To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work. Mary Oliver
You probably think the whole world is in focus, like a photograph. It isn’t. Place your finger a few inches away from here, focus on it, and try to read the next sentence. You can’t. The fovea, the center of the eye, is a small region where we see sharply, and the brain pretends that the rest is in focus as well. Attention is like that, too. Think of it as a flashlight, or a torch if you’re British. You only see what it is pointing at.
We often swing it wildly around, as if we are in a forest on a moonless night, checking for branches, gullies, predators and prey. And we’re not fully in control of it either, as anyone who has tried to meditate will attest. It is as if someone else also has hold of the flashlight handle, and keeps taking command.
Our language reflects this continual change of focus. “My attention was caught by….” “Let me draw your attention to….” “Pay attention!”
That is, in many ways, a good thing. The smoke alarm demands attention even when we’re engrossed in “Game of Thrones,” just as we see movement in our peripheral vision.
And what we pay attention to is not only events in the outside world; it’s often internal. The past or the future preoccupies us, and we switch attention to our senses just enough to avoid walking into the furniture.
You can only see your partner to the extent that you pay attention #relationships #quote Click To TweetNow apply all of this to your relationships with other people, whether acquaintances or your lover. If you’re not paying attention, you won’t see them. If you’re continually switching attention, you will only see them a little. When you give them your full attention, they become, for that time, your entire world. You see them for who they are, though of course filtered by your beliefs and prejudices. And this other person, whether a checkout clerk or your lover, can feel your gaze, will respond to your attention, because our reactions are very much social in nature.
It is only through attention that a relationship exists at all. If you pay no attention, that person does not even exist for you. When you walk with someone, you pay attention to pace and direction, lest you become two separate bodies in the crowd, and so it is in a relationship: it is your true attention to each other that holds it together and makes it real.
When that attention becomes mutual full attention, a sacred space is created, that special way of being together that we have recently written about. By not paying attention to past events or future concerns, you can be present to yourself and to your partner. When your mind is not filled up with concerns and your attention is not directed elsewhere, you will experience the magic and fullness of union with another.