I just returned from a trip to New Zealand, where my husband Anthony and I visited family and friends. During the trip, we also saved time for a 3 day baby-moon at a lovely cabin on the beach.
Without the usual distractions or an impending to-do list – we were able to simply ‘be with each other’ enjoying walks on the beach and board games.
The best part of this experience was that I was able cultivate a deeper presence.
I often catch myself being only ‘half-present’ – distracted or thinking of other things while in a conversation (sound familiar?) – so, I paid close attention to my wandering mind.
By noticing, through mindful awareness, when my mind was wandering during our conversations, I was able to really give my full attention to my husband.
My mindfulness exploration and journey continues to assist and inspire me in surprising new ways.
This experience reminded me of a quote I love by Zen master, Thich Nhat Hanh: “When you love someone, the best thing you can offer is your presence. How can you love if you are not there?”
The greatest gift
During the holiday season, consider this – there is a gift we can give to others that costs us nothing, it’s something everyone wants from us, and it’s the single most precious thing we have to share with each other.
We can offer this gift to all of our loved-ones, coworkers and even strangers that we meet standing in line waiting for the bus.
The best gift we can give – is the gift of our full attention. Being present for someone else.
Why is this the greatest gift? Because your attention is your time.
Time is a finite resource. We will never get it back, and that’s why it is so precious when we give it away.
When we pay attention, we feel better too. Why? because we feel a sense of connection with the other person.
If we want to have happier relationships, we need to learn the lost art of paying attention.
Here are 4 common barriers that get in the way of giving our full attention, and how to combat them through mindfulness:
1) Our mind wanders to other things such as future plans, or an event that happened at work – and we are only pretending to listen. We are basically ‘half-present’ or only ‘half- paying attention.’
The best way to get past this barrier is to focus our awareness on the now. We can ground ourselves in the present via the words the person is saying as well as any ambient sounds in the environment and focus on being fully immersed in the moment.
2) We are just too tired or distracted to interact – but it’s hard to say so to the other person.
The best way to approach this is to make a decision. We need to decide whether we are able to put our distractions aside and really listen, or whether we need to be honest, and ask the other person if we can revisit this subject at another time.
3) We feel defensive and have our guard up. Our mind is creating stories in our head.
To help with this one, using mindful awareness, we can notice our defensiveness and put aside our ‘stories’ for now, by simply listening to the others point of view.
4) We are listening but what we hear triggers a story or memory of our own. The story becomes so vivid that we can’t even listen to what the other person is saying. A strong desire wells up to interrupt the other person and tell our own story.
The key, again, is to notice when this is happening, and then to take a deep breath and refocus our attention on what the other person is saying. Giving the other person our full attention and waiting our turn.
Cultivate the lost art of paying attention
We all have the opportunity to cultivate the lost art of paying attention by being fully present. Yes, being fully present with others is hard work. I struggle with this every day.
Yet, it is work that is worth the effort.
The opportunity is there for all of us to strengthen our relationships, and feel more connected to each other.
By being fully focused on the other person with your whole body and mind – we can listen to each other as if there was nobody else in the whole world.
What an amazing gift to give.
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