Saturday, June 06, 2009

worship and attention

A friend sent me this speech, highlighting the following passage:
"In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of God or spiritual-type thing to worship -- be it J.C. or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess or the Four Noble Truths or some infrangible set of ethical principles -- is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive."
Go read it; it's short. I read it. I liked it. A bunch. In some passages of big blaring prose, Wallace gave us a sliver of what unattended life is (hell on earth) and what the attempt to give attention to life can be (somewhere between better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick and heaven.)

He attempts to divorce the discussion from religion or morals or dogma, though for the life of me I can't figure out why. I admit to complete ignorance of his writing which, upon remediation, will probably fix that. But, like most of life, its strands cannot so neatly be separated out or excluded by such labels.

My buddhist sensibilities (or go with desert monastic thought, if it suits you) heard Wallace's words as a logical follow up to "Regard all dharmas as dreams"; all of life and thought is fleeting, a bubble in the wind. All is meant to be seen completely, touched gently, and released, so we are ready to attend to the next moment and the next.

Of course, all these words of attending to now and thinking beyond myself led me to, um, lose myself in my head, examining and thinking instead of being right here right now. When my brain starts to think that it's thinking, reveling in both my words and others, overheating is inevitable. I move from rummaging in my brain for words to ransacking books. I knew that there were complimentary pieces, words that I'd read and tried to store up, that will match up with Wallace's words like parts of a jigsaw puzzle.

I started remembering Scott Russell Sanders and his sense of rootedness in place as part of a spirit-filled life. Reread a bit of Kathleen Norris' meditation on daily chores as potential joyful worship in "The Quotidian Mysteries."

I couldn't quite find the passage I was seeking in one of Pema Chodron's books on buddhism and compassion. Somehow, I ended up in a Barbara Brown Taylor book, reading "(b)e kind, wrote Philo of Alexandria," for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle."

And so, an hour later, I found myself at the kitchen table, the table hidden under books and my head buried in words. Don't get me wrong. Books are good. Words are good. Thinking is good. For me, though, they are a sure path to the very unconscious living of which Wallace speaks. Lost in my words, I start to think my thoughts are important, something to worship. But they're not.

When I bushwhack my way out of my head, my thoughts, what I think of others' thoughts, I'm left with this: Every moment I can choose to pay attention, and to what I will pay attention. Attention is akin to worship. Where my treasure is, there is my heart also. And to what do I pay attention and treasure this evening? I am embarrassed to say and would rather hide in my words and books.

Maybe tomorrow I will make different choices.



Blogger Gwen said...

I've had four hours of Camelot rehearsal today, the last hour or so spent on the tiniest bits of movement and dialogue. Paying attention to these, developing them, using them to tell a story, using them to say something about life and humanity and kindness and idealism and guilt and love--this is what I love about directing theatre, writing, getting musical phrases just right. In art we pay attention and choose. It is not a bad way to look at life.

Maybe that's a sampler: Pay Attention. Choose.

6:46 PM  
Blogger Liz T-G said...

I liked that. :-)

Missed you at the choir party last night.

2:20 PM  
Blogger Lory said...

it's great!
i love it:)

8:30 AM  
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2:09 PM  

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