Paying Attention


Tom Brokaw said something very interesting this week at the end of “Meet the Press.” In a warm, colleagial moment, he handed over the position of moderator to David Gregory today. As they reflected on the significant place that “Meet the Press” has held over the years, ol’ Tom said this:

“People are really paying attention now.”

That was music to my ears.

They were talking about the history of “Meet the Press,” the untimely demise of the program’s esteemed host, Tim Russert, and Brokaw’s temporary assignment as moderator for the past six months. David Gregory has made his mark as Chief White House correspondent for NBC, and has honed his chops reporting for the national network since 1995. They were talking of the value of mentoring (Brokaw’s and Russert’s of Gregory), of the values of fairness, and preparation, and ultimately, holding up the belief that the truth is worth seeking, even if it makes you look like a jerk sometimes, and the truth will set you free.

They were talking about the momentous times we find ourselves in today. That “Meet the Press” is the longest running program in broadcast history (it started in 1947). That more people are making a point to watch “Meet the Press” now than that at any time since 1968. That people care about their lives, the economy, and the world, and are watching and waiting. People are paying attention, considering facts and opinions, deciding how to move forward.

Attention is the hallmark of any dynamic process. Every spiritual tradition on the planet exhorts its followers to be attentive, mindful, to “watch and wait, therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour.” Attention is crucial for learning. Frequent, short periods of concentrated, directed attention will ALWAYS trump rote repetition. By paying attention, you are able to influence the unfolding of events. Through a process of successive approximations, attention allows you to make fine distinctions and adjustments to your course of action or thought. Paying attention allows you to ask the questions, “Is this clearer? Is it working? Is it beneficial? Is it fun?” The purpose of paying attention is not to gain answers. Answers end the process. Once you have an answer, there’s nothing else. The purpose of paying attention is to get better questions. The better the questions, the more your “higher self” can activate, develop, and create the reality we all will share.

One of the hallmarks of the Feldenkrais Method is that each student is continually managing attention. At first, attention is close-range and limited, specific and precise. Attention grows to include the elements that appear as a result of that specific focus. The student practices a smooth transition of focus, from the immediate and local to the overall and global, and back. All of this learning takes place easily, gently, and humorously, in the safe and relatively inconsequential arena of noticing one’s body movements, habits, and preferences. Awareness grows, and with it, a feeling of ease, of competence, of confidence, and of effectiveness.

It would be easy to say that the problems we face as a nation and on our planet today are the result of a prolonged period of SOMEBODY not paying attention. That statement may be too facile, because it hands over responsibility to “Them,” whether elected officials or those in-the -know who were supposed to be taking care of everything. Increasingly, we are seeing that there’s only us in this boat; that we’re all in it together; and that we all need to be paying attention, every step of the way.

The ability to pay attention requires something of you. That’s why it’s called “PAYING attention,” because you have to pay something. It’s not passive and no-brain, it’s not something that somebody else will pick up your tab for, it’s not something that will just roll by and dawn on you. It takes a special intention, a humility to acknowledge that you don’t know everything, that there’s room for improvement, and that learning something new will make it better. It’s really a small payment, if you think about it; one that is easily within the grasp of anyone; and yet how few choose to pay attention and make a difference.

So we’re out of practice at paying attention, or at least paying attention to the things that require it now. That’s OK. We can learn, we can develop our skill, and we can enjoy the new possibilities that arise. With awareness, the world changes.

Music to my ears.

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