Monday, May 19, 2014

Attention



Photo by: Megan Black
‘I have wonderful news!’ ... ‘This is wonderful news you want to hear,’...‘You are going to live a good and long life filled with great and terrible moments that you cannot even imagine yet!


Anybody who has read, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green probably recognized this quote. IMHO, The Fault in our Stars is an exquisite book everyone should read, when you are mature enough to understand and enjoy the meaning of words like exquisite, and hopefully, before you see the movie that is coming to theaters this June. Although I love movies, books are always better. You get to dive deeper. You get to live inside the characters. Reading calls out a different form of attention than watching. And, attention is my theme for today.


Although I will not ask you to “Pay Attention.” I never liked that phrase. Probably because of the word pay. I don’t like to pay for things. Not because I am cheap, at least I hope not, but because of the obligation behind it. I don’t know, maybe I don’t like be told what to do.


So instead I will ask you, as a favor, to please, give me the kindness of your attention. For truly, there is no greater act of generosity you can do than offer your full attention to someone.


As I said at the beginning, you are going to live a long life, with great and terrible moments…”What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” The poet Mary Oliver, another great writer, asks this question in one of her poems. By the way, I quote a lot. I like quotes. Saves me the trouble of writing. Anyway, Mary asks us what do we plan to do with this one, wild and precious life we get and she answers her own question in another poem. She says, “Instructions for living a life: pay attention, be astonished, tell about it.”  Astonished is another of those ten dollar words I love. To me, it means to hold wonder and awe in equal measure.  


John Green  would agree with Mary Oliver’s instructions for living a life. In another passage from “The Fault in Our Stars.” He writes, “I believe the universe wants to be noticed. I think the universe is improbably biased toward the consciousness, that it rewards intelligence in part because the universe enjoys its elegance being observed.” He tells us that the real heroes are the people who notice things.


The Buddhist philosophy is founded on mindfulness. The Dalai Lama describes mindfulness as kind, loving awareness or attention without judgement. It isn’t easy. Especially now when we have so many things to keep us distracted. Which is why we have to practice it. Practice mindfulness. Practice being attentive and letting go of judgement and our need to make something good or bad.


There are few absolutes in life, few things you can be certain about but I know this to be true in my heart, whatever you give your attention to will be transformed by it, will grow from it. And YOU will grow from it. If I asked you to become aware of your breathing...without asking you to change it,  just by bringing your awareness to the breath, it will deepen. The same can be said of how you sit, or how you listen, or look...once you give your attention to that moment you will see that you actually need to try harder NOT to make it better. This is the heart of meditation. Mary Oliver again says, “I do not know how to pray, I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass, how to stroll through the fields.”


So whatever you want to do with your one wild and precious life, whatever that is, it will be richer if you give it, or practicing giving it, your full attention.


St. Thomas said, “The reward for patience... is more patience.” The same is true of attention. The more you practice attention, shifting your awareness, the more you are able to practice it. And how do you do that? Set the goal or intention each day that you will give attention to some area of your life. Something small. Something near you. Maybe you will give attention to how you breathe, or what makes you laugh, or the words you say, or perhaps you will do your best to look at the sky and feel the sun on your face.


Because life is full of both great and terrible moments, there will be many times in your life practicing attention will demand courage. But, I still believe, with all the love in my heart, that the mind is powerful and the focal point of our thoughts can be transformed. In the same way energy from the sun transforms life, or the pull of the moon affects the tides, consciousness radiates.


You will find the more you practice attention, the more you appreciate what is given you, now, in this moment. All that you need is here.  Truly, what better time to observe the universe’s elegance than right now, when the lilacs are in bloom, when the trees are blossoming? Notice our beautiful lake, how everyday, sometimes every hour, it changes.

The Great Sufi Poet Rumi wrote, “Let the beauty we love be what we do.
Photo by: Megan Black
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the earth.” The Gospel of St Thomas tells us Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven is spread on the Earth but men do not see it. Be the hero or heroine of your own life. See the kingdom of heaven spread before you. Notice the beauty and elegance of the universe in the moments you are given, offer your attention to your “one wild and precious life.”

Every Monday morning we meet in our Chapel at Grosse Pointe Academy. Today I gave the talk. This is the transcript from it. I thought I would follow Mary Oliver's advice and "Tell about it." 

4 comments:

  1. You got my attention and I love you.

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  2. WOW...this is just a lovely powerful and uplifting post, Megan! Thank you!
    I do try to give my full attention to life, but sometimes I fail. This post I will keep handy to read again when I need a pick me up!

    I also try to embrace peak experiences - those transcendent moments of pure joy and elation. Those sparkling and gem like slivers of time that stand out from everyday events. Most recently it was sitting on the balcony with my Mom & Dad looking out over the Atlantic ocean on a crisp sunny day.
    Sometimes it's as simple as closing your eyes, smiling, and tilt your head up to the heavens and breathe deep thinking or saying even out loud - this is it. This is one moment of bliss.

    Your excellent blog post has brought that back to me to day - a day that has been forecast to be rainy with storms - but those can be magnificent as well! Have a blessed day, friend!
    Cheers!
    ~Gwyneth Jones

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    Replies
    1. You deeply honor me, Daring Librarian. So glad I could pay back a fraction of the influence you have had on my learning and life.

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