When we talk about understanding, surely it takes place only when the mind listens completely – the mind being your heart, your nerves, your ears- when you give your whole attention to it. – Jiddu Krishnamurti
Trends that went viral last week are forgotten today. Twitter follows rise and fall with more volatility than the stock market. We swipe the screens of our phones and tablets with itchy fingers and dwindling attention spans.
We carry this diminished awareness everywhere. Consider a visit to a museum. Numerous surveys say that we spend an average of 15 seconds engaged with each piece. This was even true of people who visited the Louvre and stood before Da Vinci’s iconic Mona Lisa.
I was once a trained educator at The Getty Museum outside L.A. I designed a unique outing to that splendid place. I gave each visitor a packet and asked them to concentrate on four particular paintings. In addition to learning that piece’s history, they responded by writing their thoughts and feelings. They would stand at least five minutes at each station – still a short encounter, but 20 times the norm.
Last Sunday I visited the San Antonio Art Museum and practiced this immersion. The image on the right is called Picking Cotton (1929, Jose Arpa y Perea). I stood before it, absorbing light and color. I could almost feel the heat of south Texas. I pondered the rough hands and daily labor of migrant workers, especially the boy in the foreground, his future mapped out in front of him. I appreciated the way Arpa y Perea has no central figure, causing our eyes to scan every corner of his canvas.
My point? This image, more than most others I saw that day, remains imprinted in my mind. And I realize again that the pace and technological gadgets of our world conspire to fracture our attention spans, our awareness of the world’s beauty.
I have a friend, Kara Root, who is the pastor of Lake Nokomis Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis. She and her congregation have an enriching spiritual discipline. They meet for Sunday worship only twice a month. On the other two weekends they have a Saturday evening meal and meditation. Its purpose is to prepare each participant for Sunday Sabbath, a time to unplug from labor and customary preoccupation. A time to absorb life as human beings, not human doings.
Kara and her friends report so many ways they have increased their attention to nature, human relationships, the patterns of their own minds and hearts. They realize the truth of this quote by Eugene Peterson: If you keep the Sabbath, you start to see creation not as somewhere to get away from your ordinary life, but a place to frame an attentiveness to your life.
As we walk our life paths today, let’s go beyond 15 seconds. Let’s become more aware of the sky, the trees, the precious loved ones God has placed in our lives. Let’s see them – really see them – so that the gift of their presence touches us deeply.