The Art of Attentiveness (Wellness Wednesday)

This week, for Wellness Wednesday, I’m focusing on attentiveness. Charlotte Mason, my homeschooling mentor, called it “The Habit of Attention”. Many call it mindfulness. If you’re thinking, “What does this have to do with wellness?”, that’s a great question because it means you are paying attention and letting curiosity get the better of you!

What started me thinking about paying attention is this online class for HSPs (Highly Sensitive People) that I’ve been taking. I’m learning lots about how to thrive rather than simply survive as a person who processes life differently than most. I’m discovering what my strengths and weaknesses are as a person with this trait and how I can navigate the high levels of emotion that come with it, how I can conserve and replenish my energy, and how to ask for what I need. 

It’s kind of crazy that it’s taken me this long in my life journey to begin learning these things, but as the saying goes, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” And one thing that stands out from this class is that in order to implement my newly acquired tools and techniques, I need to learn to pay more attention.

It Starts With Me

First, I need to pay attention to myself. This is a bit of a challenge for me because I lived most of my life in a culture that was all about service to others. I still absolutely believe in service to others, just not in a way that leaves me completely out of the equation. Even Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself”, which implies self-love. 

I need to ask myself, “What do I need?” when I’m starting to get tired, upset, overwhelmed, etc., rather than to just keep going until I get to meltdown mode. And “Do I have this to give?” when someone asks something of me. If I’m already in a depleted state, I’ll be giving from a negative, resentful place. If I can live from a place of love and compassion toward myself, I’ll be much more loving and compassionate toward others.

Focusing on the Good in Others

Second, I need to pay attention to others. And by this I mean to focus on the positive qualities that each person has. HSPs can nitpick, obsess, and tend to focus on negative things, especially when tired and emotionally overwhelmed, which is a lot of the time if we aren’t paying attention to our needs. I need to make lists of the good things about those I love and know and repeat those things to myself and say them out loud to them. 

By sharing the things I admire and appreciate about others with them, it will encourage them and reinforce the truths about who they are in my own brain. When I’m with my husband, my kids, or my friends, I need to focus on their words, on their faces and gestures, and savor the moments we have together.

Nature

Third, I need to pay attention and connect with nature. Put on my shoes, step out the door, look, listen, breathe, feel, and notice. What do I see? What sounds can I hear? Does the sun feel hot on my back or the wind feel like it’s pushing me while I walk? What kind of bird is singing in the apple tree? Where is that tang in the air coming from?

Slow Down

And this is the kicker for me: In order to cultivate the art of attentiveness to myself, others, and to the world, I NEED TO SLOW DOWN!!! My smart husband is always telling me this and until I started this class, I inwardly resisted. “But I have so much to do! I’ll never get things done if I move around like a snail.”

During week one, the teacher said, “HSPs need slow mornings”. She said if you start the day off at a clip, your emotional brain revs up, is on high alert, and you quickly lose “energy points”. That explains why I’ve been tired within a few hours of waking up for most of my adult life.

At my teacher’s suggestion, I’ve begun a daily meditation and mindfulness practice. Waking up and meditating first thing in the morning has been a huge help to me this past month. I used to jump out of bed and start on my to-do list, but now I take a few minutes to pay attention to my breath and that sets the tone for the rest of my day. It’s training me to notice my needs so that I don’t overextend myself emotionally and physically. I can give to my family, work better, and still have energy left to enjoy life. And this is living well.

Books

Want to read more about slowing down and paying attention? Here are two non-fiction books on the subject plus a book of poetry that you might be interested in.

The Art of Noticing by Rob Walker

Lost In Wonder: Rediscovering the Spiritual Art of Attentiveness by Esther de Waal

Thirst by Mary Oliver

Blend

And here’s an aromatherapy blend that will help you focus and cultivate attentiveness. Place drops in diffuser, fill with distilled water, and diffuse for 1-2 hours at a time. Best during the daytime hours.

1 drop Cardamom

2 drops Cedarwood

3 drops Lemon

If you would like to tell us how you’re learning to be more attentive, please share in the comments!

