If listening is an act of love (thanks StoryCorps!), than what is paying attention with your whole being — all your sense doors and body wisdom?
I’ve been re-reading Winifred Gallagher’s “Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life,” considering how my own attention these past four years were captivated by situations largely outside of my control but which had troubling impact on closely held values.
I hadn’t realized how hijacked my nervous system has been living practically in sight of White House; the familiar hypervigilance which kept my sleep light, the angrily pitched shoulders and sore neck which I scarcely noticed as I kept myself occupied scurrying from task to task. The almost daily doomscrolling and jumping from one media outlet to the next, wondering which had more bases covered.
A small digression: This physical and mental busy-ness is a classic trauma response that corresponds to the “Flight” pattern of our nervous system: tying ourselves up with so many urgent undertakings that we barely have bandwidth for the more important ones that require depth and presence, such as cultivating meaningful relationships. Unfortunately, our entire culture and economy is enmeshed in this pattern, and adores when we stay ever-productive and ever in need of proving our worth.
Now I’m not saying that for those of us in the US, having an empathetic grown-up in the Oval Office will take care of all of our attention woes: our democracy is still under threat, particularly at the state level and among decentralized extremist groups, with a disproportionate number of members being military or police trained, and heavily armed. There is still much work to be done.
Still, many people I talk to — most especially myself (because in a pandemic, I am indeed my most constant company) — have shared an ability to pay attention to other things these days.
What and how we as individuals and as cultures pay attention to creates different realities. As Gallagher writes “Looking ahead, what you focus on from this moment will create the life and person yet to be….if you could just stay focused on the right things, your life would stop feeling like a reaction to stuff that happens to you and become something you create: not a series of accidents, but a work of art.”
Attention always implies choice, to focus on making a spicy bone broth, say, rather than binge a Netflix show or to chat with an old friend rather than send her an email. Skillful management of attention is a pre-requisite for making any behavioral change, whether it’s un-jacking your nervous system or sussing out where you might step up your civic engagement.
So this month, somehow thought of as the month of love, consider at least one way you can pay exquisite attention to what matters most to you. I have several ways to support you doing that — from my weekly Resilience & The Elements series which runs through February’s end to a restful Yin Yoga & Lovingkindness session offered on February 5th to coaching with me. Please let me know if there are other offerings you’d like to see from me.
With loving attention,