As a kid, my brother would constantly tell me, “Get your head out of the clouds!” Although he loved my imagination, he wanted me to be aware of what was going on around me. The distinction was hard to understand but it taught me a valuable lesson. I believe in the importance of paying attention. So much life occurs at any given moment of any given day. By opening myself to what the world presents to me, I have found there are endless possibilities of what I can learn. Some folks call it presence or mindfulness. To me, and my brother, it was simply paying attention. Have you ever noticed how someone perks up when they realize you are “really” listening to them? To take the time to truly see someone, take notice of them and smile. It is an act of acknowledgement – recognizing other people, animals, plants, things or moments on their terms, not mine. Merleau-Ponty called it the painter’s gaze – one’s ability to wander into that which we perceive. He believed painters don’t simply replicate what they see. Rather they give themselves over to it, live within it, to understand what it is that makes a tree, this tree, a woman, this woman, a moment, this moment. The painter’s gaze is a way of being that calls attention to the particularity of life. Remembering to pay attention has been and continues to be a difficult challenge in the toil of my everyday life. Turning off the internal chatter, focusing on something outside of myself, giving myself over to the experience of the moment – truly letting go – none of this is easy for a neurotic New Yorker like me. But when I pay attention, I am a better person. It offers me a means of understanding even if I disagree. I understand why my niece Tina pulls her brother Eric’s hair when he takes her new toy; yet I still teach her that isn’t the right way to handle it. I understand how things like the abuse at Abu-Ghraib prison happens but I don’t condone it. I become more grateful and appreciative of what I have rather than yearning for what I don’t. I appreciate my shoddy couch, my small apartment and even smaller paychecks because it’s more than most people have. When I pay attention ideas pop off pages. Colors become more saturated; music more rich; people more beautiful even in sadness and pain. Life just becomes more. The chaos of the world blurs in the background and for just a few moments I notice the detail of a snowflake seconds before it melts on my hand and the way my father’s hazel eyes suddenly sparkle and his mouth hint at a grin when he watches my nephew James crawl. Sometimes I wonder about what I’m missing in the moments I rush. What small treasures are happening in the moments I act on previous recognition rather than current revelation? I hope someone somewhere has paid attention to them.
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