Imagine your brain as a giant factory that’s largely automated to keep it going without your interference. You’re a factory owner. Normally, if you want something done – create a new product for example – you will need to go down on the shop floor and actually reset certain machines to run a new programme. If you don’t do it, the factory line will just run what it always runs: an old programme. The material may change, but the outcome will still be the same.
So making a change will require some effort or work. It will take focus and conscious thought. A real awake choice.
The brain is built to run on autopilot. This is both healthy and allows us to divert attention and focus to specific tasks for prolonged time when we choose to do so. We focus through conscious awareness. Just think how your brain learned walking. At first it was a struggle. You had to pay real attention to each move you made. Most likely you fell down many times. Your brain learned how to take each step, how to work the legs, how to calibrate each stride and how to navigate the stairs and any other obstacles in your way. And now, you can cross a park a million times and never notice it or yourself walking. You can get from point A to B on autopilot. You can be in what we could call an awake state of sleep.
How many of us actually do that. We can get up, make a cup of coffee, shower and do a gazillion other daily routines without paying much attention at all. This way of being conserves energy and is time efficient for sure but it has its limits. Now imagine, we pass our partner in the kitchen in our awake sleep mode. Maybe we say a quick good morning or ask them if they also want a coffee, give them a quick peck and continue on with our own mindlessness tasks opening a computer, eyeballing headlines, being in ‘our’ world. At some point we may hop into a shower, get dressed, make something to eat and then give our partner a lift to the train station ALL on autopilot. We can and we are built to not give it much thought even though it may well be the last time we will ever see them, even though this morning will be gone and we can’t actually get it back. After all, our partner may be going into another city with it’s own dangers and roads to cross, streets to navigate and people to interact with. And we, ourselves, face loads of potential dangers and obstacles staying behind. We can have a car crash for example, or an altercation with our business partner. And we can move through much of this space unaware and largely not in control of it until something happens and we are forced to react.
This seems a rather crazy way of being to me. Life is precious. In fact it can end at any moment. So while the factory can largely run on its own, occasionally and especially when it comes to the people in our life, we really ought to pay attention. This means being awake and turning our full focus onto them. Noticing how they move around our space. Noticing the little crease wrinkle on the right side of their mouth from the way they slept. Noticing how it feels when our hands intertwine in a real connection of two people being awake as opposed to being asleep and doing it by habit.
Choosing to become awake in a moment that we both now know will pass but which we can live and share together. Yes, it takes work. Maybe even sacrifice. Being awake demands our full attention. It means we must make certain choices. We can choose to put away other ‘important’ tasks or thoughts in favor of a real person: our partner, roommate, friend, colleague or neighbour and become awake to their presence, their significance, their being. We can park our career demands for a weekend together, or to cook a meal.
To love someone else requires that we make the person a true priority. That we don’t take them for granted while we sleep thinking it is ‘they’ who should love us because we’re so lovable in our waking sleep. Those who have not learnt this lesson can’t partake in a meaningful exchange of love that can grow into something real. And while at first it may look like hard work, the payoffs are nothing short of marvelous. For to love and be loved beats all the riches we can accumulate, fuels our drive to live and helps us develop wings to soar ever higher.
My February blog celebrates all those who have already achieved that state of wakefulness in their relationships and sends hope and inspiration to those in deep slumber. When people give each other a diamond for engagement, I wonder if what they are really recognizing in another person is their own ability to remain awake because they realize that this other person is nothing short of a miracle. It is their soulmate and while there may be others to repeat all these sleepy routines with, this person, this partner deserves a lot more. He or she deserves that we stay awake for every second, minute and day we have together.
For useful exercises to help you exercise your attention check out my book Get Productive. People in your life deserve better! As do you!