Pay Attention. Be Astonished. Tell About It.

New Jersey back yard, May 2011.

I just changed the subhead of my blog to the above–“Pay Attention.  Be Astonished.  Tell About it.” by the poet Mary Oliver.

If you read my last post, you know that I sequestered myself for six weeks to try to listen to the “still, small voice” within me.  Part of this effort was my attendance at a Lenten series at Stella Maris, a retreat house on the Jersey shore.  One Monday night, Sister Ann Marie passed out a very homemade bookmark with this on it, from Oliver’s poem, Sometimes:

Instructions for Living A Life:
Pay Attention.
Be Astonished.
Tell About It.

“Pay attention” is a hallmark of so many spiritual leaders.   The Zen Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh, whom I so greatly admire, is one of them.  Paying attention is SO important.  What else do we have, but these precious moments of our lives to which we should pay attention?

“Be Astonished.”  It’s so easy to just take things for granted, but just imagine you are an entity new to this creation.  How astonishing is it that life on this Earth is so prolific?  How astonishing is it that we have the ability to cry at the mere experience of a rainbow?   How astonishing is it, to see the perfect symmetry, the perfect order of the petals of a simple garden flower?  If we all took just 10 minutes a day to act as if we were new to this earth, how would that change our lives?

“Tell About It.”  And here is where I can thank God that there is a blogosphere.  There are so many wonderful writers who are telling what they see, what they feel, what they hear about the miracle of Life, and I’ve learned so much from them.  And of course, thank God as well for all of the authors who have paid tribute to the pure miracle of life and our human experience.  I’m humbled by them, and I thank them all.

On this topic, one of my favorite diary entries was written exactly 43 years ago to the day, when I was 16.   It speaks of one simple moment when I was paying attention, was astonished, and was driven to tell about it.  I pray to God that I can continue to experience more of these precious moments.  There were a LOT of moments between 1968 and 2011 that I’ve wasted in this regard, and I don’t want to waste any more of them not living out Mary Oliver’s advice:

Connecticut back yard, May 1968

May 22, 1968

I must write to you now because everything is so beautiful.

I am filled to the brim with (I don’t know what to call it!) extreme happiness.  I have never seen so much beauty as I do now in this simple situation.  Everything is perfect.

A couple of weeks ago I made a little window seat in my room.  Between my bed and my closet is a space about 3 feet wide with a window governing this tiny wall.  Here I am sitting–reading The Thread That Runs So True while my white voile curtains flow over my legs.  I have finished cleaning my entire room (it took two weeks–I’m lazy) and it is beautiful.  I painted it scarlet, and it is my private place, with the pure white curtains and bedspread, my statue of Mary and my guitar on my wall…it is so beautiful I could cry while I lean on the window sill, part of Mother Nature herself.

I looked especially good today.   My hair, for once, looked as I have always wanted it to look.  I am wearing the dress that Ann Marie  today told me she loved.  I made it–a Swedish print dirndl and matching gold jersey top.  My complexion is free from blemish for a change, and my eyes looked more sparkly and expressive.

The weather is a huge part of the way I feel today.  Every day for the past three days it has been shining one minute–raining the next.  So, while reading my book, I was paying equal attention to the sun.  Suddenly, a big black cloud hid the sun and it poured.  Hail was falling by the buckets.  It was beautiful.  The thunder pealed and hailstones bounced off my screen. That was an hour ago.  Now, the rays of the sun are abundantly overflowing on the violet lilacs and freshly washed leafy trees.

I love this new type of weather because it gives me a chance to appreciate all of God’s gifts at once–the sun, then the cleansing of the earth, and then the flowers’ and trees’ appreciation to God for their bath.

Words cannot describe the beauty I see from my seat tonight.  There IS no word to tell you the happiness I feel in my soul.  My heart cries out thanks to God for bestowing me with so many rare and wonderful gifts.

Tonight, indeed, I am the luckiest person alive!!!

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