All day long, we’re only giving anything a fraction of our attention.
We’re distracted, multitasking, opening multiple browser tabs, checking phone messages and social media.
I’m a part of this like anyone else. I’m not immune, and I don’t judge.
This fractured, scattered, partial attention has many deleterious effects on our lives:
- We never really pour ourselves into any task, fully giving ourselves to the task. We can’t accomplish a craftsman-like devotion to our work.
- Our minds become frazzled, anxious, stressed from the constant rushing and switching. We never achieve any kind of peace and presence.
- By not giving our full attention to the person in front of us, we are shutting out the possibility of full connection. Of intimacy and trust.
- When we read and watch videos and listen to songs in a fractured, partial-attention mode, we lose the ability to really be with the writing, the creation. We lose the full power of the experience.
- When we work out while listening to a podcast or checking messages, we lose out on being present with our bodies, feeling the experience of moving, exerting ourselves, being in nature.
- When we move through the world while on our phones, or with our minds occupied with worries and work tasks, we lose out on fully appreciating the beauty of this moment. We walk through life without loving it.
And in fact, this is how we experience everything, when our attention is fractured: we experience it without really loving it. We experience others without really loving them. Not fully.
We miss out on the reverent and joyful appreciation of life, of others, of ourselves.
What are you not giving the gift of your full attention to right now? All day long?
How does that hurt you, the others around you, the people you serve, or your meaningful work?
What would it be like to create the opposite: meticulous attention?
The Joy of Meticulous Attention
To give your meticulous attention to a task, a person, an action, a moment … is to give it everything you have right now. All of your focus, all of your love. All of your devotion.
Imagine drinking a cup of tea, with reverence.
You give it your full attention, and really savor it. Really notice the tea, really appreciate everything about it. You are not watching TV or reading a book, you are in full devotion to this cup of tea, as if it were the entire universe.
Now imagine doing that with an email to a good friend. As if you were sitting down at your writing desk with pen and paper, writing them a love letter. Each email can be treated with that kind of care.
Imagine doing that with any writing task. Any reading you do, online or off. Any video you watch — full screen, full attention, full care.
Imagine doing that with every person you talk to — no checking messages on your phone, no thinking about what you’d like to say next, just listening to them, just being with them, heart fully open.
What would this be like? Could it be a way of living fully in each moment? A way of devoting yourself to your craft? A way of loving the world and every person you encounter?
This is not about being perfect, but about practicing.
- Try to notice each thing that you’re doing as a distinct event. Not just a bunch of things blurred together, but a separate thing. You open a browser tab, that’s a distinct action. You talk to someone, that’s separate from anything else you might be doing.
- For each distinct action or event, ask yourself what you can do to give it your full, meticulous attention. Do you need to close other tabs? Go into fullscreen mode for a writing app? Close other apps? Turn off your phone? Write in a notebook? Turn your body fully toward the person asking for your attention?
- Give the task, action, person or moment your undivided attention. Notice what this is like for you. See if you can deepen your attention even more. Let go of thoughts about the future and past, if possible, and turn toward what you’re facing even more. Open your heart to whatever or whoever is in front of you. See this action or conversation as an act of devotion.
It’s that simple, and that easy to forget. We slip into old habits. That’s OK. Don’t judge yourself, but come back to the practice, over and over.
Find the joy in this kind of meticulous attention.