Monday, January 26, 2009

Paying Attention

As this long, cold winter stretches on, I am cultivating the art of paying attention.

Here's my winter whine: with the extreme cold my sphere of activity has shrunk dramatically. My long walks have become short ones; my hours in the garden have become minutes tending indoor plants; the time I used to spend moving the chickens to different pastures and watching their tribal ceremonies has shrunk to quick sorties to the coop serve hot gruel and gather the eggs before they freeze and crack. I don't much like this cramped existence. I want to go out and DO something...but it's cold.

And that is why I'm training myself to pay attention.

Stimulation, or the lack of it, is a matter of perspective. We've all heard of prisoners who survived years of isolation by going inward. At the other extreme are those benighted souls who need constant music, chatter, and novelty to keep their brains from drying up.

An only child ensconced in a city apartment, I used to complain often of being bored. But I got little sympathy from my father. “Bored?” he would say. “Intelligent people are never bored. Think!” At the time, I found his advice incomprehensible. Now, knowing that he spent the three years of the Spanish Civil War in hiding—he left his apartment only once between the ages of twenty-two and twenty-five—I can see that he must have become a master of looking inward to stave off boredom if not insanity.

So, in this winter of my discontent, I'm looking inward, and looking around. Also touching and smelling and sensing, then looking around some more. Warming my hands with a new-laid egg. Rejoicing that even in the coldest days the sun now noticeably heats our enclosed porch. Making sure I look out in the late afternoon, when the snow glows pink in the lowering sun. Building a fire as dusk chills the house, and feeling comfort in this primitive act. Watching the dogs, those sybarites, stretch out groaning before the hearth.

And on and on. A woman could spend a happy winter just noticing stuff in a room.

Which is a good thing, because I'm cultivating the art of attention not just to get me through the winter, but through the coming months and maybe years. The economic crisis is going to feel like a long, long winter, and cabin fever will become pandemic. Deprived of trips to the mall, trips to the movies, trips to the restaurant, and trips to the Caribbean, how will we preserve our sanity, let alone our good humor?

By sticking close to home, looking around and paying attention, that's how. By sensing and savoring the myriad objects, comforts and pleasures that we've ignored because we were on an endless search for new ones. By getting blissfully lost in the universe of the familiar.


4 comments :

  1. Sounds good to me.

    (I'm amazed that depression/cabin fever haven't actually hit me yet.)

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  2. i do this too. there's a lot to look at, even when everything is frozen and white. the light is always changing; the snow is always changing; there are still birds (cardinals! robins! and zillions of sparrows); the dogs are always good for a laugh.

    your father....my goodness. my goodness.

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  3. I came by way of Three Dog Blog, and I am enjoying my visit.
    Learning to pay attention, observing dog minds, breathing in rosemary...all of this is so good!

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  4. Indigo, given how long the days are getting, you may not be hit this year.

    Laurie, the worst part of the war for my father was that as a violinist just embarking on his career, he was unable to play for three years. Then there was the hunger, of course....

    Leslie, welcome! I like your pencil drawings a lot. Observing dog minds--that could take an entire lifetime, couldn't it?

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