Much of the quality of your life depends not on fame or fortune, beauty or brains, fate or coincidence, but on what you choose to pay attention to.
~Winifred Gallagher (from Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life)
Welcome to November and to our monthly theme of Attention.
Our question for November is: “What does it mean to be a people of attention?” However, a more appropriate question might be: “What are you paying attention to?” Because what we pay attention to does, indeed, have an impact on the quality of our lives.
I don’t remember anything about the story I was sharing with my best friend several years ago, but I remember her reaction. I shared some details with her about something going on. Apparently, I was offended by someone’s behavior. Maybe something they did or said. Possibly something they didn’t do or didn’t say. After all, there are so many things we can be offended by in the course of a day—the news, that driver, their lack of appreciation, the traffic, the grade on that paper, the comments the boss made, the coffee spill, the letters not mailed, the dishes left in the sink, something forgotten, something remembered. The list is endless.
We can choose to be offended in the moment. We can even plan ahead to be offended.
It’s pertinent that I don’t remember any details of the what OR the who of the situation described above because this was at least five years ago. Oddly enough, I remember my friend asking: “Will it matter in five years?” Clearly, she was onto something.
And I can still hear her charming Georgia accent as she matter-of-factly made the next statement: “Well, you can choose to be offended if you want to.”
CHOOSE to be offended?! (Her truth telling was slightly offensive).
Those words comprised one of those statements that hits you with the full force of its truth—square in the forehead. This was followed by the momentary awkwardness of realizing she was altogether right—and not just right but also wise.
Then, faced with two choices (i.e., to be offended or not over the initial offense and to be offended or not over her comments), I made the better choice.
No, it wouldn’t matter in five years. Not even enough to remember it.
And, yes, I could choose to be offended, or I could pay attention to some other details which would redirect my focus. The latter response is the better path for all involved.
What are you paying attention to today, and how is your spirit affected by your focus?
Buddhist teacher and psychotherapist Sylvia Boorstein says this:
Imagine how our lives might be if everyone had even a bit more of the
wisdom that comes from seeing clearly. Suppose people everywhere,
simultaneously, stopped what they were doing and paid attention for
only as long as it took to recognize their shared humanity. Surely the
heartbreak of the world’s pain, visible to all, would convert everyone
Our shared humanity. Now, that’s something worth focusing on!
May we stop and pay attention, and may we breathe in enough patience to offer one another moments of grace when we could do otherwise.
Blessed be, dear Beloveds. Blessed be.
~Rev. Mary Frances