Take a Drink

We have so many beautiful ways to pay attention.

I heard an interview with David Barrie who wrote a book about animal navigation and all the different ways animals find their way—light, the pattern of waves, the Earth’s magnetic field, and many more. Animals know that their survival depends on paying attention. I’ve never seen a distracted, non-human animal.

We humans, on the other hand, tend to believe that what’s going on in our head is reality instead of attending to what exists around us so that we can discover reality.

My sister sent me an announcement about some paintings that are currently showing in a gallery nearby. I was in the same part of town as the gallery yesterday but didn’t even remember to look for, much less at, the paintings. My mind was occupied with the list of tasks I’d decided on for the evening.

One morning I poured myself a cup of assam tea but thought I had brewed some Earl Grey. For the first few sips I couldn’t figure out why the tea tasted bad. The tea tasted fine, but the flavor didn’t meet my expectations. We often ask the question, “What does such and such taste like?” wanting to fit it into a pre-existing category. Instead, we could take a drink wondering, “What is the taste of this tea?”

We have the capacity to plan for the future and remember and learn from the past, but we live in the present. Right now, the beauty of the world is yearning to relate to us. Right now we can hear the mockingbird showing off his repertoire. At this moment, we can walk through the dew on the grass, feel wetness, and look back to see the impression our miraculous feet made, dark against the startling green.

And maybe, if we’re still and silent enough, we’ll remember the pull of Earth’s magnetism.

Of Bees, Hummingbirds, and Us

Every day, the little hummingbird with the nest in the tree outside my house is sitting on her eggs when I pass by.

This week, a friend showed a few of us the bee hives he’s been keeping for three years without the bees making enough honey to harvest.

In both cases, I am amazed at the patience in these simple acts. My friend checks his hives once a week, each time suiting up, smoking the bees to confuse and settle them, and gently shifting and checking each rack. That’s 156 weeks so far, give or take.

Wildflowers, on the other hand, spring up with the first good dose of sunshine and warmth in a rainy year. Patience doesn’t seem to be their thing, yet this year’s crop must have lain dormant as seeds for years during the drought—the same drought that caused low honey production.

Inside each pound of honey is the nectar of two million wildflowers. I don’t know whether you can call the life of a worker bee a patient one as she gathers the nectar or whether she’s only doing what she knows how to do.

Maybe we know how to move through the world without rushing, to wait and give that which is coming into being our full attention, to allow ripeness to come in its own time. Maybe all we have to do is tune into that knowing.

There are times to do nothing but sit on the eggs and times to spring up and push through the earth, seasons to gather nectar and seasons to hang out in the hive eating honey. Nothing we do can hurry those along. Nothing can change periods best suited to waiting into moments that require action or vice versa.

The fullness of life comes in its own time. To participate in its coming and enjoy its fruits we need most of all to pay attention.

Thank You for Paying Attention

The poet Mary Oliver died yesterday at the age of eighty-three. As people share their gratitude for how she embraced the sacrament of existence, poetry is flooding the internet.

I got to know some of my friends from the inside out. Because of various circumstances, I learned about their interior lives—their emotions, their spiritual struggles and joys—before I knew their external details, such as where they worked or grew up.

Mary Oliver was an inside-out poet. She gave few interviews, but her poems generously offered her interior being to her readers in a way few do. I heard her read once, and she was delightfully human—both fallible, as she wondered out loud where she had put the next poem, and divine in her presence and her words.

She had the uncanny ability to marvel at nature and life in a way that revealed the beauty of it all but did not deny the harsh realities of the world. Her vision avoided getting tangled in how things should be and instead revealed the sacred nature of things as they are.

It’s hard to choose which of her poems to share, but here are a few that have meant a lot to me and so many others over the years.

May you rest in curiosity and continuing discovery, oh observer of and participant in the eternal. To whatever it is that happens after this life, you are surely now paying singular and exquisite attention.

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice—
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do—
determined to save
the only life you could save.

 

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

 

Messenger

My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird—
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be
astonished.
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,

which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.

 

 

Meeting Thursday

Thursday means multiple things in my life—playing soccer, blogging, receiving freshly baked bread from my mom (Yum!). This Thursday arrived particularly well-dressed, with the still-full moon hanging over the ocean in the morning while first light painted the sky in pastels.

In a conversation later in the day, one person noted gratefully that it was almost Friday, and within moments, another said that the week had gone by quickly. The rapid passing of our limited time on this Earth becomes more apparent as we age, yet we sometimes hurry it along all the more.

We complete one task while already focused on the next. We get through the day so we can go home. We wish for the week to end as we look forward to the weekend’s activities. We are surprised by how quickly time passes yet rarely inhabit the moment we’re in.

This week, Thursday knocked loudly enough to get through my preoccupations and say, hey, it’s me, Thursday, and I’m pretty cool. Let’s hang out. (Yes, Thursday is apparently a California surfer—who knew?)

Each moment contains multiple levels of living. What we are doing at any particular moment is certainly part of that, even if we’re doing “nothing.” But if we stay only on that level, we’ll never meet Thursday, and we’ll never meet ourselves.

