I was talking to a friend a few weeks ago about a topic that tends to come and go in my life. It is one that always seems a bit hard to put into words. I can remember a time almost ten years ago when I was sitting on our bed in a loft we were living in. I had this surreal moment when I looked around and thought: all these things happening in my life are all a distraction to get me to not look at the painful stuff. A clearer thought was: working through the painful stuff is what moves you forward to that next level of understanding. It was not a fun time in my life. That day I was alone. Chris was traveling in China and life felt rough, bumpy, and not much fun.
The conversation from a few weeks ago circled back to that same feeling. Do we all have the craziest of lives because it keeps us distracted from the real and raw stuff we are supposed to be looking at the most? We do not want to so we stay hyper-focused on all that we have to do? We stay extremely busy, and then we never have to get really quiet and listen to that voice inside that tells us where we should really be looking? It has been true for me from time to time. I like to think that I am still listening even between all the many responsibilities and deadlines. Am I lying to myself though? Is it really possible? Or do you just need to walk away from it all, whether for a week, or month to really be able to see inside?
I just finished reading a book called “Dinner with Buddha” by Roland Merullo. At first it was a hard book to read. I could not get into it, and then as I found a few morsels of inspiration I was pulled into the quiet, thoughtful ideas inside. While it is a novel, it reads like a self-help book. There were quite a few ideas that come from the story and analogies the author shares. This idea in particular resonated as it made me think of that day ten years ago, and the conversation from a few weeks ago:
“Plugging along at monk-speed, I couldn’t help but wonder if it wasn’t all some kind of trick we were playing on ourselves. Maybe the more we crammed into a day the less we actually experienced. Maybe the addictive hurry was all a kind of racing away from our existential predicament, as if we could outrun old age and death, and as though, if we kept busy enough, kept moving, traveled farther, checked more items off the to-do list on any given day, then, like astronauts in orbit, we’d escape the bonds of ordinary time. Or escape, at least, the manic workings of our minds.” Page 118-119
Is that truly why we do so much? We are trying to get away from our minds and true thoughts? I sure hope not, but I can see it being true. I know it from the tricks my mind plays on me. Yet I want so badly to slow down, stop moving, get rid of the to-do list and live moment by moment into what my mind wants me to learn, however painful as it may be to look into all that is there for me to learn.
Lately I have been thinking about the idea of asking another person for their full attention. How many times do you go into someone’s office and they do not give you their undivided attention? They might for a few minutes and then maybe they get distracted by their phone or computer and you wonder, is my meeting important to them? On the flip side, I also wonder if I give everyone my full and undivided attention? Are we all in the end just the same? Someone does not give us their attention and we in turn do that to someone else?
What would it look like if we were direct and transparent with everyone about our attention? What if we confronted others when we were not getting what we deserved? What would that look like? Would it mean that we actually called someone out when they stopped focusing on the conversation, tuned out, or got distracted? I am actually getting excited thinking about it. I would love if someone did that to me and held me accountable for when I was getting distracted. In turn I hope I would do that for others that do it to me.
Are our phones and computers, the emails, texts, and whatever other notifications really more important than the person that sits right in front of us? Sometimes they are. Sometimes emergencies happen or are boss alerts us to an urgent need, but many times we get bored, or clearly are easily distracted. I am not exempt from this — I need to focus on where my attention is just the same. Chris and I were just talking about it last night. There are times where I am doing too many things at once and my nature to multi-task means I might miss things along the way. However, in the same conversation we discussed that he had not given the needs of the conversation his clear attention. What he was thinking might not have been what he actually shared aloud and due to the lack of information there were key details that I needed that never got shared.
Our full attention is important in so many interactions. At the deepest level it shows that we care, and that the other person matters. I would say I do give a lot of my life my full attention, but I can see some clear areas that I could work on. Try it. See where you are not giving your full attention. Put your phone down, quit texting, and leave the emails. Be present for the other person, they deserve it.
Usually I write about books I have read, but today I want to share about a book I want to read. I just read this NPR book review for: “Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now” by Douglas Rushkoff. His book is about how we are slaves to technology, i.e. slaves to our computers, phones, text messages, etc. I was intrigued by this quote in the book review:
“In my life, it’s sort of the experience of being on Facebook and seeing everyone from my past suddenly back in my present. And the inability to distinguish between who may have been friends of mine in second grade, and people who I’ve met just yesterday, and people who are actually significant relationships. That collapse of my whole life into one moment, where every ping, every vibration of my phone might just pull me out of whatever it is I’m doing, into something else that seems somehow more pressing on the moment.”
How true that is. Our online life tends to instantly suck us into this vortex of what others are doing. Are they successful? More than we are? Less? Are they happy? The constant interest and care of our “friends” status updates has made us a distracted and less focused society. It also seems to be that every email, text, voicemail, Facebook, and Tweet we receive, we are very quick to check and respond to in case we might miss out on something. Do we usually really need to react and respond so quickly? Not usually.
Later in the article Rushkoff says:
“But I think what happens is as we get more and more obsessed with those pings, we lose touch with sort of the continuity of life. We forget what it means to really just be there, looking in someone else’s eyes rather than down at our phone while we’re at a meal. And I guess a lot of what I’m trying to do with this book is to give people permission to take back their time.”
Chris and I usually (depending on what might be happening in life or work), remind each other to put our phones away when we go out to dinner. We are paying to have a meal out, so we should be sure to give each other our full attention. Do we do that at home? Sometimes. I never thought of it in the words: “Take back their time.” It makes me ponder in my thought other times during the day. Do you look at your phone when you are in a meeting? When you are talking with someone one-on-one? While walking to a meeting in a different building? Do you look at your phone when you are bored? Waiting in your car at an intersection? What if we were to take those moments to be quiet? To listen, or to meditate? Would we be happier? Or does checking our phone each time we hear it ding, whistle, or beep make us feel at peace?
Be sure to read the above article to learn more about what Rushkoff calls: digiphrenia