“Attention is an act of connection.” ~ Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way

Julia Cameron goes on to say that “a creative life involves great swaths of attention. Paying attention is a way to connect and survive. And, the reward for attention is healing.”

I agree. We create our lives in every moment with the choices we make. The same sentiments apply to living a contemplative life.

Where and how we focus our attention is key.

The poet Mary Oliver exemplifies a contemplative life through her writings. One of her poems, The Summer Day, contains this oft-quoted line, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your wild and precious life?” However, my favourite line in that poem is:

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass, how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields, which is what I have been doing all day. Tell me, what else should I have done?

For Oliver, her poetry comes from her ability to be present and notice. For me, my strongest images come from the same place.

I took the photograph above of a place setting in a restaurant at lunchtime. I noticed the care that went into the place setting; the symmetry, the contrast, and the reflections. This awareness made me appreciate who I was with (my husband) and how lucky I was to be there. The same attention to detail went into the food preparation and the service. And, it was a very pleasurable experience.

Attention connects us more deeply with our lives. There is less thought and more experience. We are more present and, consequently, more appreciative.

Thomas Merton, contemplative monk, was the master of attention, according to Robert Waldron in his book of the same name. For Merton, the camera symbolized what it means to live a contemplative life.

There are degrees of attention: the glance, the cursory look, the look, the long look (self-forgetting, therefore, contemplative). (33)

Amalfi Coast

By Jimmy Harris, creative commons on Flickr

This Friday, I will fly to the Amalfi coast in my favourite country, Italy. I’ve been lucky to visit this country twice before but I’ve never been to the coast.

The image on your right is an example of what you commonly see from tourists visiting the Amalfi Coast. It’s beautiful to be sure. However, I plan to view this area from a more contemplative lens. I’m taking only a 50mm lens and I’ll focus on the little things and see how that affects my experience.

I’ll practice the art of paying attention.

How do you pay close attention to life?


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