“When the other person realizes that his or her presence has been recognized and confirmed, he or she will blossom like a flower,” wrote great Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh while reminding us about the healing power of attention. “If you embrace them with the energy of mindfulness, with your true presence, this energy is completely nourishing. It is like water for a flower. Your presence is the most precious gift you can give him or her.”
We may not always consciously notice it but all the little encounters in our lives, all the people we meet along the way give us attention. By giving us attention they nourish our soul and give us the feeling that we are not alone, that we exist in an interconnected web of the invisible whole. I was recently reminded of this while reading a heartfelt passage from The Book of Disquiet which Fernando Pessoa (1888–1935) has rightly called “a single state of the soul, analyzed from all sides, investigated in all directions.”
He left today for his home town, apparently for good. I mean the so-called office boy, the same man I’d come to regard as part of this human corporation, and therefore as part of me and my world. He left today. In the corridor, casually running into each other for the expected surprise of our farewell, he timidly returned my embrace, and I had enough self-control not to cry, as in my heart — independent of me — my ardent eyes wanted.
Whatever has been ours, because it was ours, even if only as a casual presence in our daily routine or in what we see, becomes part of us. The man who left today for a Galician town I’ve never heard of was not, for me, the office boy; he was a vital part, because visible and human, of the substance of my life. Today I was diminished. I’m not quite the same. The office boy left today.
Everything that happens where we live happens in us. Everything that ceases in what we see ceases in us. Everything that has been, if we saw it when it was, was taken from us when it went away. The office boy left today. …
Yes, tomorrow or another day, or whenever the bell will soundlessly toll my death or departure, I’ll also be one who’s no longer here, an old copier stowed away in the cabinet under the stairs. Yes, tomorrow or when Fate decides, the one in me who pretended to be I will come to an end. Will I go to my home town? I don’t know where I’ll go. Today the tragedy is visible because of an absence, considerable because it doesn’t deserve consideration. My God, my God, the office boy left today.
Indeed, we never know how little we need in this world until we know the loss of it. Complement this soulful meditation from The Book of Disquiet with Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh’s advice on how mindfulness and the gift of attention can help us live in the present moment and connect with other people around us.