The Practice of Paying Attention

I am working on paying attention. Actually I have moved it up several notches, to reverence. In the midst of this fascinating book which I can relate to really well in terms of my relationship with both God and religion, is a discussion about reverence. About slowing down and considering things in their smallest, complete detail – to revere them. I am forced to do this somewhat reluctantly at this early hour, as my upstairs neighbour and the man delivering the paper once again engage in early morning discussion.

I live in a building where people know each other at least enough to say ‘hello’, and maybe ‘how are you’ although not many that you would ask ‘what are you at?’. In the mix is the fellow who lives above me, who is home much of the time, and prefers to smoke and pass the time on his balcony. And talk with the neighbours as they come and go from the building. This morning the man’s cats woke him at 5:00 AM, not that I know him well enough to ask, ‘Hey neighbour, what time did your cats wake you on this particular day?’. I heard him tell this to the paper delivery man, just before 7:00. You see, if folks see upstairs neighbour on his balcony, they always say a friendly ‘hi’, although often neighbour says so first. Sometimes, there follows a bit of chit chat about weather, the state of politics, the birds darting around protecting their nests, the stolen car aerial flags, and what have you. Today was the day to discuss the early rising (due to the cats waking him) as well as some critter that the paper guy saw early one morning. I have already forgotten what kind of critter it was; possibly an otter, a beaver, or a magical creature from some lagoon, so that part of it doesn’t matter I suspect. The point is that the chit chat is important for these two men today.

What does this have to do with reverence? Well, my first reaction is to get very short tempered about the noise outside my window. If you’ve read earlier entries to this blog, you know that we’ve been subjected to parties in the wee hours, midnight scurrying as people dodge their lease and move out, birds nesting in my bathroom fan and making all kinds of eerie noises, as well as the neighbourly chit chat outside. Reverence comes from looking at the minute details of the noise, considering what each person – particularly upstairs neighbour – is dealing with. The man is ill, very much so (although he does continue to smoke...but at some point, it no longer matters does it?), and has relatively few things to look forward to in his day. The contact that he gets from the balcony is company for him. He is the neighbourhood weather reporter, barometer, and crime watcher. When someone moved from the building, he let me know right away so that I could see the superintendent and claim a better parking spot for myself. He trims the neighbours cat claws for her so that she does not get scratched. He has a good heart and so the noise, while annoying in the midst of my reluctantly waking up, can be forgiven. Though I was up working and writing until late last night, being up early this morning means that I can get back to it and on to other things rather than wile the morning away in bed. This is the start of breaking down and looking at details, the beginnings of reverence.

Reverence takes time, and it takes practice I think. It is, however, a way to discover a different perspective on life. A way to uncover meaning, by looking at things on a small scale, and to reveal treasure within that we would otherwise have dismissed. It is not necessarily about discovering the divine, although it is really about uncovering the divine within everything. Next time something catches your attention, try looking at it again; that second look can make all the difference in the world.

If you are curious about the book, it is called An Altar in the World, by Barbara Taylor Brown, and the chapter I am referring to is called The Practice of Paying Attention. Fascinating.


Lynda said...

Beautiful Pam. I love that and will remind myself to practice it more frequently as well. Thanks for sharing.

Pam Robertson said...

You are so welcome Lynda. It does give a healthy hand at looking at things differently. I am getting a lot out of it.