Paying Attention…

by George on June 23, 2011

Photographs © George A. Jardine

I have a close friend who lives in Kyoto. He’s been a student of Japanese language, culture, calligraphy, and buddhism… for many, many years. Shortly after we first met we attended a 1-week seminar together, on the history of photography. The workshop leader was an unusually brilliant and accomplished character. He had a grasp of—as well as an ability to communicate—the intricacies of his subject unlike anyone else that I had ever encountered. After the first day, my friend said to me that he felt that this individual must have—at one time or another—had a “deep experience”.

I probably didn’t know what he meant.

He also said to me, “This guy is paying attention.

For sure, I didn’t know what he meant by that remark…. at the time, anyway.

Years later, the same friend was taking me on a sort of private tour of a few of the temples and dojos where he had studied in Kyoto over the years. Before we met one of the monks that he knew, he said to me, “Watch this guy. This guy is paying attention.”

Over time, I heard this idea from my friend more than once or twice. Not often. But just often enough. By then, I had started to notice it myself. Every once in a while, if you’re very lucky, you will meet someone who is truly paying attention. Listening, rather than talking. And this is not just about them listening to me. It’s just about…. listening. Paying attention. To everything. The world around them.

Eventually, this simple idea became central to my own thinking. A goal. Something to strive for on a daily basis. Communication and human relations are really, really hard. Teaching is hard. Heck… even effective e-mail is hard.

But during those rare times when things are going a little better than usual, invariably, it seems that it has something… or everything to do, with whether the parties involved are paying attention.

Or not.

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