“Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness […].”*
In his book The Artisan Soul Erwin McManus argues that we are all artists, our challenge being ‘to be an interpreter of human possibility.’**
At the heart each person’s art there is the thing they notice more than anything else.
What do I notice? What do you give your attention to?
To speak of human possibility is to be open to more but we find this hard to be open to more. Dan Ariely points out how open to more is hard because ‘we fall in love with what we already have;’ ‘we focus on what we may lose;’ and, we think others see the world as we do’ – that is, we think our stuff is the most wonderful stuff in the world, only to be shocked to discover no one wants what we’ve created.^
Iris Murdoch suggests something else is happening when we give our attention to something more:
‘I have used the word ‘attention’, which I borrow from Simone Weil, to express the idea of a just and loving gaze directed upon an individual reality. I believe this to be the characteristic and proper mark of the active moral agent.
There is no point in talking about ‘moral seeing’ since there is nothing morally to see. There is no moral vision.’**
Our attention, or noticing more, leads to the development of morality in what is an amoral universe. I find this notion picked up in Maria Popova’s blog: Existential Therapy From the Universe, quoting writer and film-maker Susan Sontag‘s words:
“To be a moral human being is to pay, be obliged to pay, certain kinds of attention.”^^
This causes me to bring to mind the question Brené Brown finds herself researching with more than a small amount of personal interest:
‘Do you think that, in general, people are doing the best they can?’^*
Opening Brown’s book Rising Strong at the next page I’m die to read, I find this:
‘We don’t compare when we’re feeling good about ourselves; we look for what’s good in others. When we practice self-compassion, we are compassionate towards others. Self-righteoousness is just the armour of self-loathing.’^*
I wonder, Is there a correlation to our doing our best and the degree to which we are noticing?
Noticing Brown’s mention of compassion takes me to Karen Armstrong’s book on compassion and to these words about the Buddha:
‘He had understood that while spite, hatred, envy ingratitude shrink our horizons and limit our creativity, the benevolent emotions had a quite different effect: gratitude, compassion and altruism broaden our perspectives and break down the barricades we erect between ourselves and others in a vain attempt to protect the frightened, greedy, insecure ego.’⁺
Each of us pays attention to something different. My work is like coaching and mentoring but is different. Around what we notice, we create our art, the contribution of our lives, not for our own bliss, we discover, but for the bliss of others.
‘Where poets and scientists converge is the idea that while the universe itself isn’t imbued with meaning, it is in this self-conscious act of paying attention that meaning arises.’º
As our opening words from Fredrick Buechner remind us, this may demand nothing more from us then paying attention in the everyday, something captured well by Alan Lightman‘s character Nephew (the creator) in his fable about creation. Nephew notices a chance meeting in a city of eight million people on the smallest planet of twelve orbiting an ordinary star:
‘I spotted two men passing each other on a crowded walkway. Complete strangers. In the eight million beings living in the city, these two had never met before, never chanced to find themselves in the same place at the same time. A common enough occurrence in a city of millions. And as these two strangers moved past, they greeted each other, just a simple greeting. A remark about the sun in the sky. One of them said something else to the other, they exchanged smiles, and the the moment was gone. What an extraordinary event! Two men who had never seen each other before and would not likely see each other again. But their sincerity and sweetness, their sharing an instant in a fleeting life. It was almost as if a secret had passed between them. Was this some kind of love? I wanted to follow them, to touch them, to tell them of my happiness. I wanted to whisper to them: “This is it this is it.”‘ºº
What have we noticed today?
Was this some kind of love?
(*Frederick Buechner, quoted in the Northumbria Community‘s Morning Prayer.)
(**From Erwin McManus’ The Artisan Soul.)
(^From Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational.)
(^^From Iris Murdoch’s The Sovereignty of Good.)
(*^Susan Sontag, quoted in Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: Existential Therapy from the Universe.)
(^*From Brené Brown’s Rising Strong.)
(⁺From Karen Armstrong’s Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life.)
(ºFrom Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: Existential Therapy from the Universe.)
(ººFrom Alan Lightman’s Mr g.)