Can you recall a time when someone gave you their complete attention? They really listened when you spoke. And they noticed your body language and used emotional intelligence. They understood you better than most other people. The result was you felt cherished. It was as though you were a parched plant that finally got watered.
You spread your leaves and bathed in the sun’s warmth. Or, in this case, you bathed in the warmth of being recognized. When we are acknowledged with intention this way, we can’t help but grow. All resistance to life’s challenges falls away as our consciousness expands because of acceptance.
Most of us long for these moments and realize they are rare. Few people genuinely listen. They don’t pour attention our way because they have their own agenda, just as we often do. When engaged in conversation, we might look as though we listen. Deep inside though, there’s a rumble of data streaming, bashing like waves in our minds just waiting to flood out.
It’s normal, in our society, at least, to want to share our innermost thoughts, wishes, and experiences. And other people’s retelling of their feelings and dramas ignites that desire in us.
Rather than hear what they have to say properly, we rummage through our stuff. We seek offerings to bring to the table and forget to engage with the person who speaks.
What’s more, sometimes we don’t really hear what people say because our attention is on a mental list of what we want to do. We want to shop, take the dog for a walk, or watch a movie. Or we focus on our problems. We think about our concerns and only hear what someone says intermittently.
And when we’re not doing any of the things mentioned so far, we’re deep in judgement mode, comparing our standards, and likes and dislikes, with our perception of the person in front of us.
It’s no wonder we rarely pay full attention to anyone, and they, like us, don’t pour attention our way, either. Nonetheless, you can learn to attend to people intensely. Not so much that you scare them with unwanted intimacy. But enough that you help them grow and be themselves in your company.
It’s healing to receive full attention. I’m not talking about being fussed over or praised to the hilt. The attention I mean is quiet. It only involves adding to the conversation via small acts of recognition that you’re listening and understanding the person speaking.
You might nod. Make a tiny noise of recognition. Or breathe in deep at just the right moment to signal digestion of information. And you may reflect to the person what they’ve said, using different words, just to check you comprehend them.
The type of attention mentioned lets people flow. It helps them access their needs and wants without fear of being judged or silenced, or worse still, being rejected or invalidated. And in the stream of this attention, mental healing occurs. Which is why it’s an important part of talk therapy.
Yet, you need not be a therapist to give someone your full attention and see them grow. Anyone can do it. But it takes practice. You need to monitor self-talk, and when your mind strays, pull it back to the individual before you.
At first, it’s hard work to retrain yourself to pay attention to people. After all, you’ve spent most of your life giving others a teeny amount of the attention you are capable of giving them. And you’ve received only a small amount of attention too, on most occasions. So, you haven’t had many attentive role models, unless you are lucky.
Occasionally, you might meet someone who focuses on you enough that you feel different in their company. Your wellbeing and energy surges. Your confidence rises because you experience a sense of freedom. Freedom from judgement or the constant pull of people toward their stuff. Their interests and funny stories they want to tell you in order to impress.
The first step to practice giving people complete attention has to start somewhere. Why not begin today? Start with one person. Give them absolute attention and note how it feels. Recognize what it’s like to stream attention toward someone and take in their story or recollection of events.
You’ll help them shine and grow. And as a bonus, you’ll learn how to apply attention in other circumstances when you practice. As you gain an understanding of what focusing feels like, you’ll remember how to do it again and again. It will get easier to attend to projects at work, your relationships, and studying.
Pretty soon, you’ll see it feels terrific to focus. It isn’t as hard as you imagined. In fact, it can be addictive when practiced enough. The more you give people complete attention, the more rewarding focusing gets.
And because you are rewarded with genuine friendship, or the realization you’ve helped someone grow, your system floods the spaces, where your need to dominate conversations usually filled, with feel-good chemicals. You then associate focusing with a chemical reward you want to receive again and again.
© Bridget Webber 2021