When was the last time you stopped and observed your surroundings? More so, when have you paid attention without defaulting to judgement? For example, observing nature for the sake of observation. Or people watching without people-judging? Or paying attention to the intricacies of day-to-day life - sights, sounds, and smells?
Such attentiveness doesn’t always come naturally. Much of everyday life is governed by objectives that afford little to something as trivial as attentiveness. And in many ways, this is unavoidable and necessary to live a life of meaning and conviction. We can’t know everything and everyone in-depth. But too often our conviction comes without any genuine knowledge and understanding. In the frenetic pace of modern life, where speed of information is more important than depth of information, we neglect the simple art of attentiveness.
I’m reminded of an insight from Robert Pirsig’s classic, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance:
“We’re in such a hurry most of the time we never get much chance to talk. The result is a kind of endless day-to-day shallowness, a monotony that leaves a person wondering years later where all the time went and sorry that it’s all gone.”
Beyond a lack of daily interaction, I think such “monotony” can apply to everyday life as well. “We never get much chance to...” well, pay attention.
We know about our beautiful world, but do we know our world?
We know about our neighbors, but do we know our neighbors?
I went for a brief walk one morning earlier this week. I’ll admit, I was distracted. I walked and reflected. But it was mostly “productive” thinking - class lecture, sermon preparation, upcoming meetings (all important things). I managed to post this picture on Instagram (attentiveness or needing attention?). For a few moments, however, an attentive silence drowned out the noise of my distracted mind. Crisp air. Ebbing tide. Snow capped mountains. Frost crawling across the lines of a wooden boardwalk. And while distraction quickly reclaimed its place in my mind, these moments of attentiveness reminded me that efficiency cannot only be a matter of pace, but also of value and depth. Maybe the most productive thing you’ll all week is to simply stop for a moment. And instead of busyness, practice attentiveness.