Paying Attention In A Particular Way

My mum and I are very different. She is slow, careful and creative and I am fast, consistent and impatient. Everything my mum creates is meandering and beautiful, whereas everything I do is optimised and on time. I think it is because of, and not in spite of, our differences that she continues to be one of my greatest teachers. 

Last week, she sent me a piece of writing about her garden in France. It struck me that the opening and closing passages closely parallel my own experience of this crisis from the other side of the world. 

“We have been in lock-down for five weeks now and I have spent at least some part of nearly every day in the garden. With this amount of time among these plants, I see detail as I haven’t had time to observe it before.” 

One aspect of this pandemic that has been therapeutic for me is that it has forced me to slow down and reduce my sphere of attention. I quickly learned that there was no use trying to plan more than a few days ahead and have since discovered much more subtlety and nuance in my day-to-day. Confined to the same four walls, each day I notice something different in the house. Following the identical route on my run every morning, I notice incremental improvements in my breathing and running gait. And every time I practice Pigeon pose, I can tune more deeply into the sense of letting go in my hips.

It reminds me of the line from Proust, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” 

My mum closed her piece with: 

“Tomorrow will be different. Perhaps the peony that tantalises with red buds that just won’t open, will show its true colours. Or perhaps it will be a new crop of gorgeous, but unwelcome buttercups, shining defiantly from the grass path.”

This, to me, reflects the Buddha’s teaching on impermanence. Even when everything on the surface looks the same, if you pay close enough attention, you’ll see that everything is changing. No two moments are the same. I find this to be comforting in a few ways. It illustrates that when times are hard, the one thing you know for sure is that whatever you’re going through will not stay the same for long. And if you’re stuck in that feeling of Groundhog Day, by fine-tuning your awareness, you’ll see that every day is in fact quite different from the last. The food I cooked for myself today tastes subtly different to the identical breakfast I prepared yesterday. And the dogs took slightly different detours on the run this morning, in the pursuit of fresh, new scents. 

Are you enjoying this opportunity to slow down? To observe beauty in the everyday? And watch the unfolding of subtle changes in your environment? 

Life feels much more meditative to me at the moment. I find that I’m more sensitive to the actual experience of living—to how things actually feel, sound, taste and appear. Rather than to how I think they do or think they should.

2 comments

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  • Abi – I heard about a Biology teacher who had his students write down everything they noticed about a fish he put in front of each student. He then left the room. The students didn’t know when he would be back…so they wrote…and then when the class was up, they left. Next class – same thing…..He did this for 3 entire class periods. The purpose was just as you write about – to notice, and then look some more – and more….We are so blind to what is!

    • I love this! There is so much beauty in the every day. “[There are] many other small joys, perhaps the especially delightful one of smelling a flower or a piece of fruit, of listening to one’s own or others’ voices, of hearkening to the prattle of children. And a tune being hummed or whistled in the distance, and a thousand other tiny things from which one can weave a bright necklace of little pleasures for one’s life.” Hermann Hesse