Evening Poetry, April 20

In honor of National Poetry Month, and Mary Oliver, our beloved national poet who passed away in January, I will be posting one of her poems each evening in April. I am hoping to follow in the footsteps of Sarah Clarkson and read a poem on Instagram Live in the evenings as well…Follow me on Instagram to tune in.

To Begin With, the Sweet Grass (This poem is in seven sections, so I’ve spread it out through the week.)

7.

What I loved in the beginning, I think, was mostly myself.

Never mind that I had to, since somebody had to.

That was many years ago.

Since then I have gone out from my confinements,

though with difficulty.

I mean the ones that thought to rule my heart.

I cast them out, I put them on the mush pile.

They will be nourishment somehow (everything is nourishment somehow or other).

And I have become the child of the clouds, and of hope.

I have become the friend of the enemy, whoever that is.

I have become older and, cherishing what I have learned,

I have become younger.

And what do I risk to tell you this, which is all I know?

Love yourself. Then forget it. Then, love the world.

This poem can be found in the collection Felicity.

Evening Poetry, April 18

In honor of National Poetry Month, and Mary Oliver, our beloved national poet who passed away in January, I will be posting one of her poems each evening in April. I am hoping to follow in the footsteps of Sarah Clarkson and read a poem on Instagram Live in the evenings as well…Follow me on Instagram to tune in.

To Begin With, the Sweet Grass (This poem is in seven sections, so I’ve spread it out through the week.)

5.

We do one thing or another; we stay the same, or we

change.

Congratulations, if

you have changed.

This poem can be found in the collection Evidence.

Evening Poetry, April 16

In honor of National Poetry Month, and Mary Oliver, our beloved national poet who passed away in January, I will be posting one of her poems each evening in April. I am hoping to follow in the footsteps of Sarah Clarkson and read a poem on Instagram Live in the evenings as well…Follow me on Instagram to tune in.

To Begin, With the Sweet Grass ( This poem is in seven sections, so I am going to include one section each evening during the week.)

3.

The witchery of living

is my whole conversation

with you, my darlings.

All I can tell you is what I know.

Look, and look again.

This world is not just a little thrill for the eyes.

It’s more than bones.

It’s more than the delicate wrist with its personal pulse.

It’s more than the beating of a single heart.

It’s praising.

It’s giving until the giving feels like receiving.

You have a life–just imagine that!

You have this day, and maybe another, and maybe

still another.

This poem can be found in the collection Evidence.

Evening Poetry, April 15

In honor of National Poetry Month, and Mary Oliver, our beloved national poet who passed away in January, I will be posting one of her poems each evening in April. I am hoping to follow in the footsteps of Sarah Clarkson and read a poem on Instagram Live in the evenings as well…Follow me on Instagram to tune in.

To Begin, With the Sweet Grass (This poem is in seven sections, so I am going to spread it out through the week.)

2.

Eat bread and understand comfort.

Drink water, and understand delight.

Visit the garden where the scarlet trumpets

are opening their bodies for the hummingbirds

who are drinking the sweetness, who are

thrilling gluttonous.

For one thing leads to another.

Soon you will notice how stones shine underfoot.

Eventually tides will be the only calendar you believe in.

And someone’s face, whom you love, will be as a star

both intimate and ultimate,

and you will be both heart-shaken and respectful.

And you will hear the air itself, like a beloved, whisper:

oh, let me, for a while longer, enter the two

beautiful bodies of your lungs.

This poem can be found in the collection Evidence.

Late Winter Musings

These last few days of winter and this last day before the season of Lent begins are vibrating with change, energy, and light.

I’m struggling to sleep past six each morning because I am still used to darkness and silence and haven’t yet adjusted to the sun peeking out and birdsong lilting through the closed window.

Not that I am complaining–quite the opposite! I actually prefer change over stagnation, but this year I seem even more aware of the natural world slowly waking up and shifting toward activity and growth.

I have the privilege of living in the middle of all this glory we call the Finger Lakes Region: fields and meadows, forests, hills, valleys, lakes, and wildlife everywhere.

Much of the time, I block out what is happening on the other side of these walls and carry on with the ” more important work” of business and commerce and marketing and study. This disconnect is detrimental to myself, other people, and the earth, so I seek to take a hint from the seasonal transition we are in and change my behavior.

