How to pay attention to your day so it belongs to you!
by Dr Angel Adams and Dr Patricia Papciak
You have got to own your days and name them, each one of them, or else the years go right by and none of them belong to you.
– Herb Gardner
Sun waving “goodbye!” for the day
Photo by Dr Angel Adams
“We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep”. This is what Shakespeare wrote in his play, The Tempest. This poetic image conjures up the image of people who go through each day of their lives in a sleep state, oblivious to the sometimes subtle, sometimes glorious aspects of their world. On rare occasions, they awaken acutely to their awareness of living. In these moments they might discover that they experience real life like queens and kings, gods and goddesses, because they woke up and remembered who they are and what they came here for. This article is the first of a three part series on ways to pay attention to your world through three different lenses.
We all know that people go though their day in a fog, shut out from the real world of connection and remembering, just going through the motions in an unconscious state. Many of us speed through the day just trying to get everything done and completely miss the special moments because we are too busy checking off the next thing on our to-do list. Then by the time we get ready to settle into bed that night we think, “Where did the day go”?
It is difficult to not be bombarded by all the thoughts chattering away in our minds that are driven by worries, comparing ourselves to others, or dreading the future, and chanting the same old two words: “If only”, “One of these days I will….” We recently read that the average human thinks about sixty thousand thoughts a day. And that 95% of their thoughts were the same ones that they thought yesterday. Our brain gets hard-wired to fire the same neurochemicals, which create the same biochemical reactions that produce the same behavioural outcomes every single day. Our minds replay those same familiar movies of bad memories and listen to the same radio station full of thoughts that are negative, discouraging, and irrational and most of the time just not true! With that kind of mindless repetition, it isn’t surprising that we wander off and get lost.
Tara Brach, clinical psychologist, calls it living in a trance. In her book Radical Acceptance she states that these repetitive “mantras” contribute to our getting “….lost in our stories and we lose touch with our actual experience.” She relayed a very poignant story about Mohini, a regal white tiger who lived for many years at the Washington DC National Zoo. “For most of those years her home was in the old lion house—a typical twelve-by-twelve-foot cage with iron bars and a cement floor. Mohini spent her days pacing restlessly back and forth in her cramped quarters. Eventually, biologists and staff worked together to create a natural habitat for her. Covering several acres, it had hills, trees, a pond and a variety of vegetation. With excitement and anticipation they released Mohini into her new and expansive environment. But it was too late. The tiger immediately sought refuge in a corner of the compound, where she lived for the remainder of her life. Mohini paced and paced in that corner until an area twelve-by-twelve feet was worn bare of grass”.
How can we prevent many years of our lives being wasted because we are trapped in the same old patterns? Madeleine L’Engle, a contemporary American writer states that “We are afraid of that which we cannot control; so we continue to draw in the boundaries around us, to limit ourselves to what we can know and understand. Thus we lose our human calling because we do not dare to be creators, co-creators with God”.
To leave this state of needing to control out of fear, she encourages us to seek the openness of a child and let go of expectations and boundaries and grades and presentations and just do the thing: team up with that wind of inspiration. It may be writing for one person or finger painting for another, or singing or dancing, or showing acts of kindness to others, or cooking or planting, or crocheting for another. We all have the privilege and responsibility to be co-creators with God.
To begin this creative process, we must consider naming each day as Herb Gardner suggests. Giving each day a name so that you remember it and value it for something particular and special is almost like making a new friend. We will begin with the first lens, which is looking at each day through grounding ourselves in nature. This is one of the best ways to come back to our centre and back to the present moment. When useless obsessive thoughts and old memorised emotions keep us imprisoned, we must find the courage to change old habits.
In the song from the film Oklahoma where Gordon McRae rides his horse through those cornfields and sings “Oh what a beautiful morning, oh what a beautiful day.” It is not difficult to imagine embracing the day with the warmth of the sun and the richness of those stalks of corn blowing in the wind, and feeling gratitude for the beauty of nature. It’s much more difficult to muster up every inch of courage to get up on a cold and dark winter morning dreading the stressful drive to work in dense traffic. At these times, there appears to be nothing at all worthwhile focusing our attention on, and besides we don’t have time.
