that needed attention and, at the same time, my phone would inevitably ring, bringing news of some urgent problem that needed to be solved. I didn’t realize how exasperating and even disrespectful my taking those calls felt to my teammates until one of them pointed this out to me.
I started to turn off the phone and let the calls go through to my answering machine when I was engaged in crucial or timely conversations. As a result, I was able to understand and resolve issues more quickly. More importantly, this helped create more connected and compassionate relationships with my co-workers.