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The ring of my cell phone is a cue for me to be alert. When I watch a musician, I am reminded of the importance of focused attention. Greeting a family member, friend or colleague, I vow to be attentive to his or her needs today.
Attention or alertness is also known as mindfulness, concentration, and recollection. We must stay alert or we risk missing critical elements in life – moments of grace, opportunities for gratitude, evidence of our connections to others, times of inspiration.
The good news is that attention can be practiced anywhere, anytime, in the daily rounds of our lives. It leads to awareness.
Begin by doing one thing at a time. Keep your mind focused on whatever you happen to be doing at the moment.
It is through the mundane and the familiar that we discover a world of ceaseless wonders. Train yourself to notice details.
Most of us have exhibited the symptoms of lack of attention at one time or another. It’s actually harder to stay awake than we might think.
Perhaps we are easily distracted by trivial pursuits, attracted to any media message, ready to jump into any conversation, or susceptible to periods of endless surfing through the information and choices available to us.
Eventually, we end up living in a haze of stimulation without any grasp of its significance. We are operating on automatic pilot. Because nothing really registers on our consciousness, we feel drained of energy.
Sometimes, however, not paying attention has just the opposite effect. Everything registers, and we find we don’t know what to do with it all.
We are so bombarded with stimuli that we can’t focus on anything. We feel scattered. We are, to put it simply, stressed.
For both lack of energy and stress, attention is a good corrective prescription.
The importance of mindfulness in relationships is the theme of Jerry Maguire, a movie about a self-absorbed American sports agent.
One day he looks inside and sees nothing but emptiness. He writes a corporate mission statement suggesting that his firm be less concerned about commission and more interested in their clients. Quickly out of a job, Jerry decides to start his own company, but only an idealistic bookkeeper, whom he eventually marries, and one football player client are willing to go with him.
Still, they are enough to affect Jerry’s awakening. From them he learns that attention is a necessary ingredient for a meaningful marriage and for work that matters.
I write every day in my journal. Descriptive writing in my journal gives me insights into the quality of my attention. I can read through my journal looking for entries that take me back to a specific place, time or conversation.
One of the best ways to expand our attention’s capacity is to study photographs. Often we miss important and meaningful details in the flow of sights passing before our eyes.
Photography fixes an image, stops the world, so that we have time to notice what we might not have noticed before. Seeing what has previously been “invisible” to us is an essential part of a deeper life.
Once we pay attention to details, what we knew to be real takes on greater meaning and depth, and our awareness of life is dramatically transformed.
Bob Mueller is senior director of mission & stewardship at Hosparus. The views in this column are those of the writer.