I recently learned of a term coined, laughably, in 1998 by writer and former Apple employee Linda Stone, called “Continuous Partial Attention.” This is where we pay “simultaneous attention to a number of sources of incoming information, but at a superficial level” (wikipedia). I say “laughably” because in 1998 there were no iPhones, Facebook, Twitter and so on. Nor was there any on-demand TV viewing, so I’m not sure what we were continuously paying attention to, but the Internet is probably to blame. But now, wow, that term resonates with me powerfully; recently I’d begun to feel as though someone had sliced up my consciousness into tiny slivers and set each piece adrift on a different boat in a vast ocean.
In my effort to combat the way my mind and attention felt fractured by motherhood, technology and more, I’ve been seeking answers that would draw me back to a feeling of calm, of presence. What I have come to, through reading, meditation and writing, is that most situations and relationships are improved and even healed by simply giving them attention. Unwavering, full attention.
I don’t like to admit the many times I have been short and cranky and impatient with my 5 year-old son. No matter how unpleasant I have been with him, however, the moment I stop, show up, listen to his story, or often simply sit in the same room with him, I’ve got a beaming little guy again, who will proclaim “I love you sooooo much, Mama.” How many people can you make that happy by just sitting in the same room with them?
Recently I took on an editing project through a service I’ve worked with for several years. I had never done this particular service for them, though, and I didn’t read their specific guidelines carefully enough. I didn’t give the client what she had asked for, and so it fell in my lap to do the job again right as I was starting a class and a new manuscript edit. 367 pages all over again. I went through a range of feelings from frustration to outright panic that I’d never be asked to work for them again. And so I put off the second round of edits, thus making the situation worse until they were literally breathing down my neck. But when I finally sat down and gave it my full attention, it was not only not as hard as I feared, but it went faster than the first time around.
I can come up with a ton more examples of ways I do things without full attention: cooking dinner and gardening (yep, lots of burnt pans); running a bath while checking Facebook (water all over the floor); checking my iphone while trying to work.
Let’s face it: doing one thing at a time, focusing and giving our attention, is not prized in the Western world. Multi-tasking, project management, juggling lots of balls: that’s where the social awards come in. And having spent almost two decades trying to do and be that person, it is a great, great relief to finally let go the illusion that I can do more than one thing at a time. Everything benefits. My mind gets calmer. My child thrives. My relationships feel deeper. I get more work done.
And the great thing about focused attention is: you don’t even have to do it for very long. I meditate for 15-20 minutes. A journaling session can be between 10-30 minutes. My son is happier if I even take five measly minutes to engage with him deeply. FIVE minutes to a happier child.
I don’t want to return to a continuous, partial state of attention. I like it here in the moment too much.
Join me here at the blog in September as I blog about engaging in a daily meditation challenge!