How the Art of Paying Attention Heals Us

August 08, 2016

paying attentionI’ve been ruminating recently on the idea that there must be a secret that can get us through hard times.

There must be a secret to healing along the way as we pick up wounds in our daily living so they don’t pile high inside us.

I’ve been looking for ways beyond the obvious practices, the things we know we should do, that cause us to find peace, to see the face of God, to grow. I’ve been meditating on a phrase I read recently from The Artists Way:

“Our quality of life is in proportion, always, to the capacity for delight. The capacity for delight is the gift of paying attention. The reward for paying attention is always healing.”

As I’ve thought back through my life to the moments when I truly experienced delight, they are almost always linked to snapshots in time when I was fully connected to my present. I believe this is because when we are fully connected to our present, we create a pathway to God.

Even my most painful moments still held a sliver of hope because I was feeling them, not numbing them. They were seared into me with a hot iron intensity that only comes from being fully awake. Most of these moments also happened in nature, in a brief pause of stillness, in awareness.

Lately, I’ve felt blocked a lot. Blocked at writing, blocked at life. The stuckness of limbs moving through Louisiana mud. The summer seemed to locomotive through me with IVF and blood draws, the feeling that I could barely come up for air before being flattened by another demand.

I found myself doing more things I didn’t want, than I wanted.

That’s not how I want to live. That’s not a road that leads to delight.

Yet I knew it was temporary, a sacrifice we were making in the now, for the future, but it still felt uncomfortable giving up so many months of my life to this machine of reproduction with only faith for the end result. While I wanted to go on expeditions, or see friends, to work on my memoir, or go to the beach, I was flying across the country getting sonograms, for just the chance that I might actually be able to get pregnant. There were highs, and lows, and disappointments. And we’re still in the middle of it.

I felt crinkled dry with life, especially with every dark news story about someone being shot based on the color of their skin, and political choices that made me want to cry. There was sadness attached to everything it seemed.

It was hard to find anything solid to hold onto.

I know I’m not the only one who felt this way at times this past summer, and I hold you close in my heart. I want to say it’s going to be ok.

I’d picked up The Artist’s Way again even though I kept failing at it, because a part of me knew I needed it now, knew I needed it like I needed the retreat of the forest. I knew I had to nurture this heart of mine if I was going to be able to stay sane.

I started doing my morning pages with more furious frequency, getting up early to crawl to the splintered bench in the back yard, the morning foggy and cool, light barely filtering through the splayed branches of bowed bushes.

I watched as the the soft brown deer ducked her head between the trees, her wet nose quivering in caution.

I listened to the crow as she called for her mate. I heard the sound of the the leaves dropping to the ground in wooded symphony. I paid attention. And I noticed beauty in the ordinary.

Slowly, it was like I started breathing again.

But I knew I needed more. More of this.

The soul needs nourishment like the body does. 

The hubs and I had been planning a camping expedition to refuel, but we kept canceling because our bodies were too exhausted by the circumstance of life to take it.

But somewhere in a part of my heart I don’t allow to speak very often, there was a voice of intuition telling me I needed this too.

There’s a part of our heart we often shun because we’re afraid it’s selfish, or we’ll make a mistake, but listening to it has only ever opened a wider path to healing. I’m still learning God is in these whispers inside me, these urges that sound more loving and nourishing than I usually allow myself. 

So we practiced some self care and escaped to Stanislaus, to jagged granite and pine, to wood chipped forest floor, fern, and rushing creekside. We gazed at an unpolluted sky.

unpolluted sky

There is physical rest and there is deep boned emotional rest, when your insides finally turn the the chatter on mute, pull up a lawn chair, and recline. They are different and I needed the latter.

I looked around and saw I was surrounded by beauty.

The burnt orange tufts of pine needles dancing on the wind like a chorus of hallelujah.

The way the mountains were draped in a cloak of amethyst in the evening.

All around us was glory.

I saw that in a universe of suffering and endings, we can always press into the now for grace.

To trust this present moment is to trust God will be enough in it. This act of paying attention is really an act of connection, of worship, of prayer, of surrender.

There will always be enough in this here and now. This is how we survive the terror of the future, the blame of the past. This is how we survive our unknowns and our questions and the fear in our tired bodies.

Our stubborn joy, our delight, our tuning into what God is saying in all the tiniest gifts around us, this is what leads to wholeness. 

And every once in a while, we are blessed with excess.

These are the gifts bestowed on those who stop and notice, who turn their full attention to the now, and this is how I learned that the art of paying attention can heal us. 

And wouldn’t you know, I wrote my first poem I’ve written in some time.

God grants us creativity and creativity always flows from loving ourselves enough to nourish the cracked places.

I know we’re all busy (especially you mama’s) but stop for a moment. Breathe in. Sit back. Relax. Read. And let this moment with its own wonder, be enough.

by Sarita Hartz 8/6/16

The spindle of the near naked
pine tree rising against the reverberations of granite,
like a watchtower signaling rest.
Wind rises through needles, a sound like
surrender, an ocean collapsing against the shore.
But it is gentler somehow, a less violent capitulation,
more a mother hushing her newborn.

The dog nestles the husband
on the plaid blanket lulled to sleep
by the forest. The sun makes patchwork shapes
on their skin, snowflakes of light.
I love Rosie’s black nose twitching as ants
cross her. I love my husband’s tapered fingers
limp, smudged with charcoal.

Breathing in cypress and conifer,
smoke and resin,
iron and wood,
the ground fragrant with dead life and new life
I wonder at it all.

This particular moment imprinted on time, this now
never to be reborn, remanufactured or relived,
how this remaining, this singular attention
soothes the ache of all

An airplane engine is heard overhead,
a distant dull scraping of sky, the only
muffled reminder of machinery, politics, fearful
arguments lacking courage.
They have no landing in
this cocoon of forest.

Neither past nor future war to gain
my affection, my appetite for brooding
succumbs to the wisdom of trees, or of the
God I find imprinted in the hollows of
cratered bark, a stubborn resistance of hope
despite the terrible onslaught of time.

Shadows of afternoon appear, the ribcage
of the snoring husband opens wide
in pleasure, in release.
The wind grows louder in the canyon below,
echoing its joy.
And I sigh to think of
we who both find our peace separately,
but together, embraced by the earth.


What have you noticed today that’s beautiful?