“You validate people’s lives by your attention.” ~Unknown
When my husband and I lived in New Providence, the capital island of the Bahamas, we rented a charming wooden cottage with a sweeping vista of the ocean from a sweet, elderly man who was 88 years old.
Our landlord Leslie lived alone in an elegant house next door to our cottage and I made it a habit to visit him each day, after arriving home from teaching at a local high school.
Leslie was lonely and my heart would ache for him. Having lost his wife a few years earlier, he was a sad, wistful figure, who would spend the day sitting with the front door open, gazing out at traffic and wondering where all his friends had gone.
While I felt sorry for his situation, I was acutely aware of why people had stopped coming by. Leslie could barely hear a word anyone said and, as a consequence, my visits would consist of raising my voice to the highest level possible, which would leave me hoarse and physically drained.
One afternoon after making tea and settling down to attempt to communicate, Leslie started by labeling himself “a silly old fool” and then related an incident I will never forget.
Over the years I have recalled it many times as a way of highlighting the importance of being attentive and present.
As the story goes, Leslie flew to Grand Bahama Island to spend the weekend with his son Derek. When it was time to leave, Derek took Leslie back to the airport, checked him in, and said goodbye.
In the departure area, Leslie was unable to fully hear an announcement. Rather than making inquiries, Leslie followed a group of people moving toward the gate and, relying on a steward to correctly check his ticket, he boarded the plane.
However, much to his acute embarrassment and dismay, Leslie later realized the plane was touching down in Miami, rather than New Providence.
At different times in my life, I have been each character in this story, deaf to what others have been trying to tell me, unable to articulate my needs, and woefully inattentive and distracted.
The source of these common issues begins in childhood. When we are born into families where those closest to us are not “present,” we become accustomed to being unacknowledged, and in turn we do not know how to be attentive to those around us.
As a consequence, we find it difficult to be ourselves and impossible to express our needs authentically.
The pain of feeling unheard and by extension “unseen” runs very deep in our psyche. It represents lost aspects that we keep trying to find.
In support of our search and unspoken desires, we project our needs onto everyone around us, thinking they should intuitively “know” what we want, which is particularly problematic in personal relationships and is high on the list of why so many marriages fail.
By contrast, when we are in alignment with our truth, those needs dissolve. Instead we can be present and attentive to others, serving to empower them in finding their own authentic voice.
Then they are able to validate themselves and validate their lives in a way that is enriching and purposeful.
For example, I have adopted a simple practice while teaching art to teenage students.
I begin each session by silently inviting them into presence. Then, welcoming them as they come through the door, I acknowledge new hairstyles or clothes and once settled, ask questions such as:
- How are you feeling?
- Are there any concerns or anxieties?
- Which emotions are coming up today?
This inquiry brings the students out of the “mental quadrant” and into the intuitive, emotional quadrant, the doorway to the higher self.
Then through learning how to embrace this feeling quality, the students slowly learn to trust their inner guidance and access the courage to express who they are in a way that is authentic and meaningful.
As a consequence, I have been happily able to bear witness to amazingly deep and sensitive art work.
Grappling with powerful and emotive themes, the students are then armed with the courage to explore the hidden messages of the psyche, leading them to uncover aspects of the higher self and journey into profound self discovery.
In paintings, wood-burning, and printmaking projects I am intrigued by shadowy figures, keys and doorways, lotus blossoms, and power animals waiting to spring into action.
And through these doorways, we are naturally led to engage in inspiring discussions on life, death, and purpose with the students accessing, acknowledging, and giving voice to their dreams, goals and visions.
Regardless of how young or old we may be, when we find our authentic voice we validate ourselves and we naturally validate others. Without even having to say anything, our state does the work.
We are inextricably woven together. I reflect you. You reflect me.
When we understand this, we can be watchful about where we are, in response to where our attention is and engage in self-inquiry. We can ask:
- Am I honoring all aspects of my life?
- If not, what is out of balance?
- Am I giving everyone in my world the gift of attention?
- If not, why am I distracted?
- Is there something or someone calling out for healing and validation?
When we have the courage to be present and attentive, we are inviting healing into our lives and into the world at large. In this way, we can be vigilant and ready to enlighten ourselves to the consciousness of unity, no matter how it appears.
Whether it manifests as disharmony in a relationship or discontent at school or work, we can learn to accept what is and honor and love it all.
Ultimately, everything and everyone is here to reflect where we are in or out of balance and to bring us back to the truth that at the core of who we are, we are one.
In this way, when you honor and validate your life and your world, you honor and validate me. And the reverse is true.
When I commit to being present and being attentive, I am living with the awareness of unity consciousness, which ensures I am living as an embodiment of freedom and so are you.
Photo by peasap