The word "attention" started tapping on me about a week after the 2016 election.
Literally "attention" was saying "pay attention to me."
It started with noticing how I kept using the word, saying that I didn't want to become complacent, that I was so hopeful those of us feeling such grief and a fire within us after the election would continue to "pay attention" and not lean back into our privileged complacency.
And then I saw a quote from Mary Oliver:
Attention is the beginning of devotion.
When I started thinking about it as my word, I was pushing back because it didn't hold a warmth for me. Not that it is a cold word, but after this year, I feel such a deep longing for warmth.
But as the events of 2016 continued to unfold and as I reflected on my own growth and stuckness, it began to feel like it was indeed the word I just might need alongside me.
These other words from Mary Oliver, found in Our World and quoted here, speak to another layer of this word that feels so deeply important:
It has frequently been remarked, about my own writings, that I emphasize the notion of attention. This began simply enough: to see that the way the flicker flies is greatly different from the way the swallow plays in the golden air of summer. It was my pleasure to notice such things, it was a good first step. But later, watching M. when she was taking photographs, and watching her in the darkroom, and no less watching the intensity and openness with which she dealt with friends, and strangers too, taught me what real attention is about. Attention without feeling, I began to learn, is only a report. An openness — an empathy — was necessary if the attention was to matter. Such openness and empathy M. had in abundance, and gave away freely… I was in my late twenties and early thirties, and well filled with a sense of my own thoughts, my own presence.
My favorite movie is Lincoln. This drives my six year old crazy because 1) she isn't old enough to see it and 2) she really wants me to have the same favorite movie as her or at the very least choose a Disney movie because they are obviously the best.
Recently, I was explaining why I love the movie so much. First, it is simply a fantastic movie. The acting, the editing, the story itself. All of it. Second, Abraham Lincoln becomes more of a hero to me every single time I learn more about him. Such a complex man serving our country at such an intense time while holding his own internal and external grief plus depression. Just wow. Third, Daniel Day Lewis.
This needs its own paragraph: At some point in between the first and second time I saw Lincoln in the theatre, I read an article where Daniel Day Lewis said something like, "I just miss him" when talking about how he felt about the movie. He meant he literally missed Lincoln because he was no longer submerged in playing him daily.
That kind of commitment, that kind of all in, well, it makes me weak at the knees.
I was telling someone about this and said something like, "We reward Daniel Day Lewis with an Oscar and critical acclaim when he submerges himself in the world of Lincoln and literally pretends to be him for months. If I suddenly said, 'This is the year I will pretend to be Mary Oliver each day and will walk every morning and then come home and write a poem.' And I will ask those around me to call me Mary; well, people would think I was crazy."
I suppose it would make for a very cool blog and Instagram persona. Though perhaps a bit more than a little odd because Ms. Oliver is still alive.
But wouldn't it be something to infuse yourself with the wisdom and daily practices of someone you admire?
This idea of attention being a combination of openness and empathy alongside deeply noticing the world around you (and within) stirs something deep in me.
I might not take a walk every single morning, but I want to keep this idea of attention as a way of devotion, as a way of making sense of things, and as a way of staying open and connected to empathy - as a way of learning about others and finding connection - close to me. I want to live a life of attention.
In many ways, I already do. But I'm ready to go deeper. I'm ready to embody more of what I teach and write about. And I'm ready to be a student and listen and listen some more.
I'm taking a companion with me on this journey, courage. Specifically, the phrase "courage, dear heart" from CS Lewis' book The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. More on that in another post soon.
As I always do, I've started a Pinterest board with inspiration for my word, and you can find it here. This can be a great way to stay connected to your word while also continuing to unpack the layers of meaning it holds for you.
I'm also going to take Ali's class and work with my word in a few other ways. Again, more on that soon.
I guess I should say this: I'm officially going to start blogging several times a week again. This blog is where I first started unpacking the idea of being present (hence the blog name "be present, be here") and before the world of social media, I would capture my photos and words here. This space became evidence of the ways I was paying attention in my life. Well, I'm ready for that to begin again. So here we go...
You can find the pocket talisman I've been carrying with my word stamped on it in my shop over here.
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