The Life-Changing Practice of Paying Attention

The Life-Changing Practice of Paying Attention January 29, 2019

 

Anyone who ever stood, flummoxed, in the lightbulb aisle of a hardware store knows that light isn’t simply light.

Is it warm?

Is it white?

Is it bright?

I admit, I have no idea what to choose in the lightbulb aisle of a hardware store, but I know which light I prefer in the corner of the world that I call home: winter light.

*

Of course, in January, there is never enough of it.

Not only are the days short, but too many of these too-short days are dreary with clouds. But when the light does break through–and especially if it breaks through in late afternoon–the light we are given is so exquisite, so delicate and fine, it reminds me of pale porcelain or rippling water or shimmering silk.

It isn’t quite sunlight and it isn’t quite moonlight. It is something else in-between.

I don’t think the light is more beautiful because there is less of it. I do think I am more apt to notice the beauty of winter light because there is less of it.

Noticing can be hard when there is much to notice.

And paying attention takes practice.

*

The letters and maxims of a Christian man known as Brother Lawrence have been handed down to us for three hundred years and are collected today in a volume called The Practice of the Presence of God.

At first glance, it’s a strange title. If God is present, if God is near, what does practice have to do with it? Brother Lawrence explains,

“The presence of God is the concentration of the soul’s attention on God, remembering that he is always present.”

To practice is to remember, the way my son remembers his scales on the piano or my daughter remembers the steps to a dance. Lately, I have held on to Brother Lawrence’s words, telling myself as often as I think of it, “practice presence.” What follows is a kind of noticing. I notice that I am not alone, I observe the good gifts of the moment.

I fix the eyes of my soul on things that were always already there. It is a great deal like noticing the light.

And just as it is on a late afternoon in winter, when the long dark night descends too suddenly and too completely, I carry with me something precious able to transform my experience of the night.

I carry with me memory and gratitude and hope.

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  • Your description of noticing the light more in January is so clear! I hope to pay more attention. To mm practice passing attention. Can’t wait to read more!

  • Thank you! So glad you’re here reading along. Let’s notice the light together.


  • I hear your voice in your writing here and in the book. You are so calming to me.

    I put battery candles in my living room windows mid-October (if I have a chance midst harvest) or ASAP and they last 8 hours so I have them come on at 3:30 p.m. I leave them until later in April. I noticed yesterday as I drove home at 3:15, the sun was (happily) shining on the side of my face, not even ready to set. Ahhh… joy!