The moon nibbled away at the sun;
the light turned eerie;
For a few moments, our daily worries and stresses were eclipsed.
Waning sun, silver crescent, day-time dark, mid-morning crickets, the celestial Diamond Ring…
Then waxing, shining arc by expanding shining arc, the sun returned. Our psyches filled to nearly bursting with the thrill of it, and for ten minutes, an hour, a day, we forgot politics; we forgot schedules; we forgot anxiety. We had watched and wondered and felt the majesty of our universe.
We paid attention to the eclipse. We paid attention with our eyes as the light changed, with our ears as day creatures stopped their songs and night creatures commenced their own, with the hairs and pores of our skin as the air cooled and blew; paid also with what? our nervous systems? our hearts? our souls? And we were viscerally moved.
All too often I fail to attend, and I’m guessing I’m not alone. Driving to town, bustling from the car to the grocery store–even out for a walk on a beautiful fall day–my mind fills with the list, the schedule, the regrets or anxieties, and I am blind to the quality of light, the smell of rain or the delight in watching a bird hopping with its mate on and off a curb. Each day, as we race from place to place getting and spending, worrying and planning, blaming and guilting, we eclipse our lives.
Life is too short to be missing so much of it. I want to “be here now,” but I seem to need a crutch. My resolution is to incorporate a regular “Being” session. Just as I exercise my body, I will exercise my attention. With the natural world being indispensable to an animal’s life, including of course that of a human animal, I will begin my practice outside. In order for it not to be a wool-gathering, mind-wandering, obsession session; in order to truly attend, I will record my observations. Many can do that with camera, palette or sketchbook, but I must do it with words.
Still, when I try to pay attention, do I see the essence of the place, or what I must do there? Attending isn’t guilt and it isn’t planning. David and I were away for a couple of weeks and were delighted on our return to find fall color still on the trees–leaves canary yellow, gold, flame-red. But most of autumn’s leaves had accepted the call of wind, gravity and the tree’s physiological clock to lie thick on our driveway. Yet it’s time to attend: No thoughts of raking allowed.
Near the house, the carpet is thick, bronzy, consisting largely of cast oak foliage. Not yet slicked black by tire tracks, the round-lobed Oregon white oak leaves make a rough, nearly monochromatic surface, punctuated now and then by brown-spotted golden spheres of oak gall. An occasional stray leaf rises phoenix-like, doing back-flips with a triple twist, then floats, as with a sigh, back to the ground.
Farther up the drive the carpet thins. Fragments of twigs furred with a mini forest of lichen lie here and there. Clear yellow filbert, cascara, and maple leaves brighten the scattering of white oak. Then a single, scarlet dogwood leaf and some pointy-lobed black oak. As I near leaf banks and piles I inhale in vain, expecting the musky aroma of decay. Too soon perhaps, or too cold?
I turn my attention to clouds in a blue autumn sky. Wispy cirrus clouds remind me of my fly-away hair, always loose and blowing in my face, in my eyes. I admire puffy cumulus clouds and wonder if some of their underbellies are getting denser and darker: Rain is surely not far away. I get thinking about water cycles and about a cloud’s holding capacity. Hmmm. My photographs are stored in the cloud. If I send too many up there, will France and dogs and gardens and grandchildren rain down on our heads? As I pay attention, I try to describe the scene, the moment, the experience. Often that sets off memories or musings, stimulates a tangential thought or sends me to the books to learn more about what I’m observing.
Back in the house, it occurs to me that though the most crucial relationship for all animals is with the natural world, for day-to-day contentment, my most personal relationships weigh at least equally. David stands by the window, the sun glowing on wild hairs I’ve missed when giving him a haircut, he’s missed when trimming his beard. Our eyes are dimming. We miss more and more.
Curly silver mixed with dark blond, the tousle frames his long-familiar, genial face. My husband and I are working on our 60th year of marriage, meaning that more than sixty-years-worth of ways could arise to avoid attending. I could anguish over errors of omission or commission through the decades, mistakes of his or of mine. I could torture the both of us, stressing over the future—its quality, its length, the ideals and the unknowns. Or I could simply go about my other commitments ignoring this, one of my oldest and most cherished relationships. Then poof! That connection, along with my own brief trip across life’s stage, would all be over. Eclipsed by my own negligence.
I raise my arms for the comfort of his strong hug. How good it feels. I embrace the warm wave that washes over me, heightened by the buzz from being outside. Life is water and sunlight and food. Life is trees and leaves, birds and flowers and bugs. Life is pets and babies, friends and loved ones and hugs. Life is being there.
So I’ll invite my mind to join my body in the present. To count my blessings. To write lists and descriptions of qualities, experiences, lessons. If I can strive for a half hour of daily exercise or 10,000 steps each day, surely I can pay close attention to at least a couple of things during the same time period, as well as to the people dear to me. I truly live only when I pay attention. Life is so very brief. Be present. Celebrate.