Your Attention, Please!

"Given your many interests, Tom, is there some kind of common denominator, or common thread?" asked my brother-in-law. A mild flush rushed to my face and the corners of my mouth curled ever so slightly into a smile. The fact that Bill knows me so well yet continues to be interested in my thoughts and experiences touched and flattered me.

"What a great question!" I said, trying to figure out what my 30 years as a psychologist, 25 years as a meditator, and ten years as an actor all have in common. For a moment I closed my eyes and pictured myself doing these three things this past week: listening to my clients, silently meditating in the front room, and rehearsing lines for an independent film.

The similarities between listening to clients and meditating are easy to spot: both involve focus and attunement. When I'm sitting across from a client, as much as possible I direct my attention completely on them. Full attention allows me to listen deeply and tune into emotion, both theirs and mine. When a distraction arises (the temperature in the room, for example, or a book I need to pick up at the library), I notice it and then find a way to let it go, bringing myself back to deep listening.

Meditation is similar. When meditating, I find a space to sit or lie quietly, and then I place my focus on a single point of attention. Often, it's my breath. When a distracting thought comes up, I notice it and then gently invite my mind back to the sensation of my breathing as I inhale and exhale from the belly. This practice—not resisting distracting thoughts, but working with and through them—helps me to sink more fully into the moment.

As for acting? Many people might think that actors are exceedingly good at pretending, but that's not the whole tamale. While an actor's imagination is essential, good actors, whether on stage or screen, are skilled at finding ways to remain true to their character while inducing genuine emotional experiences. There are probably as many ways of accomplishing this as there are actors, but I know for me meditation helps me open to whatever is coming up. When I blanked on my lines in a two-man play a few years ago, this practice was put to the test. Grounding myself in the moment, I was able to remain focused, continue inhabiting my character, and gently guide the scene back on track.

This concept plays a big role in my book, Full Heart Living: Conversations With the Happiest People I Know. The theme of being present in the moment came up over and over again in my conversations with my interviewees.
Though they called this ability different things ("mindfulness," "awareness," "presence," to name a few), each explained how they seem to reside in the present more fully than those who appear less happy. One interviewee finds such moments when she creates art, another when he is with clients while cutting their hair. A third talked about the experience of truly savoring her morning tea. Whatever they call it and wherever it manifests, happier people are masters at harnessing the power of their attention.


Ask someone you care about: 
* What naturally captures your attention? 
* What is the one thing that really helps you feel you are living in the present moment?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Psychologist and life coach Tom Glaser, MS, is the author of Full Heart Living: Conversations with the Happiest People I Know. He lives in Minneapolis with his husband and son. When he isn't with clients, meditating, or acting, you'll find him hard at work on a second book, on resilience following trauma.

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Saturday, 23 March 2019