What do you find yourself noticing, paying attention to? Do you tend to notice what’s going on outside of you or inside of you? Where do your thoughts, your body, the actions of others, your feelings fall on the list of what grabs your attention? Do you tend to gravitate toward the difficult or uncomplicated, rough or smooth?
Historically, I am a champion noticer of the ugly, the depressing, the anxiety producing. For me, the apocalyptic comes easy, while the generative kind of attention I’ve had to cultivate. My partner is the opposite. Early on in our marriage, we were talking about work and purpose and he said something like, “I guess, I just want to contribute to the potential for good.” I remember being astounded by this statement. “There is a potential for good?” I thought. In fact, yes, there is. And I’ve learned to notice, even begun to trust, it over the years. And my partner has done the difficult work of being with what is uncomfortable, what he would so much rather be otherwise, but has no power to shift.
How do we walk this daily edge, continuing to balance and hold what is painful and what is beautiful within our own human selves? What happens when we do?
Learning to notice, to attend, to be aware, whatever we choose to call it, is the first step and the one we return to over and over. If we can practice seeing our emotions and actions, and those of others, then we can also practice being with them in a welcoming, non-judgmental, and accepting way. We can be with what is beautiful and let it expand in us and also with what is difficult and not try to change it. In this way, we can begin to extend compassion to ourselves, to open and receive it. When we do this, our often empty well of worth and belonging slowly fills. Eventually, the well spills over, and we have enough water, enough generosity and compassion to share with others. We change and so does our world.
This process happens over and over. Inevitably, we listen to the news and hear about a horrifying event, one of our children experiences a heartbreak, a friend receives a negative diagnosis, and we find ourselves trying to fix, ignore, or otherwise “manage” what we see, feel, do. We find ourselves unable to see the beauty around us. Our well gets low again. But we are practicing, so we notice (often this takes quite awhile) that we’re parched, and we try sitting (or walking or breathing) with what we’re feeling rather than working to “get it right” or do something to distract ourselves. We might sit for 15 seconds with feelings of grief, guilt, fear. But in that sitting, that being, we acknowledge ourselves, we see our fragile humanness. And water trickles into our well. The balance shifts, we notice the incredible orange of the fall leaves, the smile of the checkout clerk, compassion for ourselves, and perhaps, others, grows.
Eventually, noticing and “being with” become a part of our experience; we recognize them as vital elements of our humanity. They are essential acknowledgments of our, and our planet’s, wholeness and as such they restore and heal ourselves and our world.
May you have courage to notice and be with yourself today; may you see the beauty that is you, no matter the attention.