I always do a great deal of thinking when I’m driving, don’t you? Although this fact does bring up the question of lack of driving attention. We’ll skip over that for now. As I drove today, I suddenly noticed that I had been remembering incidents through the years, my thoughts being in the vein of, “and then he said,” and “she did it again,” and “I should have…coulda’…woulda’,” and ended up, as my mother used to say, “on my high horse.” It was all the dead stuff of recrimination that could not be changed and that served no good purpose for my present life. I was wasting energy, burning thoughts with nothing to show for them, except annoyance.
I suspect had someone snapped a photo of me in that moment of realization, a big dialogue bubble would have been seen over my head. Inside would have been the question: “Well, where should I put my attention?”
Instantly a dozen bubble answers: “On my book…on a blog post…on an article I’ve been thinking of writing…on planning the month, planning dinner, prayer and praise. There were a hundred and one more profitable areas to choose to focus my attention (including driving), areas where I could change and grow and create in a million ways.
Choice of attention–to pay attention to this and ignore that–is to the inner life what choice of action is to the outer. In both choices man is responsible for his choice and must accept the consequences.–W. H. Allen
Mr. W. H. Allen was an accomplished and prolific artist, who produced thousands of watercolors and sketches in his lifetime. He chose to pay attention to color, light, life, with the consequences of recording the rural landscape and society of his time, and it’s changes. With his attention, he produced something to delight and enlighten others, and I can’t help but believe he also delighted himself with his creativity.
Writer and teacher Julia Cameron tells us that, contrary to misconceptions about the creative life coming from aimlessness, “Art is born in attention.”
Creativity is from choosing to pay attention, but I think it is with appreciative attention for the detail of life in the moment. I have never forgotten the wonder of waking one morning in my early twenties, and experiencing my first sight being straight through the screen of a window and onto sunshine filtering through trees on a misty, moist Carolina morning. The appreciation of that moment created something magical inside of me.
I’m not saying that we should never let our mind wander–wonderful things come from our minds set free. But the mind caught up in annoying memories is not free; it is caught in fruitless recriminations. I’m also not suggesting that our attention is only on the beautiful. Recently we found a dead armadillo in our pool. I peered down at him–it was a him, I saw from my close attention. It was a sight that fascinated me.
I had turned the corner leading to my street, when all this realization came together in my mind. With purpose, I shifted my attention to thoughts of my novel. That was all, simply moved it to my novel, and the mind went to work creating. I saw the scene I had that morning been working on, saw the characters in action on a dark south Alabama winter night. And as I write this, I remember pulling into my drive and the delight of seeing the sheet still over the sago palm, protecting it from the bitter cold of the night before.
The capacity for delight is the gift of paying attention. ~Julia Cameron, The Artist Way.
I’m glad I saw the sight of that silly sago palm, the sheet ballooning in the wind, so silly it made me laugh. I’m glad I was paying attention in the here and now. You know, it is likely to end up in the novel.