One of my favourite quotes comes from the Zen Buddhist John Tarrant Roshi; “Attention is the most basic form of love. Through it to we blessed and are blessed.”
I’ve been thinking about attention over the last month – or more, how I planned to be really focused, to catch up on a ton of projects, and how all my plans went out of the window.
My mother was admitted to hospital out of the blue, so in many ways my attention has been scattered, lurching between concerns about the present and some pretty scary thinking about the future.
But in other ways, I’ve seen even more clearly how attention can be the most basic form of love.
The care my mother has received during her illness and diagnosis, from the overstretched nurses and doctors, has been extraordinary. And more than that; when I speak to her caregivers, I can see how the attention she pays them in return is a huge blessing for them, too.
Despite being in crippling pain she has retained her childlike curiosity, which is at odds with the others on her ward. She asks questions about the nurses as individuals, about what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, and taking a general interest in this new world around her.
I can hear the effect it has on the nurses whenever I ring the hospital to find out how she is. They immediately know who I’m calling about, and the warmth I can hear in their voices reflects the sense of care that’s been exchanged.
Because we all want to be seen and heard as individuals, beyond the roles we perform. I made a young delivery driver cry last month because I noticed that he was having a bad day, and I gave him fresh water, some cake, and an origami heart so that he would have something to open, too.
He was so apologetic for bursting into tears at my tiny acts of kindness but, after my own five months of limited in-person contact, to receive that level of trust, openness and vulnerability from a total stranger was an act of mutual grace.
May we all give and receive such warm and kind attention, whatever our circumstances.