The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm Read Online (FREE)
To be concentrated in relation to others means primarily to be able to listen. Most people listen to others, or even give advice, without really listening. They do not take the other person’s talk seriously, they do not take their own answers seriously either. As a result, the talk makes them tired. They are under the illusion that they would be even more tired if they listened with concentration. But the opposite is true. Any activity, if done in a concentrated fashion, makes one more awake (although afterward natural and beneficial tiredness sets in), while every unconcentrated activity makes one sleepy—while at the same time it makes it difficult to fall asleep at the end of the day.
To be concentrated means to live fully in the present, in the here and now, and not to think of the next thing to be done, while I am doing something right now. Needless to say that concentration must be practiced most of all by people who love each other. They must learn to be close to each other without running away in the many ways in which this is customarily done. The beginning of the practice of concentration will be difficult; it will appear as if one could never achieve the aim. That this implies the necessity to have patience need hardly be said. If one does not know that everything has its time, and wants to force things, then indeed one will never succeed in becoming concentrated—nor in the art of loving. To have an idea of what patience is one need only watch a child learning to walk. It falls, falls again, and falls again, and yet it goes on trying, improving, until one day it walks without falling. What could the grown—up person achieve if he had the child’s patience and its concentration in the pursuits which are important to him!
One cannot learn to concentrate without becoming sensitive to oneself. What does this mean? Should one think about oneself all the time, “analyze” oneself, or what? If we were to talk about being sensitive to a machine, there would be little difficulty in explaining what is meant. Anybody, for instance, who drives a car is sensitive to it. Even a small, unaccustomed noise is noticed, and so is a small change in the pickup of the motor. In the same way, the driver is sensitive to changes in the road surface, to movements of the cars before and behind him. Yet, he is not thinking about all these factors; his mind is in a state of relaxed alertness, open to all relevant changes in the situation on which he is concentrated—that of driving his car safely.
If we look at the situation of being sensitive to another human being, we find the most obvious example in the sensitiveness and responsiveness of a mother to her baby. She notices certain bodily changes, demands, anxieties, before they are overtly expressed. She wakes up because of her child’s crying, where another and much louder sound would not waken her. All this means that she is sensitive to the manifestations of the child’s life; she is not anxious or worried, but in a state of alert equilibrium, receptive to any significant communication coming from the child. In the same way one can be sensitive toward oneself. One is aware, for instance, of a sense of tiredness or depression, and instead of giving in to it and supporting it by depressive thoughts which are always at hand, one asks oneself “what happened?” Why am I depressed? The same is done by noticing when one is irritated or angry, or tending to daydreaming, or other escape activities. In each of these instances the important thing is to be aware of them, and not to rationalize them in the thousand and one ways in which this can be done; furthermore, to be open to our own inner voice, which will tell us—often rather immediately—why we are anxious, depressed, irritated.