“The purest but rarest form of generosity is giving someone your attention”
On this past Valentine’s Day year, I had just finished work and I was walking down Railroad Avenue here in Bellingham. I glanced in through the front window of a local restaurant and here’s what I saw: a young couple in their 20s sitting across from each other, holding hands, and staring into each others eyes? (Oh David you’re so old-fashioned.) Nope. They were
staring at their phones held dexterously with their unoccupied hand. Now granted it’s possible they were just checking their phone before putting it away and giving full attention, and they couldn’t go without holding hands for that time. But I’m not so sure.
I frequently see parents walking down the street with their toddler in one hand and their phone in another. I want to come up to them and say, ”Do you realize that you are missing a grand opportunity to learn from the wonder of your child! And you are forming their habits of expectation of what being together means.” But alas I have restrained myself.
When we give someone our full attention we are creating a sense of spaciousness for them. A chance for them to open up and be their authentic self. What a gift!
Improv is all about presence. It’s about learning to let go of what I could have said, letting go of thinking I need to force a particular outcome. It’s being right here, right now, open to the unfolding present.
Some good news from Daniel Siegel, pioneer of the field of interpersonal neurobiology: “How we focus our attention shapes the structure of the brain. Neuroscience has also definitively shown that we can grow these new connections throughout our lives, not just in childhood.”
Attention is a muscle to cultivate. And the second helping of good news is the more we pay attention the easier it gets. The neural pathways have been laid – within your own mind, and on the paths between you and those you love.
Experiment tomorrow. As you sit around the table – suggest everyone turning off their phones completely – even for just an hour. (this may need to be suggested a day ahead actually). And savor not just the taste of the sumptuous meal, but the feast of attention you are giving and receiving.