Monthly Archives: December 2012

When We Pay Attention


Watch another person breathing. Really watch. See as their body responds to an inhale. To an exhale. See the subtleties. Ribs expanding. Belly lifting. The flow and exchange of life right before your eyes. The most abundant of elements keeping this person (and you) alive.

Step outside. Feel your body surrounded abundantly by air, wind, breath. See how this invisible current moves the environment around you. Trees, leaves, grass, birds on the wind, clouds through the sky. Appreciate, even if just for a moment, how the same flowing energy which sustains your life, creates a melody for all of nature to dance to.

Breath is just one of many invisible threads weaving a divine and mysterious connection through our life and the lives around us. And when we pay attention to it, “it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.” { Henry Thomas}

One of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver, tells us in her poem, Instructions for Living Life, to: Pay attention, be astonished, tell about it.

This poem came to me the other day while teaching. The room was powerfully breathing in unison. Standing in eagle. There was no doubt the students were experiencing the power and unity of breath in the room, but everyone was looking intently on whatever non-moving object they could find to hold their balance. I asked the class instead to look at a body in front of them (at the risk of falling over), to see the exchange of breath in, breath out. Life, happening right there, inside the person in front of them. As they watched the flow of life energy in another body, during this ‘paying attention’ to another being, I asked them to consider (if even for a nanosecond) their connection to the other person and to all that is living through breath. (I should note this was met with lots of smiles and NO ONE fell out of their pose!)

Life energy passes through many different orders of form (animal, plant, human,), but nonetheless, it is required for all things to live and thrive. Regardless of the container in which it passes through, we all need this invisible force, this breath, this energy, to BE. A realization that becomes more palpable as we pay attention and open ourselves to the miraculous nature of all living things.

To further your connection with this concept, try on this exercise I’ve adapted from Mark Nepo’s, Book of Awakening:

Sit with someone you care about (even your pet) and watch them breathe.
See how your breath syncs to theirs.
As you breathe in unison, can you begin to appreciate the connection of this invisible thread weaving through your bodies?
Can you recognize this life force as an essential part of his/her life, as much as it is yours?
Can you be astonished by the beauty of this simple and yet mysterious life force?

Here’s to paying attention, friends!  I hope you enjoy getting your socks knocked off by it as much as I do 😉