Recently I learned a lesson firsthand about the consequences of not paying complete attention to what I was doing. In our culture, not only is the habit of "multitasking" common, but it is actually encouraged. All of us can relate to being out on the road and observing someone in a car who is texting and talking to another simultaneously while trying to drive. We know it causes accidents, some of which are quite devastating. Even when we are not in our cars, we have seen people walking down the street with their eyes attached to their phones, not watching where they are walking or with whom (or what) they are about to collide. I admit to having done the latter, never the former. It is just part of the way we are enculturated to do things. Since we have access to so much information and to each other so readily we can be easily tempted to try to be connected at all times, even when it is really not prudent.
My own experience did not involve a car or a mobile device. In my case I was trying to walk briskly on my home treadmill while watching a recent World Cup match. It was not the TV which caused the distraction. The danger began when I realized my new walking shoes had overly long laces. I was thinking that I really ought to do something about them after I finished my walk. Then I began to try to put on the headphones so I could hear the game and not just watch without the sound. As I reached for the headphones, which were on the handlebar just to my right, I stopped being attentive to what I was doing and to the overly long shoelaces, and proceeded to step on one, left foot on right lace. Down I went. I did not break anything, but there are significant bruises, both physically and to my pride. I was very lucky not to have gotten hurt any worse than I did. I never thought it would happen to me, but it is oh, so easy to do.
Upon reflection, (three x-rays and a lot of bandages later), I realized that anytime we divide our attention we are asking for trouble, especially if it has to do with something visual. I know some people can pull this off, but it is dangerous. We simply cannot be fully attentive to multiple things at the same time. We can be somewhat attentive, but not fully attentive. And if whatever it is we are doing simultaneously involves vision, such as walking and reading a text, we are bound to eventually collide. If we are not fully attentive to where we are and where we are going, we render ourselves virtually blind. We can try to fool ourselves into thinking that we are able to handle it, but there are many situations in which we are literally blind to what is really happening around us. The consequences of this can be painful.
This is true in everything we do. Imagine eating pasta with a delicious sauce and simultaneously gulping on a soft drink. We neither taste the pasta nor the drink because we have attended to neither. Instead we have something less than the intended tastes. But if we are fully attentive to each, we can savor the tastes as they were intended to be. In our relationships, and especially in our relationship with God, we also can be less than fully attentive. Quite often we sit down for prayer and we are not fully present to God. It is as if we want to put in our time, well-intentioned as we may be, but we are only having a rambling monologue and not a dialogue. Then we wonder why God seems so silent! We have to take the time to learn His language, so to speak. God designs His messages and His way of communicating to each one uniquely. He goes out of His way to tailor His relationship with us to our needs, our way to perceiving, and what is most meaningful to each one of us individually. But if we do not give ourselves a chance to listen, we will never discover that. We can render ourselves blind all while in the pursuit of a spiritual life. The result of this practice is that we will give up under the mistaken idea that God is not paying attention, rather than seeing that we are the ones who are not fully attentive.
The only way to be truly attentive to God is to put in the time and effort with an undivided mind and heart. The desert fathers and mothers used a term called 'aplotes' in their writing. It means 'single-mindedness.' It refers to the notion that we need to be focused on our relationship with God with an undivided heart and mind. In this case we can apply the term to our need to be attentive to the One whom we seek. It means we need to try to put nothing before our relationship with the Lord so that God comes first in our lives. We talk about ‘the practice’ of prayer: it is something we become more comfortable with by spending the time becoming proficient. The good news is that God does more than meet us halfway. All we have to do is show up and pay attention. God is infinitely interested in what we have to say and in our needs. He realizes we are broken and easily distracted, but we have to make the effort to be where we are, trying to keep our attention on Him or we will find ourselves giving up on our prayer.
The best way to do this is to take our distraction to God; the mistake most of us make is to try to run from the distractions. Our distractions actually reveal that which concerns us. They have an importance to our prayer, yet we are usually embarrassed to admit we find it hard to concentrate because of them. If we put our distractions to use, we will find that not only do they reveal our cares to us, but we can learn to turn them over to God so that they are in His hands and are not holding us captive. ("Cast all your worries upon Him because He cares for you." 1 Peter 5:7) Once we place them in God's hands, trusting that He will take care of our cares, we can attend to our conversation with God.
Prayer opens the door to being attentive to God's presence around us. Another mistake people often make is to think that only when we are on our knees or in church will we experience the presence of God or 'hear' His messages to us. Our private prayer time opens our minds and hearts so that we learn how to recognize God in every moment of our lives: it is through our time of prayer that we open ourselves to seeing and sensing God all around us the rest of the day. The 'aha' moments can then take place. This is what I mean when I say we learn how to become attentive. If we open our hearts during prayer, we can be more fully attentive to the movements of the Spirit and the presence of God throughout the day. We literally learn how to become more fully attentive more of the time, rendering ourselves sighted and thus losing the blinders.
It is also important to get into the practice of praying throughout the day, just as St. Paul wrote in 1 Thess. 5:17: "Pray without ceasing." We can make silent prayer a habit by making it an attitude. All we need is to thank God for something that He has given, praise Him for beauty we have seen, tell Him we love Him, ask for a favor in the moment at hand, or say a short prayer such as "Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me" or "Jesus, I trust in you." Our prayer throughout the day does not have to be elaborate, rather it needs to simply be enough for our attention to be on God so as to see Him, or to see with His eyes, for just a moment. It is amazing what we will begin to notice when we do this. Mostly we will begin to see with more clarity that which is around us. And we will see that God never stops being attentive to us. His presence is eternal.
Let us become fully focused on what we are doing especially when we are at prayer. May we ask to see with the eyes of Jesus so that we can see ourselves and others as they are, loved and loveable! May we be attentive to the presence of God in those with whom we come in contact, especially those who are most in need! May we allow our focus to be on Jesus so that we can be aware of His love for us by seeing and hearing the many ways He communicates this to us every day! And may we continually turn to the Lord in freedom and love, knowing that He is present with us always, even in our distractions! Let us continue to meet in the heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L Catanese
All of the photos are my own. The top photo is of the Oregon coast. The second photo is of Crater Lake, also in Oregon. The mirror images of the mountain on the water are captivating. The third photo is from part of a delicious meal we had in Sicily last September. (It was course 2 of 5!) The fourth and fifth photos are from Cong, Ireland.
Heart Speaks to Heart