These encounters require a different kind of attention, an awareness—or an openness to being aware—of eternity, the infinite depth of connection present between each tick of the clock. We are part of eternity now. We are already endlessly connected. We can dwell in eternity when we’re in the office, at the grocery store, or on the couch at home.

Eternity is waiting within and around us every day of the week. We need only pay attention to meet it.

Texting Jesus

One day the autocorrect on my phone decided I needed to get in touch with Jesus instead of my friend Jessica. Simple as that, “To: Jesus,” right there on the screen. What if I could text the Son of God? What would I say?

In all honesty, my first thought was to ask for stuff, maybe lots of stuff. After all, this is a direct connection to the Almighty, and listing our desires is the first form of prayer most of us are taught. Plus, you know, a new dining table would be nice.

But maybe I could do better; maybe we could have a deeper, more meaningful exchange. “Thank you” seemed like an appropriate choice. A little vague perhaps, but there are infinite options for what to say next and nothing opens up a connection like gratitude.

Then I wondered what Jesus would want to receive in a text. What would make his face light up with joy when his phone binged at him? And while we’re at it, what’s his ringtone?

I decided Jesus wouldn’t care what the words said—he’d just be glad that I got in touch. The Divine wants nothing more than to be intimate with us. It’s just waiting for us to wake up to its presence already permeating our lives and shoot off a quick “OMG!”

Jesus would love for us to be as constantly attuned and attentive to the movement of God in our lives as we are to our phones. Just imagine if we checked in with our connection to Spirit as often as we check our messages. I am always conscious of where my phone is. What if I were equally conscious of where my attention is and whether it is focused on growing in unity God?

If we were that tuned in, we might just get a text message from Jesus.


Note: The blog and I will be on vacation next week.

Heart Homework

When I first learned about the Pure Land sect of Buddhism in college, I understood that the monks said the name of Amitābha Buddha over and over in hopes of saying it with perfectly attentive consciousness because then they would attain enlightenment. I thought, that’s stupid, what does saying the Buddha’s name over and over have to do with enlightenment?

Turns out I wasn’t listening very well. First, according to that master spiritual resource Wikipedia, this chanting is a mindfulness exercise that can lead to a high state of consciousness different from enlightenment. Second, what you say matters much less than whether you pay attention when you say it. If you can say Cheez-Its with perfectly attentive consciousness, enlightenment might be right around the corner.

I recently read an explanation of how our interactions with the same wisdom teachings change over time. The author (apologies for not remembering who it was) pointed out that the teachings remain the same but we become more “transparent” to them. The interior stuff blocking their entry gets removed over time.

God must have wiped off a tiny pin head of space on my interior window recently because I’ve been seeing myself trying to figure out with my mind teachings that can only be grasped by the heart. Up until now, I simply resisted them, concluded they were wrong, and complained to God that I couldn’t get to wherever it is I’m supposed to be going.

This approach is like trying to solve an algebra problem using arithmetic and, after failing, saying that algebra doesn’t work. It’s true—algebra doesn’t work when approached solely with the rules of arithmetic. But that doesn’t mean algebra isn’t true. You just need to learn an entirely different way of approaching mathematics in order to do algebra.

I never took this, if I can’t do it, it’s not true approach in school. I assumed it was true, paid attention in class, did the homework, and learned. In life, on the other hand, I often start with resistance, especially in matters of the heart.

I’m not recommending that we throw away our ability to approach things critically, but I might try setting aside that tool occasionally and doing the heart homework to see what I can learn.

Momma Told Me

I don’t know why we’re designed to go two steps forward and one step back, but I’m convinced we are. Last week: Zen master. This week: whiner.

I exaggerate last week’s accomplishments, but I did have this miraculous moment of getting over myself. One of the software systems at work appears to have been designed to decrease productivity, and I generally spend a lot of time and energy hating it while using it.

This time a moment of spiritual brilliance flashed upon me. If I changed the goal from finishing the task to being present and paying attention, I could stop fighting the inefficient system because its inefficiency would no longer matter. So I changed the goal. My mind cleared up. My patience increased. My work probably improved, though I have no way to measure that.

Fast forward to this week. While working on another not favorite task, I said to myself, you could use this time as practice; where is your attention? I replied, somewhat snappishly, I don’t want to practice, I want to be miserable and complain. I clearly saw myself making that choice, but changing my approach still didn’t interest me. One step back—at least.

I kept this up most of the day and wore myself down sufficiently that, by the time I was chopping kale for dinner, I could consider the option of simply relaxing and accepting my sour disposition. Then this line from William Stafford’s poem “A Message from the Wanderer” came floating in: “Tell everyone just to remember/their names, and remind others, later, when we/ find each other.” Some days that’s all we can do, remember who we are, and that’s OK because that day is not eternal. The next day we’ll be capable of making different choices.

I’ll end with the rest of Stafford’s stanza because he sums it up so beautifully:

“…Tell the little ones
to cry and then go to sleep, curled up
where they can. And if any of us get lost,
if any of us cannot come all the way—
remember: there will come a time when
all we have said and all we have hoped
will be all right.”