Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Paying Attention

Buddha and a Blooming Hibiscus Flower
-my meditation garden-

The sun was rising, and coffee in hand, I sat in my meditation garden prepared to be silent and mindful at the start of the day. My little fountain normally bubbles gently in the background helping me to get to a quiet place of inner peace - but not this time. Something was broken. The fountain was sputtering and making strange sounds. I tried my best to ignore it but I couldn't. The sputtering fountain had now taken over my thoughts. All I could think about was that broken fountain and how I might fix it. Will I have to call someone to repair it? The more I thought about it, the greater my anxiety.

Then something caught my eye. Right next to the fountain is a little statue of the Buddha next to a Hibiscus plant. As I looked at the Buddha, I suddenly noticed that one, simple, beautiful flower had bloomed in the hot desert sand - in the triple digit desert heat. At this time of year, this bloom will only last a day and then it will fade. I almost missed it because I wasn't paying attention to it--instead my mind was totally occupied with the silliness of a broken fountain.

As I gazed upon the Buddha and the bloom, I could hardly hear the sound of the fountain anymore,  and I was was no longer anxious - an important lesson about paying attention to what matters in life. 

There is a little story that comes out of the Native American wisdom tradition. A grandfather, imparting a life lesson to his grandson, tells him:

"I have two wolves fighting in my heart. One wolf is vengeful, fearful, envious, resentful, deceitful. The other wolf is loving, compassionate, generous, truthful, and serene." The grandson asks which wolf will win the fight and the grandfather answers: "The one I feed."

I find a profound truth in that little story. We are indeed formed and fashioned by what we pay attention to in life.  

The desert is a great place to learn something about focusing attention. The 4th century Desert Mothers and Fathers moved out into the wilderness away from the established church and out to the fringes of the dominant culture so that they could refocus their attention

Out in the desert, they were indifferent to the politics, the structures and the dogmatic theologies of the institutional church. Out in the desert, at the fringes of society, they paid little attention to the values so highly prized in the culture of the day- power, prestige, wealth, personal gain, and winning the praise of others.

Out in the desert they focused their attention on living in the present moment, always available to the Holy Presence abiding among them in that fierce, wild, beautiful desert home. Out in the desert, they lived simply and paid attention to caring for one another without judgement, treating one another with dignity and respect, welcoming everyone with the wide-open arms of hospitality and compassion. 

Ever since my "fountain and flower" lesson learned in my meditation garden, I've been doing a lot of thinking about the focus of my attention. My life in the desert is a gift. Like my spiritual ancestors, I also have moved away from the center and out to the fringes - that's what happens when you live in a desert. I want to learn the lesson my desert ancestors teach me:  You are formed and fashioned by what you pay attention to in life.  

I ask myself which "wolf" I am feeding in my heart?

There is a wonderful Zen wisdom saying:

I play with flowers and their fragrance clings to my clothes

I know that sometimes I have to swim in the mess and the muck of life, but if that's where I spend most of my time, I'll walk around smelling pretty bad.  Instead, I choose to spend more time playing with the flowers so that their fragrance can cling to my clothing.

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