Connection: Being Present and Paying Attention
Of the many sudden, almost fierce, insights I’ve had post-terminal cancer diagnosis was the realization of how rarely I had connected with people throughout my life. I mean deeply, truly, appreciatively, joyfully connected; connected as if the only thing that ever existed was that moment, with that person or those people. I saw that my connections with people were generally cursory and business-like, with one eye on the person or people I was speaking with, and one eye on the clock and my calendar, projects, and ambitions. I was too busy to connect, too busy to be present, and too busy to pay attention. Generally speaking.
As I emerge from my almost three-year healing cocoon, I’m noticing that the kind of connection I rarely made with people is now of utmost importance. No, that’s not it. It’s more than that: the realism, the reality, of being a human being, and of meeting other human beings, is predicated on this quality of connection. Without being fully present and without paying full attention to our own self and to others in the precise instants in which we are together, we can not truly have connection.
And, without connection, there is no authentic communication from human being to human being. This is how I see it at this time.
I’ve written about Being Present and Paying Attention in The 5 Principles of Authentic Living. What I want to say about them here is this: it does not take any more time to be present than to no be present; it does not take any more time to pay attention that to not pay attention. It does not take any more time to connect, than to not connect. Friends, I know this. I’ve learned this the hard way.
Initiating and sustaining the kind of connection I’m speaking of is a matter of mind management, consciousness control, awareness and attitude. It has nothing to do with time. As I emerge from my healing cocoon, I also notice how busy people are. Preoccupied. Overwhelmed. It seems that everyone’s plate is overflowing with bits and pieces and scraps of this and that. I’m not being sarcastic; I understand. People are busy trying to make their lives go, trying to help others, save the Earth, and all kinds of things. I admit that I am not busy. I am not preoccupied. This frustrates me, because I have spent most of my life being busy, productive, ambitious. Now, at least in this moment, I am not.
I aim to be engaged again, to be busy sharing myself with others in ways I have yet to discover. I want to have a full calendar. I want my days to be full of joyful service, engaging with the world to express the deep currents and flows of my creative soul.
Here’s the thing, and I say this publicly so my ass is nailed to the wall: I have learned that I must maintain deep, sincere, real time connection with whomever I am with, all the time, without a moment’s lapse. I can no longer attribute my lack of connection, of being present, of paying attention to how busy I am, to how urgent my tasks are, to the great things I want to accomplish. I can not do this.
For me, the quality of connecting with self and others, in itself, is a great work, a transformative work, a healing work, and inspiring work. Without deep connection, the human beings in our lives become objects, entities, boxes on our to do lists. I have to say, this is not good. This sucks.
Experiment on your own. See if you can find out that being present, paying attention, and connecting with others does not take any more time than not being present, paying attention, and connecting with others. It doesn’t. Time is not a factor. Neither are busyness, meetings, deadlines, and all manner of pressures. This is a low risk, high reward invitation. Yes, it might take a bit of discipline and practice, but those never killed anyone.
I would like to offer an example. Earlier today, I received an email from an almost impossibly smart, beautiful, creative woman I have know and crushed on for more than ten years. She invited me to be the first interviewee in a new podcast series she was producing with a colleague. She wrote a few paragraphs about it, and offered more details if I were interested. The sincerity of her invitation, the honor of being the first person she considered, warranted an equally sincere response.
I did not give her one. I was in a bad mood. I was pissed off and frustrated. I did not connect with her email, with her invitation, with her! I wrote back, “Thank you. I will be happy to be interviewed.”
I scarcely knew what I was writing, as the quality of my being present with her invitation was compromised by the amount of attention I was giving to being pissed off and frustrated. That sucked.
So, a few minutes after I sent the first email, I sent a second one. In part, I wrote, “It has occurred to me that my first response to you was curt and unappreciative of your invitation and friendship. I apologize. I am in a particularly bad mood at the moment. No need to inflict that on you. I’m sorry. I am honored that you thought of me to be your first interviewee. I would be delighted to speak with you and your colleague.” I said more, but that’s personal.
I have it in my belly, in my internal GPS system, that my life span is now. This is it. Not even today, or this hour, or this minute. The now I’m talking about is not a matter of time. It is a matter of awareness, attitude, positioning. It’s a matter of being present, unmoved by even monster-sized thought forms. It’s a matter of paying attention, undistracted by the sexy siren calls what is not now, of what comes later, after, tomorrow. Those later things will come, one at a time, to stand before you in another “now” event. Will we be with those things then? Will we connect with what’s happening now by being present and paying attention, or will those later things become another vague almost ghostly apparition we hardly notice, care for, love, serve, play with, have sex with, save the world with?
In this moment, I want to say this: connection is everything.