Learning to Pay Attention
I read a book earlier this year that I really loved. It’s “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron. One of the insights that really impacted me was how she described being present, fully present, in the moments of life. The basic principle is so simple: pay attention. It begins by paying attention to the things around us.
So in the spirit of practice, I pulled up a chair with a view of Lake Michigan this morning. What follows is what I see.
The first thing I noticed when I looked up is a beautiful tree. It’s that nice blend of orange and yellow that makes you smile and think, “I love the Fall.” It’s not a big tree, but it stands out because there are no others in sight with such vibrant color. In fact, it’s kind of sad that most of the other trees in view are either brown or bare. I have reflected on more than one occasion this year that the colors are not a brilliant.
The lake is dark today. The sun must be blocked by clouds in the east because the lake is a keep shade of blue-gray. Usually, at this time of day, with the sun out, I can see the waves on the surface of the water, but not today. The sun is peeking, though. I can see a few bright spots in the clouds above the water. OH! While I’m writing, the sun is coming out big time. That tree, it’s glowing and really popping out in the scene.
The grass is still green and creating a nice base for the painting of nature. Green is an interesting color to me in nature, because it seems to match everything. I mean, how is green grass a nice foundation for a colorful forest, and a great contrast for the blue water and cloudy sky? Yet, in my own closet, I can’t seem to match a green shirt to anything. Ha, God has a better sense of color than me.
There is a road between me and the lake. The occasional car goes driving by, and if you watch them from the moment they enter view, until they are gone, it appears to be moving slowly. That’s interesting, because I know they are going at least 55mph. That’s the power of perspective. From afar, fast things seem slow. Is it safe to assume, that up close, slow things seem fast?
Gray clouds. Being honest, this makes me a bit sad. Not because gray clouds once in a while are that bad, but because it’s a sign of what is to come in this part of the country. Gray is the color of winter in Michigan. Without a doubt, my least favorite thing about living here. There is spot or two where I can see the whole cloud, and the top of it is pearly white. Those spots really stand out on the skyline.
Good reminder, that the same cloud which is dark gray on the bottom, is proudly white on the top. I have heard it said that, “The sun is always shining, even if it’s behind the clouds.” One thing is for sure: cloudy Winters make you really appreciate Spring, Summer, and Fall.
I stopped again to look up and notice something more, and my first reaction was that I have already seen it all. That’s impossible. There are infinite details in the scene ahead of me. I think it’s interesting that my brain, my focus, my attention, is checked out. How much am I missing because of that thought?
The car that just drove by was black, and had a huge dent in the drivers door. I hope the driver is ok from that fender bender. There is a stone wall wrapping around the entrance to our buildings. It reminds me of the limestone in southern Indiana. There is tall grass on the other side of the road. It’s doing that gentle wave of wheat in the plains. It’s not wheat though, just grass.
Trees have so many branches. One huge trunk, but hundreds of small branches and thousands of leaves. Many of those leaves are now on the ground around their sturdy trunks. I have not seen any animals today, which is unusual. I would have expected to see at least a squirrel. Maybe one of those black squirrels that still surprise me. Growing up, I always thought squirrels were brown or maybe gray. Not black. In Michigan we have black squirrels.
The sun is going in and out, moment to moment. I almost started to write about how bright everything is becoming, but then it faded right as I was looking. Within seconds. That’s really wild to feel how my emotional state rises and falls with the light. As things brighten up, my energy level increases and I want to write about the glow. But as the sun faded again (probably blocked by a selfish cloud) I had a slight sinking of my energy. That is why I love that the Bible says God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.
Paying attention is not natural. But I think the lesson for me today is learning to stick with it longer than my brain wants to. As I do it, more joy creeps in. Peace builds its house in my heart. This is a beautiful scene, part of a beautiful life. Being free to sit here and write about what I see is something many people in the world will not experience. I didn’t intend to hit the “starving children in Africa” sentiment but it’s true!
To keep looking, at this point, requires me to intentionally, by choice, slow my breathing and hold still. My legs are getting bouncy and I’m ready to stop writing. I want to reach my edge, a principle of good practice, to help me grow. So… I’m going to look up and breath slowly ten times. Hold on a minute.
Harder for me than you… it just moves down a paragraph. Thanks for waiting, though. It was really challenging to keep my mind focused on just the scene ahead. Thanks Julia, for the challenge and lesson of learning (and practice) to pay attention.