Hello, friends. Happy New Year. I hope your holidays, however you celebrated, have been merry and bright.
For the last few Decembers, I’ve spent time choosing (or discovering) a word to guide me through the year to come. Sometimes, like this year, that word gets a bit lost in the continuing shuffle of my daily routine, of commutes and obligations and books and social media. (I am learning not to beat myself up when this happens.)
Some words, as with my 2010 word, “brave,” resonate through my life like a deep gong, providing a key and a touchstone for many experiences. (I still wear the word “brave” around my neck.) And sometimes, as with my 2011 word (“comfort”), the result falls somewhere in between.
My word for 2013 came from three different books which pointed up a continuing need in my life: the need to be present, to stop walking through life distracted, to wish or plan or dream away the moments that are happening now. The first passage is one I read years ago, from Lauren Winner’s book Mudhouse Sabbath, and it has remained in my heart ever since:
You don’t find candles lit in frenetic houses; you find them lit in houses where people are trying to pay attention.
This summer, before taking a writing workshop with Lauren at the Glen, I read her latest book, Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis, and was stunned by this passage:
Five years after her funeral, it is as if my mother has reached up from the grave and pulled my head, held my head the way a person holds a cat by the scruff of the neck, and said: There; look there. [...]
I want her to know that I am trying. I am trying to pay attention. I am trying to look.
And finally, Barbara Brown Taylor spoke eloquently to the value of attention in our everyday lives:
What is saving my life now is the conviction that there is no spiritual treasure to be found apart from the bodily experiences of human life on earth. My life depends on engaging the most ordinary physical activities with the most exquisite attention I can give them.
—An Altar in the World
I know that attention is not a magic cure: some days will still be mundane or dark or difficult, even when I give them my full attention. But I believe attention garners rich rewards when we make it a practice: we notice flashes of light, literal and metaphorical, that we might miss otherwise. I live in a city and a culture where everyone is often most focused on themselves and their own problems. What would happen, I wonder, if I turned some of my attention outward, to the people and places and things among whom I walk?
This year, I intend to find out.
I want more wonder in my life, more quiet focus, more moments when I am aware of being fully present to the here and now. Less distraction, and greater clarity. I am hoping to gain some of all these things by paying attention.
Do you, or have you, chosen a word for the year? If you have, I’d love to hear about it.