Someone passed along an article to me about cell phones at school: maybe, the article suggested, schools should let students use cell phones on occasion. After all, it’s so much trouble for teachers to stop the lesson and confiscate cell phones. And it’s so much a part of what they do and who they are, to be continuously interrupted and constantly available.
What I wonder is: if everything is open to social interruption, then how can we concentrate? How can we really listen?
Television and the internet, while lots of fun, habituate me to the attention span of a two-year-old. Religious practice helps extend it. Religious practices often encourage you to concentrate– ten minute meditation, sermon, reciting a ritual. It is clear that time in a religious space has been set aside for a narrowed, and paradoxically, encompassing, mindset.
A lot of people don’t go for religious practice. Close attention to art and nature can be great concentration practice, too. You are practicing focusing and listening, at least with the more demanding, extended experiences. Lots of different things would work: long hikes, fishing sessions, quality time with one painting, or fifteen minutes hearing a theme develop and morph.
I think when people say, “I want to be beautiful, and I want to be in love,” they are actually saying, “I want to be listened to.” It’s just that being beautiful and loved get you more attention in our human hierarchy, so it’s confusing.
It’s intoxicating to be listened to, and it’s challenging to listen. It’s hard not to think about your own reactions and what you are going to say next.
Like most of us, I have a few people who want to be able to get a hold of me. I understand that, and I am annoyed when I can’t reach someone. Still, I hate that absent people can trump present people.
When I am with someone, having coffee or whatever, nothing formal or huge, I still want to be with them. Everyday moments listening to everyday stories are what all relationships are built on.
I watched “Chinatown” recently, and I loved how Jack Nicholson’s character went to see some guy at his office, and then had to wait for the guy to come back from lunch.
Can you imagine? Waiting for someone to come back from lunch? No one knows where he is. No one can call him. The guy’s just out. And instead of pushing through it, Roman Polanski makes you wait, wait, and listen to his character wait.