When my children were young and we homeschooled, I followed the Charlotte Mason method which emphasized art, literature, music, history, handcrafts, and plenty of time spent out of doors for nature study. My kids and I each had a nature study notebook. The idea was simply to spend some time outside and draw something that you observed while there: a tree, a cloud, a bird, an insect, a leaf, etc. This strengthened powers of observation while creating a habit of attention to the natural world.

My homeschooling years are behind me, but I need to reconnect myself to nature’s rhythms and be at one with the true pace of the planet. I very much need to reawaken my whole self to what has been before me and what will go on after I have lived my life here.

Mary Oliver, who passed away earlier this year, wrote all the time of nature, of her observations in nature, and of the depths of emotion she experienced in the natural world. I’ll end with her poem, “Mindful” from her book Why I Wake Early:

Mindful

Everyday
I see or hear
something
that more or less

kills me
with delight,
that leaves me
like a needle

in the haystack
of light.
It was what I was born for —
to look, to listen,

to lose myself
inside this soft world —
to instruct myself
over and over

in joy,
and acclamation.
Nor am I talking
about the exceptional,

the fearful, the dreadful,
the very extravagant —
but of the ordinary,
the common, the very drab,

the daily presentations.
Oh, good scholar,
I say to myself,
how can you help

but grow wise
with such teachings
as these —
the untrimmable light

of the world,
the ocean’s shine,
the prayers that are made
out of grass?

Slowing Down and Paying Attention

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It’s Tuesday and I hope you’re feeling like you’ve gotten into a good groove for your week. If I’m honest, I’m still getting there. No excuses, I’m starting over with the habits I know are best for me in this season, but I am feeling a little beside myself or outside of myself. Recently, I listened to On Being’s Krista Tippet interview Ellen Langer on The Science of Mindlessness and Mindfulness

From the twenty minutes or so that I listened to the podcast, what I heard Ellen Langer say was that mindfulness is simply paying attention to one’s surroundings and noticing what’s new. She said this can have a positive effect on relationships if you look for two or three things you haven’t noticed before (or for a while); rather than assuming you know everything about someone because they have grown so familiar to you. Maybe you just need to look a little closer?

When I homeschooled my kids, I followed the Charlotte Mason Method. One of her principles was to train children in “the habit of attention“. Isn’t that a worthwhile and wise goal? Habits, when formed young, can stay with one for a lifetime. To form a habit of paying attention and to have that be part of a child’s education is a brilliant idea.

It’s so true how much we can cruise around our lives, doing the dailies and forgetting to notice the amazing, the miraculous, the wonderful all around us and indeed, that we are wonderfully put together. If you are a gratitude journal person, this is one way the world can come alive again and you can begin to look at things with new eyes, with childlike wonder.

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What happens when you stand in a field, take a walk in the woods or down the road, or simply go out your back door and watch the trees, rooted and flexible, as they bend and sing to the wind’s song? Don’t you sense a peace and lightness as the day’s worries slip away and you begin to recall your connectedness to the beauty strength of the world you live in? And you slow down, breathe in the scent of pine, cut grass, fallen leaves, snow and you are renewed?

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Take a few minutes today to step outside or walk or hike. Slow down and really see your backyard or the field across the street. And inside, what beauty is in a corner, on the table, or windowsill that you might have missed? What about your family?

I noticed how how adorable my teenaged daughter looked with her hair half up and little curls framing her face. And again this morning, before I drove her to school, I thought how pretty she looked with her hair in a bun, how long her lashes are. I noticed my son’s attractive face as he drove past me on his way to school. I noticed the kindness around Alan’s eyes and the happiness that radiates from his face when he’s being silly.

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Alan with fresh local turmeric.

And I looked around my kitchen tonight and snapped some photos of things that brought me joy.

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Roasted apples and butternut squash.

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Tiny Bell peppers from our garden.

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Tulips, a locally-made beeswax candle and a lovely colorful salad.

Do you have a habit of attention or do you need help paying attention to your actual life? I’d love to hear from you.