When we talk about healthy coping skills for life stresses, mindfulness is often mentioned. We know that focusing on where you are at this point in time rather than reliving past events or worrying about future ones can help refocus your thoughts and priorities and provide a mental resiliency to current circumstances.
But have you ever thought about how your attentiveness to the moment affects others? Too frequently, one observes a family together but individually isolated as they tap or scroll on their phones. We shake our heads
and say, “how sad.” Later, while simultaneously finishing up a spreadsheet for work, we text one person while attempting to hold a phone conversation with another. In our minds that is justified because multitasking is encouraged and considered “efficient.” But, for whom?
Maybe, just maybe, a part of your mind acknowledges that you missed part of the conversation. And, possibly some of the following questions arose. Did you brush those few moments off as unimportant or assume the topic will come up again? Feel a tiny bit guilty for not listening due to your lack of focus? Did she realize I was distracted? I wonder how my lack of attention made her feel.
Ask a military family that has endured separation: Is it the presents that the returning family member brings home or is it the presence of the service member that brings smiles and happy tears to loved ones? Think back over holidays and celebrations. What do you remember? While an occasional gift maybe mentioned, most people talk about the relationships. Baking cookies with your mom where you talked about everything and nothing. The fishing trip with your siblings with stories late into the night about “remember when.” The get-away weekend with a friend with time to be silly or serious.
“A person wants a witness to his life.” This is paraphrased from Susan Sarandon’s character in the movie “Shall We Dance.” People need to be heard. By having someone listen to their hopes, dreams, and experiences, it confirms the importance of their lives. That “old man” in assisted living might be a military veteran with an important message for your generation. To hear that lesson it requires taking the time to see him as a person of value and not an obligation. This is not just about older people though. Everyone, including young children, needs to feel they have value. Listening and engaging with them in a meaningful (not distracted) manner helps them understand their feelings, hopes, and dreams, and helps us to learn from them. During this time of national stress, many people are feeling isolated and alone. They do not need a national platform; they just need an engaged you and me.
Maybe the best present you can bring to someone is your time and your attention. Really listen to what they have to say. Plan events to create memories–a camping trip, game night, or create a memory book by asking someone about their past. Plan time to just sit and talk. It does not have to be time consuming. Have a meal with no phones. Put down social media, fix a cup of tea and spend 15 minutes of real engagement with someone who is special to you or who needs a lift. This is a gift we can give anyone.
Then see what wonderful things you learn. Perhaps it will be what a creative or clever child you have. Maybe the story you expected to hear for the 20th time, may be a new anecdote revealing how your family was a part of history. Rather than avoiding that time of mourning with a friend embrace it as you embrace them, and you will find the times of joy to be even sweeter. You may even hear a nice word about yourself during these moments. For you see, the gift of attentiveness is one which blesses not only the recipient but the giver as well.