The Selfless, Spiritual Nature of Paying Attention

A recent New York Times newsletter chastised “You’re Not Paying Attention, but You Really Should Be.” The subtitle, “How to actually notice the world around you,” promised more than was delivered.

As a sociologist minded academic, I like to think I’m more observant than average. At the same time, close friends and I sometimes poke fun of the Good Wife for often driving right by us oblivious to our pointless honking and waving. She claims it’s because she’s focused straight ahead, but her awful vision probably contributes to the sometimes funny phenomenon as well.

But don’t sell her short. She picks up on things others, like me, often do not. Por exemplar, a few days ago she left this for me on my corner of the kitchen island.

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My dad died 24 years ago. If someone asked me what his favorite bird was, I would reply, “No idea.” But the Gal Pal, who interacted with him 1% of the time I did, knew.

The New York Times newsletter writer unsatisfactorily scrapes the surface when trying to teach others to pay attention.

Paying attention is one of the most concrete ways one person shows another they care for them. My wife knows my dad’s favorite bird because he was important to her. Her default is to care for everyone, but she cared even more than normal for him because he was important to me. She paid extra attention to him, and to my mom, knowing how important they were to me.

She cared for and loved me by paying extra close attention to them. There’s a spiritual component to truly paying attention that the New York Times writer misses. Paying especially close attention to the details of others’ lives is a selfless habit of mind most evident in spiritual people.

Another example. An Olympia friend of mine is visiting his wife’s family in the Midwest. He shared several pictures of her hometown online with explanatory captions. At the end, he wrote, “I was glad I stopped and took the time to find out out more about the town which played a big part in the lives of Mary, her parents, and her sisters and brothers.”

“I stopped and took the time” is the exact advice given by The New York Times writer. To pay closer attention he writes, unplug, slow down, look around. But the second half of my friend’s summary sentence, “. . . which played a big part in the lives of Mary, her parents, and her sisters and brothers,” speaks to the selfless, spiritual nature of truly paying attention.

My wife and friend are two peas in the same paying attention pod. They demonstrate genuine, heartfelt care for their closest family and friends by observing, hearing, and remembering what matters most to them.

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Left to right, less attentive, more attentive.

Corrections

I’ve been a wee bit sloppy lately.

Middle brother, who self identifies as “Smarter Brother” wrote in to say Mother Dear did not gift the Gremlin to him.

“I paid FULL blue book for that car… dad even made me pay the extra $35 for the AM/FM cassette player.”

That is the most funny thing I’ve heard in a long, long time. Middle/Smarter brother added that it took “serious game” to attract women in a purple 73 Gremlin. I concede that point.

Which begs the question, what WAS the Blue Book value?

“$1800.  I had to call the guy at the AMC dealership to get the number… I wanted to pay $1000, dad said ‘No.’  I walked up stairs and grabbed the cash and fat-stacked him at the dinner table… the look on his face was classic! He and mom always thought I was out messing around, when in fact, I was at work.”

The second most funny thing I’ve heard in a long, long time. Damn parents. Glass is always half empty.

Finally, for a correction on the driveway accident see comment #2 at the end of the “Tesla-fy What?” post .

Secondly, it’s somewhat worrisome to me that the Gal Pal informs me that we both went to see Pulp Fiction and walked out somewhere in the middle. We were in a distinct minority. Peter Travers of Rolling Stone wrote, “There’s a special kick that comes from watching something this thrillingly alive. Pulp Fiction is indisputably great.” To each is own.  

Tesla-fy What?

Earlier this week I posted a vid about EV West, a California company that installs Tesla like electric technology into really old, but stylish cars nearing the end of their lives.

Makes me wanna go out and find a candidate for a Tesla transplant. And I have the perfect car. One of the best cars ever made in these (dis)United States. Some cars may be a little more reliable, but none more stylish. A car my family was lucky enough to own in the mid 1970s. Drum roll. . .

IMG_5732-762x456.jpgThat’s right an American Motor Corporation Gremlin in powder/purplish blue. Here’s another angle of one with a badass racing stripe.

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This was the zenith of American motor vehicle history. Why Japan’s auto companies didn’t unilaterally surrender, and how AMC didn’t make it, I’ll never know.

One warm sunny day in Cypress, CA, my two older brothers collided while repositioning the Gremlin and another one of our cars in front of our suburban tract home. I thought one of them was going to kill the other. Most funny thing I may have ever witnessed.

Middle Brother always struggled with the ladies, so feeling badly for him, moms gifted him the Gremlin before the “San Bernardino Mountains ski bum” chapter of his illustrious life. Once, while in the mountains, a falling bolder clipped our automotive masterpiece or at least that’s the story he tells.

His love life did improve after taking ownership of the Gremlin. How could it not? Similarly, I suspect I will draw much added attention after finding and Tesla-fying a Gremlin.

