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Attention Means Attention

September 19, 2008

Simple Attention

The secret of beginning a life of deep awareness and sensitivity lies in our willingness to pay attention. Our growth as conscious, awake human beings is marked not so much by grand gestures and visible renunciations as by extending loving attention to the minutest particulars of our lives. Every relationship, every thought, every gesture is blessed with meaning through the wholehearted attention we bring to it.

In the complexities of our minds and lives we easily forget the power of attention, yet without attention we live only on the surface of existence. It is just simple attention that allows us truly to listen to the song of a bird, to see deeply the glory of an autumn leaf, to touch the heart of another and be touched. We need to be fully present in order to love a single thing wholeheartedly. We need to be fully awake in this moment if we are to receive and respond to the learning inherent in it.

–Christina Feldman and Jack Kornfield, in Stories of the Spirit, Stories of the Heart
from Everyday Mind, edited by Jean Smith, a Tricycle book

When I read this I thought that Christina and Jack must have never worked in a deli, fast food joint, or any fast paced, pressurized, environment with customers waiting to get pissed off if their sammich isn’t ready in 3 and a half minutes. It’s relatively easy to point your attention towards a falling autumn leaf if you are strolling through a quiet forest alone. Attention means something else entirely when events are exploding around you faster than you can notice them all. So what does attention mean then?

It means making sure you are smiling, using welcoming body language, taking the orders in the correct sequence, noticing potential problems before they develop and a thousand other things. It doesn’t feel peaceful or spiritual at all necessarily. Yet this is practice too. Zen can’t mean just burning scented candles while bathing, it also has to mean catching the pickle before it hits the floor and catching a nasty remark before it leaves your mouth. It means paying attention all the time. Attention means attention. I am sure that you know the story about Hakuin and his teaching of the meaning of attention and if you do not, you will find it as you read more Zen stories.

From → practice, this moment, zen

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