One-year-old Teddy walks across the floor to accolades from his admirers. That's all he has to do is walk; it is entertaining enough. His new accomplishment is an almost perfected Frankenstein stride. As an upright being, he has conquered one of the first toddler hurdles, and with ever footfall is a wide grin and lit-up eyes. When he manages to pick-up and carry an object, his eyes are even wilder with pride; so is our clapping.
Two year old Sebby has to work a little harder. He has to say, "Donut," with that cute inflection. Not once, but several times, and if he really wants our attention and laughter, he must become an insta comedian. His siblings know how to invoke the Milton Berle in him, and within seconds he's making some wild facial expressions, bringing down the house.
I watch as the two older children go unnoticed: the twelve year old pre-teen and the nine year old, and I feel a little sorry for them because they aren't so entertaining anymore. Each visit when I realize we are only paying attention to the littles, I feel bad and try to include them with my rote question, "How's school going?" Which brings the rote response, "Good."
But now it's summer and I don't want to be utterly predictable by asking, "How's summer going?"
To be entertained requires thinking from the recipient.
Last visit, the three of us figured it all out.
Part way through the visit, the nine year old asked if I wanted to hear her play the cello. I did and accompanied her to her room, but between the two of us, the cello migrated its way to the family room--where the nine y.o. and the twelve y.o, commanded a little attention for themselves.
"Ah you see," I told my loved ones, "the older you are, the harder you have to work for some attention."
They insta smiled AND laughed because they got it.
"When you're a one year old, all you have to do is walk and smile to charm the snake, but from you, you are required to share your talents."
But it shouldn't be about sharing talents for attention, but instead about developing talents to fulfill one's dharma.
Kenneth Cope in The Great Work of Your Life, takes his readers on a clear path to understanding one's dharma. Dharma is an individual's work in life. It is distinctly hers that no one else can do. Most of us spend too much time resisting our dharma or at least trying to figure it out. Once we embrace what has always been ours, we find true happiness. In the meantime, a lot of wasted time is spent trying to get "attention."
Cope writes, "Studying the lives of great exemplars of dharma has helped me see the primary distortion in my dharma life has been the age-old misery of self-absorption. Deep in midlife I had begun to feel the awful burden of wanting to be special; wanting to be better; wanting to be, as we sometimes call the expanded self."
Cope quotes the 20th century monk Thomas Merton, "(the chief source of spiritual exhaustion), is the selfish anxiety to get the most out of everything, to be a sparkling success in our own eyes and in the eyes of other men...we cannot achieve greatness unless we lose all interest in being great. For our own idea of greatness is illusory, and if we pay too much attention to it we will be lured out of the peace and stability of the being God gave us, and seek to live in a myth we have created for ourselves. It is therefore, a very great thing to be little, which is to say; to be ourselves."
Cope finishes the chapter with this monk's dharma: his purpose in life, was said to be this: to support the choir. In Latin propter chorum. Literally, his life was lived in support of the choir. He was not a soloist. He was not a diva. He was part of the magnificent whole."
So perhaps, attention getting actions are only acceptable for toddlers, and this is how we slowly move to the background to slowly attain the greater reward--the acceptance of our selves, which only requires acceptance from ourselves.