Paying attention

There is a gift we can give each other, in and out of the holiday season, that costs nothing at all and requires very little effort. It’s the gift of attention.

Recently I heard a definition of love that went like this: Love is giving someone our undivided attention. There is, I suppose, a fine line between respectful listening and love. The razor’s edge is the word ‘undivided.’

We listen, yes, but with one eye, one ear, one part of our mind. The rest of our consciousness is whisked away by whatever is distracting us or worrying us at the moment – by the sound of other voices, the call of other duties, the perpetual ‘undone’ of our daily lives, the ever-vigilant cell phone in our pocket or at our side.

Somehow we have gone from being isolated without the means of communication to being isolated with every possible means of communication. We are endlessly communicating. We are tirelessly avoiding communication.

I miss a crackling fire in the evening, with friends and family gathered ’round. A fire – in or outdoors – seems to bond those looking at it into a kind of unit. It draws us out of our usual lonely and alone state of being, and brings us together.

Yes, I want an iPhone. I want to have all the perks of that most ingenious of communication devices. But I also want the experience of undivided attention. I want that most gratifying demonstration of love.

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