The animating energy of this common phrase
It's quite simple: One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes. —Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
Pay attention! It's a mantra for mindfulness. It's an invitation for political engagement. I've written about paying attention in this newsletter.
On a walk this week, I was thinking about paying attention.
Pay attention to the sunrise.
Pay attention to the wind.
Pay attention to what's happening in the community, city, state, county, and world.
It's good advice for living; I understand why it's a mantra for everything from mindfulness to political engagement. Pay attention is a reminder that beauty and wonder are happening around us all the time. It's also a reminder that injustice, pain, and hurt, are there too. We can't engage with what we cannot see.
I started to wonder this week about the word pay in pay attention. What is the energy of pay? I, of course, know the definition of pay. Pay is to give (money, time, etc.) in exchange for something or service received. It's an exchange. I will provide you with this in exchange for that.
Pay in the context of the phrase pay attention aligns more with the third dictionary definition "to give or bestow-attention, respect, compliment."
The energy of the word pay is that of an exchange. There is power inferred in the word. Pay is also a word that isn't easily separated from capitalism. Capitalism doesn't work without payment, without exchange of value. Capitalism is about making a profit, and profit comes from payment. Pay is a word that pulses with the energy of power. To "give or bestow" (word directly from the dictionary) are power words. Bestow is when someone/something (government, kingdom) "confers or presents" an honor or gift to someone with less power.
When I say "pay attention," I'm reminding myself, my kids, or even you reader to notice the world. To witness the breeze, the beauty, the bird, the tree, the movement of hearts, the flow of love and kindness. However, I'm starting to wonder if that three-letter word pay is the right word.
When the invitation begins with pay, what does that do to my heart? What message does it send to my brain? It's a word, by definition, that implies a power differential. It means an exchange; it is a command. The definition of the word pay is if I give this, I will receive that. There is a reward for payment. Do I pay attention for a reward?
In Hebrew, there is a phrase lasim lev, or "to set your heart to it." Which is used to communicate the idea "pay attention" in Hebrew text.1 To set your heart to it is a body-centered invitation. It's not a command; it's an invitation. It's a reminder. There isn't any implied reward. It is a gentler invitation to an embodied practice. Do you feel the difference in your body?
In French, the equivalent of paying attention is "do attention." This too is an embodied reminder. We are invited to become the attention.
Some grammar websites and discussion boards suggest giving attention is another phrase to consider. Which is a more expansive way to express the same thing. Instead of a word with a power differential, give is "to freely transfer the possession of" (It's the opposite of capitalism and power!)
Words matter. Words shape how I perceive the world. They shape what approach I take. There is animating energy2 to words. I engage better when I focus on my breath, the wind, the view, my work, and the world. There are many ways we can attend to what is happening around us. I wonder what happens when we choose words with intention. How does it change our experience? How will our experience of attention shift when we move away from power-centered words to body-centered, heart-centered, generous words?
A Blessing for Attention…
May you give your attention to the small moments, a gentle breeze, a yellow-singing bird, an unexpected smile, your breath. May you engage attentively with your community. May you notice small words and trace the animating energy. May your attention to your attention astound you, challenge you, and draw you to that which is smaller and deeper.
What is being asked of us in this moment is patient attention; a willingness to slow down, listen, and look; a willingness to let go of our expectations, to accept the possibility that our efforts may not bear any fruit—or at least not in the way we have been hoping that they will. —Douglas Christie
Third Eye Seeing Exercise:
Consider this exercise from the Center for Action and Contemplation. This feels like a way to notice our attention.
(You can view a guided meditation on the CAC website here! You can read more about CAC and Third-Eye Seeing there too!)
Father Richard describes how a simple experience such as viewing a sunset can be an opportunity for contemplative "third-eye" seeing:
Three people stood by the ocean, looking at the same sunset.
One saw the immense physical beauty and enjoyed the event in itself. This one was the "sensing" type who, like most people in the world, deals with what can be seen, touched, moved, and fixed. This was enough reality to consider, without much interest in larger ideas, intuitions, or the grand scheme of things. This is first eye seeing, which is good.
The second person saw the sunset, and enjoyed all the beauty that the first person did. Additionally, like all lovers of coherent thought, technology, and science, this person also enjoyed comprehension of the cyclical rotation of planets and stars. Using imagination, intuition, and reason to see with a second eye was even better.
The third one saw the sunset, knowing and enjoying all that the first and second people did. With the facility to progress from seeing to explaining to "tasting," this person also stood in awe before an underlying mystery, coherence, and spaciousness that created a connection with everything else. Engaging this third eye is the best, for it is the full goal of all-seeing and all-knowing.
Where might you be able to practice seeing with your "third eye" today?
Silence & Honeycakes: The Wisdom of The Desert by Rowan Williams
In many books that I read, there are mentions of the desert mothers and fathers. The spiritual sages formed the very first monasteries and religious communities in the deserts of the middle east and northern Africa. I read the notes and lists of resources in every book. I began to notice this small book by the former Archbishop of Canterbury mentioned as a resource and often quoted in more recent books on these mysterious and yet largely impactful men and women who lived in the 4th and 5th centuries. Silence and Honeycakes, the name itself caught my eye! (I love that name; what is a honey cake? I still don't know, but it sounds yummy!) I really enjoyed this book. It's small, just four sections. It was a sort of overview and introduction to more about these wise men and women. It was better than other books I've read. It's probably not everyone's cup of tea, but if you have been curious to learn more about these wise and mysterious men and women, I think Silence & Honeycakes would be a perfect place to start.
"Henri de Lubac, one of the most outstanding Roman Catholic theologians of the twentieth century, put it with a clarity and brevity very hard to improve upon: 'It is not sincerity, it is truth which frees us… To seek sincerity above all things is perhaps, at bottom, not to want to be transformed."
― Rowan Williams, Silence and Honey Cakes
Some words I found about attention. Is there one that resonates with you? Jot it down on a note and walk with it this week. What will your attention to attention teach you?
Attention is the intention to live without reservation in the here-and-now.
— Timothy Miller in How To Want What You Have
To see the preciousness of all things, we must bring our full attention to life.
— Jack Kornfield in A Path With Heart
An Apache trained acquaintance of mine used to throw his head back, laugh into the sky and say — "What will you buy with your attention today?"
— Scout Cloud Lee in The Circle Is Sacred
Permit me to say without reservation that if all people were attentive, if they would undertake to be attentive every moment of their lives, they would discover the world anew. They would suddenly see that the world is entirely different from what they had believed it to be.
— Jacques Lusseyran in Against the Pollution of the I
The quality of one's life depends on the quality of attention. Whatever you pay attention to will grow more important in your life.
— Deepak Chopra in Ageless Body, Timeless Mind
With thanks to Rob Bell for this idea. He often talks about the animating energy of things and I find it so helpful to consider.