Attention needs to feel safe. If as a child our attention from our primary caregivers did not feel safe, then we become predisposed to unsafe kinds of attention. If the attention we got was safe then we feel more inclined to find that kind of attention later in life because it is what we have grown used to. An important distinction to be made here is that prolonged attention is not safe attention and short burst of attention are not unsafe forms of attention. It depends on the quality of the attention rather than the quantity. Attention in this form can be likened to love. Conditional vs unconditional love can be likened to conditional and unconditional attention. The kind we get in our childhood teaches us a lot about how we are valued and what kind of love we can aspire to deserve.
“Without realizing that the past is constantly determining their present actions, they avoid learning anything about their history. They continue to live in their repressed childhood situation, ignoring the fact that it no longer exists, continuing to fear and avoid dangers that, although once real, have not been real for a long time.”
If the love we receive is based on conditions, that we have to fulfill a certain expectation, task or obligation to receive that love, we never feel like we fully deserve it. Love then, much like attention, always hinges on the potential of accomplishment. “How many expectations can I fulfill so I can get the maximum amount of love?” But paradoxically that is never the case. Merits will never be enough to give us the attention we seek. In conditionality, no amount of love will satisfy us. And moreover it doesn’t feel genuine. On the givers side, their capacity to give love is also limited. The fact that they put conditions before giving their love is another indicator that it is more limited than one would think. Attention, like love, suffers the same fate if it is given with pretexts, conditions or even as a reward. For a reward too, is a condition albeit one that has been fulfilled satisfactorily.
Attention that is safe, is unconditional. A parent looking at their child simply because that’s their child. Not because of what they aspire the child to be or how the child might fulfill their unfulfilled desires. That only sets the parent up for a rude awakening later on in the child’s life when the parent needs to come to terms with the fact that the child has a mind, needs and wants of their own. If we as parents fail to see that then we are perpetuating the cycle that our parents have done with us. If we as children of our parents fail to see how our parents were flawed then we will perpetuate that cycle to our children. If we feel victimized by our childhood then we need to acknowledge that our parents, with their limited resources, did the best they could. We can always do better but not if we hold that resentment. The cycle can be altered and we would do best to become aware of that fact.
The large amount of talk of childhood is an important factor in understanding the need for attention. It goes very deep. Deeper than my own understanding of it. I don’t know how it comes up in me or how I do it. It simply comes across and creates a certain sphere where we are somehow subconsciously living out our childhood dreams, pains or traumas. It all feels familiar and that’s the fucking trap. What is not healed will persist with us. Attention, like the sun, can be something we expect will shine on us forever. But the night of neglect is something we are not always prepared for and actively avoid. A healthy form of attention is not compulsive and not something we need to attach to. Let’s remember quality over quantity. A night of being neglected, or several, are important for us to appreciate the day of being seen. Without that we are constantly operating from a lack.
“If you reach out to your phone every few minutes, it isn’t the urgency you are catering to but your need to be needed by others, you are seeking attention while battling loneliness”
Shahenshah Hafeez Khan
Readjusting our Point of View
Why do I say we are operating from a lack? Because if we go back to the example where the attention is taken away from us without us having done anything, we find that our innocent minds make innocent associations. Attention taken away made us wrongly assume attention deserved to be taken away. Or maybe we develop a deep resentment for the person who took the attention away. Either way, we find ourselves in desire of attention and nowhere to get it from. So, we devise strategies for getting attention, much like we devise strategies for getting love. But there is the crux – just like love, we have falsely assumed that attention is something we don’t already have, and hence must get from outside sources. We, in ourselves, are operating from lack. Not acknowledging our power and our ability to be attentive to ourselves and others, we seek it from others while trying to satisfy an unending pool of neglect. No amount of water will ever fill that pool.
Attention is something we need to cultivate in ourselves and for ourselves. Firstly, because we deserve it and secondly, because others deserve our attention. The quality of attention we give is the quality we receive. Give a baby a smile and you get a smile. We as human beings are individuals but are also parts of the collective whole. I believe on a certain level we all feel this connection to the collective and we give it different names like collective, the unconscious, the universe and so on. It is simply a connection to something greater than ourselves, than who we think we are.
It is when we operate from the standpoint of our egos that we experience lack. What is important in receiving attention is giving oneself the permission to be here. To tell ourselves that we belong on this Earth, in this universe, in our communities and exactly where we are right now. This sense of belonging is crucial to us all since it serves to connect our egos with the greater whole. Without that, the pain of separation will continue to guide an unhealthy need for attention. What is required is that we see ourselves as parts of a massive, complex and marvelous process that is well beyond definition but certainly within our means of perception.
“The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us the less taste we shall have for the destruction of our race. Wonder and humility are wholesome emotions, and they do not exist side by side with a lust for destruction.”
We Are Enough
Attention that is healthy is not something we will need to depend on but which will give us this feeling like we belong here. To rest our souls on this body and feel like we have arrived. It also gives us the permission to be whatever we want to be and create whatever we feel called to. If our creation should attract attention and people look at us and maybe applaud us, we can be humble. We can receive the applause not for who we are, our ego, but for what our ego has produced in collaboration with the greater whole. The work of art. If we create solely out of our ego then the product of that creation is highly individual and personal and does not have the same components of a great work of art. Great art needs to be relatable beyond people’s stories, it needs to transcend their egos as well and in that find connection in something greater and beyond but yet something that is very much human and omnipresent.
Giving ourselves permission to be whoever we feel called to be is a quality form of attention. We give ourselves our attention and love, simply without conditions. We are subtly telling ourselves, ‘I don’t need to be anyone or anything to receive my love and attention. I am enough the way I am. Anything further I become from here is a bonus.’ We remove those conditions that were imposed on us or that we imposed on ourselves when we were young. The need for attention carries on well into adulthood and if not approached carefully it can be destructive. Turning into a demon that requires more and more until there is nothing left to feed it.
The need for attention can become so grandiose that seeking it through one’s work or accomplishments also ceases to be enough. Will there ever be enough? These are questions we must ponder if we are to realize a healthy form of attention. Self-love and healthy forms of attention are indistinguishable. To look at oneself as one looks at a lover, not through the eyes of narcissus but through the eyes of beholding an imperfect form of perfection. To care for oneself is to give attention to oneself in the areas one needs it. Self-love can be an antidote to grandiose forms of attention seeking and can abate some of grandiosity’s unhealthy affects. We can look at the forms of attention we naturally seek and see how they either feed us or how they feed our lack. There is a garden of abundance inside of us and the only question is, which plant are we going to water?
“Nothing is enough for the man to whom enough is too little.”
Attention and Love, two sides of the same coin. To love ourselves as valuable, appreciated and vital members of this world we live in can offer us deliverance. Everything in this world and this universe has a purpose. Not in the sense of an ultimate purpose but as a purpose of being. A function and a way each part interrelates with each other and this web of interrelations is what we call the whole. Attention is the acknowledgement of this fact. Thus we, each being, plant, insect, the planets and everything in between, co-create the world. And it is only when we feel acknowledged and safe to be here in this world, can we create from our authentic potential.
We are safe. We matter. We are here. We are acknowledged. We are enough.
Remind yourselves of these things regularly and you will see how the quality of your attention changes. And importantly you will see that because you give a different quality of attention to the world around you, you receive it differently. And that, is being the change, you want to see in the world.
“The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.”
Thich Nhat Hanh