Getting Engaged

Attention by no film (CC BY-NC-ND)

Attention by no film (CC BY-NC-ND)

We are all glorified motion sensors. . . . We take for granted all the constant, fixed things and . . . obsess over small, fast-moving, ephemeral things of little value. The trick to rediscovering constants is to stop and focus on the greater panorama around us. While everything else flits about, the important things remain in place. Their stillness appears as reverse motion to our perspective, as relativity resets our motion sensors. It reboots us, allowing us [to see again and] we realize that those still things are not so motionless after all. They are simply gliding with slow individualistic grace against the backdrop of the immense universe. And it takes a more sensitive motion instrument to track this. ―Vera Nazarian



Without practice it can be very difficult to anchor yours here, to a few words of still text, when shiny things move in your peripheral vision. Attention is fast and slippery, easily misplaced and squandered, which means you need to make an effort to wrangle and enjoy yours. Priceless and misunderstood, it can’t be hoarded or replaced—only engaged.

So what’s so powerful about attention?

I’ve never met anyone who didn’t want to be happy. Like attention, happiness is priceless but elusive. Material wealth isn’t enough—you have to engage with people, places, and activities you love. As you get older and look at your life, seemingly random memories flood you with joy, grief, wist, pride, admiration, anger. You may not realize it, but these memories are your goal in life: collecting powerful moments spent engaging with the world.

Engagement—not an event or promise to marry—means giving sincere attention to something: focus, look, see, consider, smell, taste, touch, wrestle, privately converse. Science confirms that the act of observation affects your subject. When you literally attend you are never part of an audience. You’re on stage and it’s theatre-in-the-round.

Some of my favorite conversations are silent exchanges with objects and places, which take time and space to unfold. Attention is fast and slippery and people, noises, scents, light, and movement are all express routes out of town. Your attention is vulnerable and needs to be protected. Despite your loud protests (yes, you) you cannot do two things at once. If you want to wield this tool, prepare to make sacrifices.

Your attention is high-maintenance—especially when it’s feral—and using it consciously means using it selectively. Let unimportant messages (let’s face it, most of them) go to inboxes. Turn the television off when you’re not consciously engaged with a worthwhile show (again, most of them). Resist your urge to stay busy checking Facebook, tweeting, gaming, gossiping, snacking, smoking, drinking, worrying about other people….

An endless supply of distractions exists as long as you create demand.

What do you think?