How can we change our attitude and approach to life in general to be able to see that each day is a gift whether there is a smiling sun or cold icy rain falling from a dark leaded sky? The Dead Poet’s Society was a great film starring Robin Williams as Professor John Keating teaching his students to love poetry. He teaches them the expression carpe diem, a Latin phrase from Horace, which is loosely translated, but has come to mean, “seize the day”. He wanted his students to look at each day and take advantage of it, make it mean something, treat it with vigour! John Moffit illustrates this beautifully his poem:
To Look at Anything
To look at any thing,
If you would know that thing,
You must look at it long:
To look at this green and say,
“I have seen spring in these
Woods,” will not do – you must
Be the thing you see:
You must be the dark snakes of
Stems and ferny plumes of leaves,
You must enter in
To the small silences between
You must take your time
And touch the very peace
They issue from.
This winter, when it was exceptionally cold, we were walking around in the snow. We could feel the cold on our faces and it was uncomfortable. Then the sun suddenly came out, and we noticed the amazing design that was created by icicles on the fences.
Photograph by George Papciak
We were reminded of a poem by Robert Frost:
I found a dimpled spider, fat and white,
On a white heal-all, holding up a moth
Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth–
Assorted characters of death and blight
Mixed ready to begin the morning right,
Like the ingredients of a witches’ broth–
A snow-drop spider, a flower like a froth,
And dead wings carried like a paper kite.
What had that flower to do with being white,
The wayside blue and innocent heal-all?
What brought the kindred spider to that height,
Then steered the white moth thither in the night?
What but design of darkness to appall?–
If design govern in a thing so small.
This poem points out so beautifully what it is to look closely at the magic of nature around us. It is up to us to look closely, see the beauty of pattern in a leaf or a spider or a flower. It is a poem like our experience that day as we noticed the patterns in nature. We were struck by what it meant to look at the fence that we passed each day and now seemed to be looking at for the first time. We took pictures that day and to our surprise, one illuminated a star made by the sunlight.
Photo by George Papciak
All days can have their own gifts to offer us, maybe not always in the magical way that these photos reveal; however, we can work to create those days. When we see the “design” in nature, and the many places where we see repetitions. Rainbows for example always have that prism of colour. We know scientifically why that is like that, but how amazing that those colours never get mixed up, and we don’t see a rainbow one day with red on one side, yellow on the other and blue in the middle. Or what about those stones at The Giant’s Causeway? We know the scientific explanation, but how did those hexagons not have a few squares or triangles in that mass? Apparently design governs in large things as well as small.
If we concentrate carefully on anything, our brains can work like a camera lens and zero in at the magnified view of something or zoom out and look at the big picture and how all those little parts make the whole. We can name each day according to something we see in nature so that we can recall it when we want and need to.
What a joy it is to share our visions with our children so that they learn to look at the world of nature up close and recall days when they saw something particular and unique. This becomes a tool for living life fully and meaningfully because on any particular day one can go out and find that unique beauty. We have recently put out more feeders to attract wild birds and just looking out the window at the back garden, there is joy of seeing and hearing the most attractive birds with all kinds of shapes and sizes. My favourite visitor is the chic Eurasian jay with its blue feathers that sparkle in the sunshine like diamonds on its wings.
To keep mindful of all the great possibilities, we leave you this week with one more poem that was inspired by the Bushmen of the Kalihari Desert who can hear the singing of the stars at night. Wherever we live in the world, we too can learn to be good listeners and hear the stars singing at night. This way, instead of adding years to our life, we can add life to our years. We encourage you to make the time to breathe in the fresh air and stay connected with yourself. Take the time to love yourself, and remember that you are loved. Stay connected to nature so that when it hurts, you hurt. When the trees breathe, you breathe. Stay ever so close to it by feeling the gratitude for all that this day will bring you, and at the end of the day, what will your heart remember? What will you name your day?
The Silence of the Stars
I look at the stars again as I first did
To school myself in the names of constellations
And remember my first sense of their terrible distance,
I can still hear what I thought
At the edge of silence where the inside jokes
Of my heartbeat, my arterial traffic,
The C above high C of my inner ear, myself
Tunelessly humming, but now I know what they are:
My fair share of the music of the spheres
And clusters of ripening stars,
Of the songs from the throats of the old gods
Still tending even tone-deaf creatures
Through their exiles in the desert.
~ David Wagoner ~
Copyright 2010 Painting by George Buchanan