Staying in Focus: Be Astonished

“Instructions for living a life.
 Pay attention.
 Be astonished.
Tell about it.”
            –Mary Oliver

I came across this quote quite by accident but as I read it, I knew it contained a tiny seed that would implant in my mind and slowly grow over the next few days into the subject for a post. How succinctly  Ms. Oliver lays out the simple recipe for a life well-lived. And although at first glance it seems simple enough, the follow-through can be quite difficult.

Pay attention.  These two words are often used in classrooms, meeting rooms, while working on homework, reading a book, learning to play a new piece of music on the piano, a new step in ballet or a clever new football play.  We must focus in order to learn. We must practice how to listen. not just hear; to perceive, not just see. To be totally present in the moment requires discipline as we struggle not to dwell on the past or anticipate tomorrow. Why? Because it is a  waste of time. We can’t  change the past, the future is beyond our reach, and so we need to remind ourselves to pay attention to where we are right now. Doing so makes us present in our lives. We become aware of the sunlight streaming through the window, the sensation of cold, sweet ice cream on the tongue, the delight on the face of a grandchild when she recognizes you, unexpectedly, in a store. Our lives are made up, not of years, but of moments, each one precious and each one can be experienced, if only we pay attention.

Be astonished. Oh, what we take for granted in our lives! We should be astonished that we are here to begin with. We have been given this gift of a life to be lived. Isn’t it astonishing how day in and day out our hearts keep pumping, hardy little machines that work tirelessly for us, for as long as they can? Isn’t it astonishing that we go to bed every night, and every morning we awake to the sun rising in the morning sky, like clockwork, painting it colors even an artist would find hard to match?  Isn’t it astonishing that a tiny seed carries within it the blueprint for a tall and mighty tree, or the exquisite beauty of a rose?  It is astonishing to be able to give birth to new life, to create music and song, to dance, to dream, to love and be loved. How can we look up at the night sky, beneath the stars and planets and galaxies of a universe we still struggle to comprehend, and not be astonished?  And finally, isn’t it astonishing that most of the time we fail to be astonished? Something to think about, isn’t it?

Tell about it.  We all have a story to tell, an experience to share, a dream remembered. Before the invention of writing people told stories by word of mouth, around campfires, or by painting pictures on cave walls. There were tales of great adventures, of wars between mighty gods, fanciful tales of fairy folk and forest sprites.  With the invention of writing, people were able to tell about it with papyrus and reed, then with paper and pen, in books of scrolls or bound in leather; with technology came the typewriter, the word processors, and computers. We can tell about it in music and song, in poetry and dance, movies and plays. And of course, astonishing as it is, through blogs.  To writers there is nothing more gratifying than knowing that their words can now reach across the globe, and  that long after they are gone, their words and thoughts will be swimming through the endless pathways of the internet, or the cloud or whatever replaces that. And why do we want to tell  about it.?  Well, because as astonishing as life is, our time with it is limited. We want to leave something behind, something to note that we were here, something to tell future generations about who we were and how we lived our lives.

Perhaps someday, long in the future, someone will read these words, and be reminded of the gift they are given.

So they can pay attention.
And be astonished.

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