they look but do not see, and hear but do not listen or understand
We see and hear constantly. We are inundated with sights and sounds. One of the things I am enjoying the most about this vacation is quiet.
As I reflect on these words from the gospel I am drawn to the mounting research on the human brain and its limitation. While all of our sense can be operating at the same time, our mind can only truly attend to one thing at a time. Our brain makes up for this limitation by switching back and forth between senses so that we think we are doing two things at once, like reading and listening to music. In fact, we are not doing both our brain is simply switching between the two.
For centuries magicians have known about our ability to only pay attention to one thing at a time. Most traditional magic tricks work by misdirecting that attention.
Some of the worst examples of our looking but not seeing and hearing but not listening are when we drive while talking on the phone or talk over somebody in a conversation, or even start thinking about our response before the other person is finished talking.
In every case our brain is switching back and forth and in the switching we are missing things, sometimes very important things. Once we realize that we can only truly pay attention to one thing at a time we are half way home.
To look and actually see, to hear and actually listen and understand takes practice. We notice this most when we try to meditate. The moment we try to be quiet everything on our to-do list floods our brain, focusing our attention on God is hard.
Now is a good time to start over. This week we can all pay better attention. When someone is talking don't just hear, but listen and understand. Understand not what you already think but what they are actually saying. When looking at someone or something, stop and actually see it or them.
We should not be those people Jesus talks about in the gospel, but all too often we are. The good news is that we can all change. Decide what or who is most important at any given moment and simply pay attention.