There is a commodity that is more valuable than any other on the planet. It is so powerful that while some people covet it above all else, others are fearful of it and avoid it with great effort. It can heal miraculously and wound deeply. Each of us has it within us to use it. How we use it dramatically affects our well-being. What is it?
French philosopher Simone Weil described it this way: “Attention is the highest form of ecstacy.”
Little children seek it by positive action that wins praise, or by acting out to get negative attention. Kids are indifferent to what kind of attention they get as long as they get it. Thrillseekers climbing rocks and skydiving crave it. Danger causes the mind to focus its attention. Ecstacy follows. Sexual orgasm delivers the same high.
Attention has power to influence others. Indeed, it can drastically affect their ability to perform. One day, my ten year old stepson wanted to show me his hockey slapshot. As I shifted my attention to him in our backyard hockey pad, he took a mighty wind-up and… bombed. “It never works when you look,” he moaned. My attention rattled his nerves. I have had the same experience on the first hole of golf tournaments, gaffing the ball directly into a nearby pond.
As we grow older, we learn that attracting negative attention comes with pain. Many of us decide to be ‘good’ in order to avoid attention. This is how we become a pleaser – a malady that causes much grief and unhappiness later in life. We fear attention and put on a facade to control the kind of attention we get.
The media craves our attention. Every pair of eyeballs means advertising revenue. It means votes. It means businesses getting their message to customers. It means educators, philosophers and religious people converting the masses to their world view. It means movie makers, musicians and actors getting rich. Fame is attention.
Lack of attention wilts us. We see someone we know at an event and they ignore us. Or they have forgotten us. We feel diminished. We call a friend and get no return phone call. We feel hurt. A fight with our lover leads to the cold-shoulder treatment. We feel their intentional avoidance of bestowing attention on us like ice.
Positive, loving attention heals us. Naomi Feil, creator of the Validation Breakthrough therapy for dementia & Alzheimers patients, discovered that 5 minutes of the right attention, given three times a day, prevents that person from spiraling into the vegetative, comatose state for those 70 years of age or older. 10,000 agencies world-wide practice her therapy. It is simply the application of loving attention upon a person in pain. Simply, but not easily.
Using the power of your attention, you can heal another person. You can influence them to make wiser choices. You can boost their self-esteem and confidence. You are powerful – if only you can harness your own attention and focus it.
The reality for most people is that their attention is fractured and scattered. Their mind flits from one worry to the next. Their heart is fearful and anxious. They are unable to lasso their attention. Indeed, attention is like a laser beam, where light gets focused by traveling through a crystal. The resulting intensity can cut steel.
We need a crystal which focuses our attention. Without it, we cannot harness the extraordinary power of giving our attention to another. Indeed, without harnessing it, we end up craving the focused attention of others. Their attention makes us feel worthwhile and even lovable. We are takers, not givers. Our thirst never ends until we learn to be givers.
By focusing our attention and giving its powerful energy to others, we ourselves become healed. Paradoxically, we get by giving, not by receiving. Thus, we must learn to focus and we need a crystal to help us.
What is that crystal? It is faith. It is acquiring a deep trust that the future will unfold as it is meant to and hence we can focus on now. Now is the only time that attention has power. Attention on yesterday or tomorrow has no meaning or power. Only now, in this present moment. Indeed, if these words are sinking in to you, rather than merely skimming them, you are already focusing your attention.
Faith is the crystal because with it, we can stop thinking about the worries and desires of tomorrow. With faith, we learn that that someone bigger than us, God himself, has our future in the palms of his hands. Thus, we can focus on the person in front of us – giving them the listening they crave, the encouragement they need and the support that is just right to boost their confidence. As we do, we uncap a wellspring of love from with us – from the source of love – God himself.
“God is love,” wrote the apostle John in 1John 4:8. These are life-affirming words that spark our faith and grow our capacity to bestow our attention on those we love and those whom God puts in our path every day, at work, at the mall and in our personal lives. Each occasion is an invitation to grow in love. For attention IS love.
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