Paying Attention

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Half way up the bank above the upper terrace of lawn stands a huge rotten tree stump. Alone in a sea of grass it looks more like an outcrop of rock than the remains of a tree and its presence there looks intentional; it commands such a dominating position above the smoothly mown surface of the grass below that it can be seen from the other side of the park and stands out like a beacon.

The other day I climbed up the bank to take a closer look. I’ve passed by so many times without stopping that up until now I’ve only known it as a landmark and I thought I’d like to get to know it better. I have no idea of its age (I tried to count the rings but the surface is too worn and pitted), or its history, or what stories it might have to tell.

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There are too many things, and too many people that I don’t pay enough attention to. It’s just so easy to think Oh, there’s so-and-so, and not even stop to acknowledge the unique individuality that is that tree or that dog or that person. I do it all the time, and I thought about this as I crept over and around and even underneath this stump-of-a-tree that is so rich and wonderful a thing, and so much more extraordinary and beautiful than I’d thought it was, seeing it every day from a distance.

Looking closely at one thing and giving it my full attention, being fully there with all my senses and thinking of nothing else reminds me of how much I miss, when much of the time I am not feeling and seeing and being, but rushing about thinking of – what? Of the past, of the future, of things I’ve got to do and things that haven’t happened yet. And in this state I am nowhere at all, not here, not there, not anywhere.

I like to be reminded in this way. I am gently tugged by the sleeve by something I too often ignore, and letting myself be led I find again that there is wonder and magic and extraordinary beauty all around, if only I choose to stop and pay attention.

At My Feet

Some of the things that are most familiar to me – right in front of my very eyes or at my feet – really deserve more of my attention.

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I sit on this carpet. I walk over it too, but carefully, in slippers or bare feet. I kneel on it, lie on it, do some of my best resting on it and I think of it as a friend.

Afternoon Carpet
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It’s been a haven for me to come home to, a place to settle down. A place to think, or better still, to stop thinking and let go of everything.

I’m sitting here right now, and it’s time to stop writing, time to just sit, do nothing, and watch as the afternoon sun lifts the colours and bathes us in pale gold.

Love, and Never a Word Spoken

One afternoon not long ago I fell in love with an emu. It was at the annual fair, where the showground always has displays of animals – mostly horses and cattle – but sometimes some more exotic creatures.

In the centre of the animal enclosure was this enormous bird, corralled in a pen with no label or sign-board to say what it was or give any information about it whatsoever, and I gazed at it in wonder. Taking photographs simply wasn’t enough – I took out a notebook and started to draw, and became totally engrossed.

It was huge – a great feathery mound on massive, powerful legs which for most of the time were folded underneath it, supporting its extraordinary bulk like two perfectly positioned brackets, and the more I looked the more I found there was no part of it that didn’t fascinate me; the tail feathers were amazing, almost like fern fronds as they emerge from the growing plant, all crimped and crinkly, and its feet – I held my breath in awe when it finally rose to its full height and came over to inspect me, and I could see the huge scaly toes tipped with horny claws, and the soft squashy pads of the heel of the feet that looked as if they could run very fast over any terrain, and do horrible things if used as a means of defence.

The thing about drawing, rather than just looking at something or taking photographs is that after a while your awareness of everything else drops away; standing in that busy showground I could have been completely alone with that bird, in the middle of nowhere. And then something else happens; you’re drawing something, and you begin to feel that somehow the boundary between where you end and it begins is somehow blurred, and there’s no longer a profound distinction between the two of you. Which is when I realise I have fallen in love……

We live in a culture dominated by words, and learn and inform ourselves constantly by reading, talking, and thinking verbally – in fact so much so that we believe we can only understand something, or know something, or learn about it, by using words. This is so utterly untrue, that when you get used to the idea of letting go of verbal thought and instead start to understand in a non-verbal way, you realise how narrow and restricting it is to think all the time in words.

Of course drawing isn’t the only way to step aside from thought and immerse yourself totally in something so that you are in a different world of understanding. I know people who do it by gardening, and others who play an instrument, or listen to music, or walk in the woods, or play with their children. There must be hundreds of ways. Every day in the park, I watch people walking their dogs who are finding this kind of connection, and there have been cats, and dogs, and horses, and even guinea-pigs who have given me immediate entry into joyful, wordless love – there’s no other word for it. Thankfully I know that for me, drawing is always a reliable doorway into the non-verbal part of my mind, and I need this doorway – to get into this other way of thinking, of being in the moment.