 

Avoiding The Pointless, Downward Negative Cycle

I’m in the Trump Trap. I doubt I’m alone.

It’s impossible to ignore the President, but paying attention to him only feeds his narcissism and seems to make matters worse. To ignore his lies and race baiting is to condone both. I argue with a friend when he says “Obama was worse,” but that doesn’t accomplish anything. How to escape this pointless, downward spiral of negativity?

My friend, while totally exasperating on things political, has redeeming qualities. Among others, he’s committed to his family, he’s funny, he cares about those he works with. Why don’t I just focus more exclusively on those attributes?

There’s a direct correlation between how people feel about themselves, more specifically how secure they are, and their propensity to see the best in others and affirm them. If you don’t feel very good about yourself, if your insecurities win the day, you’re unlikely to sing anyone else’s praises. You don’t send thank you cards. You don’t risk any awkwardness by directly and specifically telling others what you most appreciate about them.

As if life is a zero-sum game. That there’s only so much positivity or praise to go around.

We can focus on the good in others, and name it, without any cost to ourselves. At all. Focusing on the good in others, and naming it, creates positive momentum that makes political disagreements less consequential. My friend’s politics are whacked, but he is not the sum of his politics.

One can be a good teacher, nurse, or executive, and liberally celebrate other teachers’, nurses’, and executives’ excellence. One can be a decent human being and routinely celebrate decency in others. We’re apt to recognize and publicly declare the redeeming qualities in others to the degree to which we feel okay about ourselves, the degree to which we like ourselves.

A few weeks ago, I made eye contact with another driver as I pulled into the Trader Joe’s parking lot. She was an acquaintance from church who smiled at me. “Finally,” the introvert in me immediately thought, “I’m going to get a chance to tell her how much I enjoy her blog.” Sure enough, halfway through my appointed rounds, she walked straight up to me and asked if I’d eat some fancy shmancy blueberry desert that she was thinking of making for a party. “Yes.” I assured her, and then said, “Hey, I’ve been wanting to tell you how much I enjoy your blog. I’ve been enjoying cooking more and I’m amazed at your creations. And you’re really funny.” For good measure I added, “You’re a very talented writer.” To say she was touched is an understatement.

Her blog deserves a wider audience. When that happens, I will celebrate her success. Because it will not detract from this humble blog.

With respect to the President and my friend, my inclination is to ignore the President. My vote will be my proof that I’m not condoning his calculating and inflammatory rhetoric which will only get worse once the campaign begins in earnest. As for my friend, I’m going to focus more on his redeeming qualities and our common humanity.

 

 

The Rarity Of A Truly Great Marriage

Brooks again:

“In the United States, nearly 40 percent of marriages end in divorce. Another 10 to 15 percent of couples separate and do not divorce, and another 7 percent or so stay together but are chronically unhappy. In other words, more than half of the people who decide to marry, presumably driven by passionate love, wind up unhappy. The odds are worse for couples that marry before age twenty five.”

If that is not depressing enough:

“And there are very few things worse than a bad marriage. Being in a bad marriage will increase your chance of getting sick by 35 percent and shorten your life span by an average of four years.”

The obvious take-away is choose very, very carefully, but I can’t imagine any couple in passionate love saying to one another, “WAIT, before we consider getting engaged, we should read and think about David Brooks’s marriage advice.”

 

The Prospect Of A Truly Great Marriage

Brooks’s best paragraphs on marriage highlight Tim and Kathy Keller’s insights:

“In The Meaning of Marriage, Tim and Kathy Keller describe how the process of improvement and elevation happens. First, you marry a person who seems completely wonderful and mostly perfect. Then, after a little while—maybe a month or two, maybe a year or two—you realize that the person you thought was so wonderful is actually imperfect, selfish, and flawed in many ways. As you are discovering this about your spouse, your spouse is making the exact same discovery about you.

The natural tendency in this situation is to acknowledge that of course you are a little selfish and flawed, but in fact it is your spouse’s selfishness that is the main problem here. Both spouses will also come to this conclusion at about the same time.

Then comes a fork in the road. Some couples will decide that they don’t want all the stress and conflict that will come from addressing the truths they have discovered about each other and themselves. They’ll make a truce, the Kellers say. Some subjects will not be talked about. You agree not to mention some of your spouse’s shortcomings so long as she agrees not to mention some of yours. The result is a truce-marriage, which is static, at least over the short term, but which gradually deteriorates over the long one.

“The alternative to the this truce-marriage is to determine to see your own selfishness as a fundamental problem and to treat it more seriously than you do your spouse’s. Why? Only you have complete access to your own selfishness, and only you have complete responsibility for it,” the Kellers write. ‘If two spouses each say, ‘I’m going to treat my self-centeredness as the main problem in the marriage,’ you have the prospect of a truly great marriage.'”

Jives with my experience.