A Girl Named Leney

THE JOURNAL

Paying Attention


I've been reading this book, The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron, and there was a particularly interesting passage that I read the other day which made quite an impression on me.
I thought I'd share it here with you guys. It's a little long, so bare with me.
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Very often, a creative block manifests itself as an addiction to fantasy. Rather than working or living the now, we spin our wheels and indulge in daydreams of could have, would have, should have. One of the great misconceptions about the artistic life is that it entails great swathes of aimlessness. The truth is that the creative life involves great swathes of attention. 
Attention is a way to connect and survive.
     "Flora and fauna reports," I used to call the long, winding letters from my grandmother. "The forsythia is starting and this morning I saw my first robin. . . . The roses are holding even in this heat. . . . The sumac has turned and that little maple down by the mailbox. . . . My Christmas cactus is getting ready. . . ."
     I followed my grandmother's life like a long home movie: a shot of this and a shot of that, spliced together with no pattern that I could ever see. "Dad's cough is getting worse. . . . The little Shetland looks like she'll drop her foal early. . . . Joanne is back in the hospital at Anna. . . . We named the new boxer Trixie and she likes to sleep in my cactus bed, can you imagine?"
     I could imagine. Her letters made that easy. Life through grandma's eyes was a series of small miracles: the wild tiger lilies under the cottonwoods in June; the quick lizard scooting under the gray river rock she admired for its satiny finish. Her letters clocked the seasons of the year and her life. She lived until she was eighty, and the letters came until the very end. When she died, it was as suddenly as her Christmas cactus: here today, gone tomorrow. She left behind her letters and her husband of sixty-two years. Her husband, my grandfather Daddy Howard, an elegant rascal with a gambler's smile and a loser's luck, had made and lost several fortunes, the last of them permanently. He drank them away, gambled them away, tossed them away the way she threw crumbs to her birds. He squandered life's big chances the way she savored the small ones. "That man," my mother would say.
     My grandmother lived with that man in tiled Spanish houses, in trailers, in a tiny cabin halfway up a mountain, in a railroad flat, and, finally, in a house made out of ticky-tacky where they all looked just the same. "I don't know how she stands it," my mother would say, furious with my grandfather for some new misadventure. She meant she didn't know why. 
     The truth is, we all knew how she stood it. She stood it by standing knee-deep in the flow of life and paying close attention.
     My grandmother was gone before I learned the lesson her letters were teaching: survival lies in sanity, and sanity lies in paying attention. Yes, her letters said, Dad's cough is getting worse, we have lost the house, there is no money and no work, but the tiger lilies are blooming, the lizard has found that spot of sun, the roses are holding despite the heat.
     My grandmother knew what a painful life had taught her: success or failure, the truth of a life really has little to do with its quality. The quality of life is in proportion, always, to the capacity for delight. The capacity for delight is the gift of paying attention.

Later on in the passage she writes

Writing about attention, I see that I have written a good deal about pain. This is no coincidence. It may be different for others, but pain is what it took to teach me to pay attention. In times of pain, when the future is too terrifying to contemplate and the past too painful to remember, I have learned to pay attention to right now. The precise moment I was in was always the only safe place for me. Each moment, taken alone, was always bearable. In the exact now, we are all, always, all right. 

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It is in the paying attention that we learn to enjoy life despite it's many trials and pains.
And, without fully realizing it, that is why I so often do many of the things that I do.

It's why I take pictures. To help me focus (no pun intended) on the subject at hand, to pay attention as fully and completely as I can so that I can soak in a moment and enjoy it. 
It's why I blog. So I am made to recount good things and share them with others to keep my perspective a positive one, even when things are hard and maybe not so easily enjoyable.
It's also why I go on meandering walks in new places, it's why I read new books, it's why I create and make art, in all of it's varying forms.
It's the principle behind my core value of enjoying the art of the every day. 

Granted, there are often times I choose not to do these things as well.
Not to blog something, because it is too precious, and sharing it with the world would take away from it and having it be something just for me. The same with taking photos. There really are some moments too beautiful to attempt to capture, document and recreate. However, these things are still tools in a way, to help remind me to pay attention more, even when I don't use them to help facilitate that.
And I still do choose to share things in this way a lot of the time, because it is often part of how I enjoy them and I love encouraging others to do likewise in their life. Because I am so often similarly encouraged by others in this way as well.
Not to gloss over the bad stuff, not to brag, not to portray that I have a perfect life, and not to say "hey look at me!". (Although there have definitely been times where I've done all of those things and there of course is always the ever present issue of comparing your real life to someone's best moments via social media. Which is a whole other topic for another time...)
But to help remind myself, and others, that even though there is a lot of pain and problems, and messy stuff that we all deal with on a daily basis, there is still so much beauty and life and wonder in the world.

Paying attention to the details in life, the things that can go unnoticed if you're not looking for them, is what reminds us why life is so beautiful.  



So that's my rant for the week (sorry for all of the run-on sentences. I'm terrible with those...). 
I'm going to go outside and smell the roses now.
Even though they're at present caked in pollen. 



"Develop interest in life as you see it; in people, things, literature, music- the world is so rich, simply throbbing with rich treasures, beautiful souls and interesting people. Forget yourself." -Henry Miller