Attention: The Most Basic Form of Love


On my son Narayan’s sixth birthday, I gave him an ant farm. He spent hours watching with fascination as the little creatures magically created their network of tunnels. He even named several, and followed their struggles and progress closely.

After a few weeks, he pointed out the ants’ graveyard, and watched with wonder as several of them dragged the bodies of their dead comrades and deposited them there. The following day, when I picked Narayan up after school, he was visibly distressed: on the playground, the kids had made a game out of stepping on ants. My son couldn’t understand why his classmates were hurting these friends he so admired.

I tried to comfort him by explaining that when we really spend time with any living beings—as he had with the ants—we find out that they are real. They are changing, animated, hungry, social. Like us, their life is fragile and they want to stay alive. His playmates hadn’t had the chance to get to know ants in the way he did, I told him. If they had, they wouldn’t want to injure them either.

Whenever we wholeheartedly attend to the person we’re with, to the tree in our front yard, or to a squirrel perched on a branch, this living energy becomes an intimate part of who we are.

Krishnamurti wrote that “to pay attention means we care, which means we really love.” Attention is the most basic form of love. By paying attention, we let ourselves be touched by life, and our hearts naturally become more open and engaged.

We care about this awakened heart because, like a flower in full bloom, it is the full realization of our nature. Feeling loved and loving matters to us beyond all else. We feel most “who we are” when we feel connected to each other and the world around us, when our hearts are open, generous, and filled with love. Even when our hearts feel tight or numb, we still care about caring.

In describing his own spiritual unfolding, Gandhi said, “I hold myself to be incapable of hating any being on earth. By a long course of prayerful discipline, I have ceased for over forty years to hate anybody. I know this is a big claim. Nevertheless, I make it in all humility.”

When we look at our own lives and at the history of humanity, we realize that hatred, anger, and all forms of dislike are a pervasive and natural part of being alive. Aversion arises because we are so deeply conditioned to feel separate and different from others. As Gandhi found, only by dedicating ourselves to some form of intentional training can we dissolve this tendency, and embrace all beings with acceptance and love.

For Mother Teresa, serving the poor and dying of Calcutta was a practice of viewing each person as “Christ in his distressing disguise.” By doing so, she was able to see beyond the differences that might have hardened her heart and to serve with unconditional compassion each person she touched.

Through meditation practice, as we train ourselves more and more to pay attention with an engaged and open heart to see past surface appearances, we too begin to recognize a perennial truth: we are all connected to one another; our true nature is timeless, radiant, loving awareness. With this realization we feel our belonging with ants and redwoods, hawks and rivers. By deepening our attention, we are naturally moved to take care of this living world–our inner life and all those we touch.

Photo by: Shell Fischer

Adapted from Radical Acceptance (2003)

© Tara Brach

Enjoy this talk on Accessing Innate Wisdom

Join my email list: http://eepurl.com/6YfI
For more information, visit www.tarabrach.com



3 thoughts on “Attention: The Most Basic Form of Love”

  1. Ronald Lee

    When I was eight my mother enrolled me in swimming lessons and sent me across the street to the public swimming pool. Before I left , she had me slip into my older sister’s old swimming suit. It was a nifty affair, olive green and white polka dots, a frilly bottom and backless with the front bib being held up by two straps that tied around the neck. When I entered the boys dressing room, I was teased, forced to defend my honor and lost a wrestling match and force to admit I was wearing my sister’s bathing suit. When I jumped into the swimming pool, I drowned because the shallow end was three feet six and I was only three foot two. When my mother asked how I liked the first day of swimming, I told her I hated swimming but she forced me to continue using her motherly logic just the same way she convinced me that I was wearing a boys bathing suit by placing a big black felt marker X on the bib to make it a boy’s bathing suit. I have always used humour to cope with adversity and rely on my wits to extricate myself. In 2008, I was invited by 28 teachers to visit them in Fujian China for helping them in a workshop while they were in Canada. I cannot speak Chinese being a 3rd generation Canadian and yet for fifteen days not knowing where I would be the next day a visited 10 different cities in Fujian Province and using my sense of humour and living in the moment to make it back to Canada. I have problem adjusting to life in China because of my Chinese sensibility even though I was raised as a Christian. I have traced our family tree to 220 BCE to Huang Di. and understand the life force behind ancestor worship. What I appreciate about Tara Brach’s Radical Acceptance is the melding of the teachings of Buddha to the axiology of Western culture through her personal narratives and practices. I have listened to a couple of your video presentations and your delivery reminds me of a minister standing at the pulpit delivering the Sunday service, except your message is about finding, receiving, giving, accepting and forgiving while in church I was always feeling guilty and wanting to be forgiven.

  2. Ronald Lee

    I found a book written by Osho called The Pillars of Consciousness and he expresses similar principles to Tara Brach’s Radical Acceptance but I was shocked when I read about the degenerate life style of Osho and somehow his teachings leave one disappointed because I feel he should provide a role model of proper moral behaviour.