Quiet Attention: More Precious Than Gold
JOIN MICHAEL MENDIZZA ON A PARENTING AS A HERO’S JOURNEY VIRTUAL RETREAT!
What is more precious than gold, diamonds and platinum? Attention. Attention is finite, like grains of sand in the hourglass of our life. In a strange way we become, moment by moment, what we give our attention to and that grain of sand is gone. How we invest our attention, from this perspective, is infinitely more important than stocks or bonds. The meaning of our life hangs in the balance. Yet, we seem so cavalier, investing attention in all sorts of trite stimulation, casually pushing sensitivity and depth aside as we jump from this to that, consuming tons of relatively meaningless data bits like a junk food binge, day after day while our children watch and mimic. I wonder why we don’t protect our own attention and that of our children like we do our pocket book or retirement account? Why don’t we preserve it, strengthen and focus it like a laser on what really matters instead of wasting the most precious resource we have?
This is the first every-day-miracle week of Carly Elizabeth’s second year, post womb, and it is amazing how sensitive, attentive and aware she is. The reason for her near complete attention, not all the time but more often than not, is the simple fact that she is not talking to herself inside. She is much too busy experiencing. To be with her demands that I enter into and share her state, that I shut up inside and just observe, just listen and experience with her. And she knows when I do. She also knows the moment I become preoccupied with distracting thoughts or worse still dismissing her completely by answering the phone, speaking to another adult about bla-bla-bla or checking email. At this precious, innocent age words are just sounds. Of course there is a sensory and emotional context for the sound, but the abstract, the symbolic and metaphoric meaning of words is absent for our very young children.
Carly is deeply attuned to the sensory and emotional context of each moment. This she resonates with social-emotional context like a tuning fork. What I don’t think most adults understand is how little words mean to new human beings at this age. And, most adults are completely insensitive to the disassociation that happens, the abandonment young children feel when our heads become filled with all that chatter percolating in our mind, pop-culture, the daily not-news, gossip, politics, philosophy, YouTube, pawing our precious phones or, heaven forbid, texting.
Quieting down and resonating with Carly’s world I discovered that most of my random and habitual brain farts are a waste of attention. Clearly what passes for news is, with rare exception, a waste. We can add all the overpaid corporate entertainers, professional athletes and politicians to the waste of attention list. And OMG, so much of the virtual stuff on YouTube, commercial television, texting, Instagram, Facebook and email blast drain our vital attention like multiple flat tires. All of this, from Carly’s perspective, is a distraction from what really matters; each is a form of self-absorbed isolation masquerading as connection.
Years ago Sesame Street was promoted as an early reading program. Remember, ‘today’s show is brought to you by the letter S.’ Everyone loved Bert, Ernie and Oscar. Later the long term studies came in showing that the more time a child watched Sesame Street the lower his or her reading skills. I predict the same thing is going on with virtual-reality-relationships. The narcissist can be in a room full of people but he or she only sees themselves. Like the innocent little boy in The King Has No Clothes Carly sees virtual-relationships as they are, distractions from what is real.
Having some feeling about this, how little our abstractions mean to Carly Elizabeth, it is interesting to sense how other adults interact and relate with her. Leading with their often loud voices they dangle verbal abstractions like carrots on a stick. I often compare this to the way many negotiate with pets. Presence is real. The abstract flow of semantic meaning a particular string of words represent does not exist in their world. Silent eye contact is infinitely more powerful followed by gesture and appropriate, affectionate, playful touch. Non virtual-relationships are like playing tennis, ping-pong or charades with feelings and meaning. Trust, safety and depth are not found in verbal abstractions. These are invited, opened and expanded by quietly surfing the infinite often silent feeling-meaning ‘presence’ represent.
Because our adulterated adult consciousness is so verbal we tend to lose touch with the direct, immediate, moment by moment and ever changing meaning of the not verbal, which is Carly’s world and reality. At this early age verbal concepts, directives and encouragements are mostly empty save the sensory context that provide the rich soil from which abstract meaning will emerge. Very early language is concrete. Experiences are given names. “Hot,” is a great example. I hold the palm of Carly’s hand to the steaming coffee cup and repeat the sound, ‘hot.’
Words are symbols and metaphors that stand in place of this sensory experience. Like Pavlov’s dog, repeat the sound and the experience of her tiny palm next to the warm cup is re-membered, meaning that a resonate inner experience or image is created, an instant replay of the actual sensory experience is triggered. Carly now responds to the sound ‘hot’ with caution. What we call words are simple sounds until this inner associated image-experience is formed in the developing child’s mind. With this inner image formation the sound is transformed into what we call a word. Until then, it is just a sound. It is the inner image that transforms a sound into a word, at least to the child. This takes time and repetition. With this tremendously complex process in mind it is easy to appreciate that most adult conversation is gibberish to the young child.
Personally, I become much less verbal with Carly Elizabeth. She and I love to take showers together. Holding her, warm water splashing, her head resting on my chest I hum a simple tune, a spontaneous chant that says; what a wonderful moment this is. We sit on the shower floor, squirting water with the hand held shower, chanting in the background, but not a word. To me and Carly my humming is full of meaning. I would have to be Rumi or Shakespeare to capture this in words that this honored guest would not understand anyway.Recall that if we want to enter the kingdom which is Carly’s world that it is our responsibility to ‘become as little children,’ rather than expecting the child to be like us. Imagine how you might behave if a very special guest came to visit for a few days, an enlightened being, young Jesus or Buddha. Imagine knowing how sensitive, intelligent and aware he or she is and yet they were silent, that they knew nothing of the words we speak, only the way we speak them. Imagine how attentive you would become to ‘how’ you behave rather than ‘what’ you say. It would be rude, insensitive, even insulting and disrespectful to go on blabbing to each other as we do. Empathy and respect would compel us to slow down, speak less and more softly. Rather than being carried away, completely enchanted by our verbal virtual-reality we would invite and expand relationship and shared meaning with gestures. Very slowly, like Carly’s hand next to my coffee cup, we would attach sounds to a few important experiences.
Consider that sensitive attention expands and with this so does empathic appropriateness when our inner and outer verbal narrative ends. For Carly Elizabeth a soft touch and a loving chant says a lot.