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The Generosity of Our Attention

“Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” –Simone Weil

It is my children that have taught me the most about my real presence in life. Years ago, it was their small hands taking hold of either side of my face and willfully turning my attention to fully face them. In their teen years, I learned through the moments I missed to pay closer attention when they were standing nearby ready to spill out their feelings and stories. Often I would realize just a moment too late and then it was gone. And even now, as they work to become their own independent people, what they want is my full presence, my undistracted attention. Regretfully, I often confuse this with sharing my ideas or thoughts, instead of taking them into the shelter of my deep, unconditional listening; the space which allows them to know themselves.

This kind of generous attention is a rare gift because it takes a good deal of intention to practice and cultivate it. Learning how to embody the moment by slowing down and to focus on the sensory world inside our own body are two easy practices that help us prepare and participate in the deep human encounters that make life worthwhile.

Since losing my son Ian, I have become intently focused on these moments because I regret those I missed even more. I also cherish them more when they show up now. I remember well how easy it was to get lost in the busyness of the holidays, and how exhausted and depleted I would arrive at the celebration with so little of myself to give. It was in the times we least expected it – during snowstorms or missed planes – when life forced us to slow down together that those moments of shared presence were always more than enough.

In fact, it is precisely those moments where we are held in the light of a loved one’s generous and undivided attention that become the golden ones. Each of these moments, where time is fuller and richer with memory, become the pearls that we string together to make the narrative of our life and love. The times when you truly connect and share a sense of being in a moment with someone you love is all that you will remember of holidays past.

One way that I have taught myself to do this is by using the actual sensations of my heart as a visceral anchor to the moment, helping me pay attention to what is actually happening around me and providing a barometer for what may need more attention. It is also a practice that helps me to really experience visceral gratitude in the smallest of exchanges.

It turns out love is not a thought in your head. Rather, it is a sensation that you can cultivate and come to know. The love we extend is viscerally sensed through our front body, and the love we receive enters us through the backside of our heart center which explains why many people experience serious tightness and blockages around their thoracic vertebrae. Focus your attention on this part of your body the next time you are on the receiving end of a generous act, a loving gesture, or a sweet compliment. Pause, breathe into your heart – especially the back – and notice the softening that happens. Allow the tenderness of what has been offered to sink in.

Evolving this practice of being able to truly sense the gifts coming to us – whether small compliments or deep gestures of generosity – and learning to let the experience of being loved into our physical bodies is worthy of our holiday attention. Allow your giving to come from your heart and don’t spend anything more than your undivided attention. Everyone will be enriched beyond measure.