Constant Partial Attention

May be an image of fruit and nature
A close up of partially ripened blackberries on a blackberry bush, Photo: Renee Roederer

Dr. Ellen Langer, scholar and researcher on mindfulness, uses a particular phrase to describe the ways we become disconnected from the present moment. She says that so frequently, we live in a perpetual state of constant partial attention. 

Constant partial attention. . . Isn’t that a perfect way to describe that kind of experience? So often, we move through our days simply going through the motions, rarely paying attention to what is right in front of us. Instead, our minds gravitate toward our to-do lists and the situations that make us most anxious. We get stuck mulling over the past or worrying about our imagined future. In the process, we miss the present moment.

And sadly, this means we lose some awareness of our surroundings, our inner life, our neighbors, and the deep stirrings within us.

Poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning has a creative way of capturing this as well. She says,

Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round and pluck blackberries. [1]

Sometimes we experience the daily delights of what’s in front of us; other times, we’re more disconnected than we’d like to be.

The good news is that we can keep reorienting ourselves again and again.

Renee Roederer

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