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    You Have My Complete Attention

    attentionOne of my favorite rituals when my twins were babies was to give them their nightly bath. I loved the one-on-one (-on-one) time with them, playing and splashing and just being together. Over time, they advanced from baths to showers, and from needing my help to wanting complete privacy, thank you very much!

    But one bath-time ritual that my daughter Sophie didn’t seem to outgrow during her tween years was keeping me company in the bathroom when I took a shower. Each evening after work, I would hop in the shower and pull the curtain closed, and then hear Sophie sneak into the bathroom, close the lid of the toilet, sit down and say, “So let’s talk.”

    I was torn: I missed the privacy of being alone with my thoughts and my loofah, and I also appreciated the opportunity to have some deep conversations with my growing girl. But one day, my curiosity got the best of me and I asked her,

    “Sophie, why do you always want to talk to me when I’m in the shower?”

    Her answer caught me with my pants down:

    “Because it’s the only time I know you won’t check your phone while you’re talking to me. It’s the only time I have your complete attention.”

    There was no shower long enough or hot enough to wash off the sting of that pointed and painful observation.

    Ever since then, I’ve started:

    Paying a lot more attention to paying attention!

    I realized that I did it consistently with my clients (who pay for my complete attention), but I didn’t do it consistently for my family, who are, in fact, the reason that I even have clients. And it’s still hard – every day. There are a million things competing for my attention, between emails, calls, dinner, errands, the expected and the unexpected interruptions. But I am well aware that because of how hard it is to give someone your complete attention these days, it is a more precious gift to give and to receive than ever before.

    In a recent New York Times article, “Stop Googling. Let’s Talk.” the author cites that the costs of dividing your attention with people you care about include empathy, connection, and trust. And while technology is surely a factor in what makes this challenging, what is also a factor is our willingness to settle for less than someone’s complete and undivided attention. We need to learn to ask for what we need from others in our personal and workplace relationships to feel heard, connected and respected and we need to stop making excuses for ourselves for why it’s ok to not be fully present for another human being with real and immediate needs and challenges.

    In the 7th and 8th cohorts of the Jewish Coaching Academy that I facilitated last week (email me for 2016 dates), we discussed 10 behaviors that let someone know that you were committed to being fully present for them. They include:

    • Close the door.
    • Turn off all electronic distractions.
    • Put your cell phone completely outside of your line of vision.
    • Let other people know that you’re going to be occupied, and for how long.
    • Put a “Do Not Disturb” sign up and honor it.
    • Create a time buffer before your conversation so you can clear your head from your previous work or interaction.
    • Make a list of what you need to do after this conversation so that you can be fully present now.
    • Notice when distracting thoughts come into your head, and then send them away without judgment.
    • Let the other person know if something is interfering with your ability to be fully present, and then do your best anyway.
    • Tell the other person “You have my complete attention”.

    How do I know these work? Because I use them with my clients, my friends and my family and they thank me for not just being there for them, but for really, fully being there for them. And I also know these work because I now, blissfully, shower alone.

    Good for the Earth and Good for You: A Fabulous Recycled Blog!

    I just saw this blog entry from friend, colleague and adult Jewish ed guru-ess Jane Shapiro, and it struck me as truly relevant to everyday life. With her permission, I am recycling it here. Boy, do I feel good about my recycling efforts…

    Has anyone else noticed the relationship between heavy metal music and MRIs?
    A Blog By Jane Shapiro

    Jane Shapiro is a presenter and teacher on topics of Jewish history, literature and thought, and on Marketing and Recruitment for Adult Jewish Learning, at nation-wide professional conferences. She has over twenty years of experience as a classroom teacher for adults.

    This week I found myself in one of those awful containers trying to do my best relaxation breathing while the MRI machine clanged away at loud decibels. That is when I began to notice that the frequencies of the magnetic resonance (does anyone remember those cool toys with the slivers of magnet that you could move around on a funny guy’s head to create toupees and moustaches?) sounded a lot like some of the percussion of certain bands that I have heard. Beat boxing and bone rapping.

    To keep myself preoccupied I did what I always do in similar situations: multi-task. Breathing, the clanging, listening to music on the headphones, composing this blog and outlining a presentation I have to make in June at Northwestern Hillel. Classic. Why do one thing when you can do 5?

    I know that there is a lot of press on the evils of multi-tasking (the M word) but I for one find it exhilarating. How better to show that I am in top mental form, at one with the world, creative, moving, shaping, challenging myself, than to be jumping artfully from one big idea to the next. With my Mac I’m even better. I can write, check my email, listen to itunes , talk on the phone and facebook all at the same time. Life beyond boundaries and time zones, endlessly dynamic.

    But then the MRI machine stopped clanging and everything felt altered. It was quiet, my breath became natural and I felt a lot of dissonant parts reassemble themselves.

    Breath and soul are synonymous in Hebrew, covered by the words Neshama (yes like the singer) Nefesh. Additionally there is Ruach which means both wind and spirit.

    Breath signifies life, but these words are also conveying that there is something more to human essence. A Neshama is considered something pure, Tehora, open to the world. As much as we strive to measure ourselves through our gravitas, our weightiness and productivity in the world, we are supposed to see ourselves as buoyant and holy.

    So what does this have to do with multitasking? We have a time-honored tradition as Jews (literally) to balance the two parts of our selves: the creative multi-tasking one, and the Soulful presence. Like other things of value in Jewish life, it gets prioritization in time, in the calendar. March along banging metal for 6 days and then lay off, Shavat so you can enter a phase of vaYinafash (Exodus 31:16-17 for the full quote which I highly recommend.) which translates best as “ensoul yourself”. Breathe, shut down some electronics, recalibrate, become not human but humane once again before the irresistible urge to be creative returns.

    If you think about the expression Shabbat Shalom, it is not trivial. Shalom means a so much more than peace: integrity, reintegration of inside and out, at-one-ness. When one Jew greets another with this saying, it comes from more than a historical and communal place. It seems to me that we are wishing others spiritual wholeness for a brief period of time, that we see in each other so much more than our text messages or facebook walls can convey.

    A final question to pose is how to cultivate a Jewish frame of thinking ( on your terms) that would allow you to shut down the mental heavy metal for 25 hours. What would it be like to turn off your Blackberry for 25 hours?

    (Deb’s note: I first read this on my Blackberry!)



    “Deb has been a respected speaker and facilitator for a number of our JCC conferences over the past few years. While I've heard about her energy, hard work in preparing, and meaningful content, it took her recent keynote speech at our annual JCCs of North America Professional Conference to make me realize what an incredible asset she is. Watching her present a content-filled, energetic, and personalized session -- without using any notes -- was very impressive. Deb is a multi-talented, serious, and impactful presenter."

    – Allan Finkelstein, Past President and CEO, JCC Association of North America

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