A few months ago I began to take photography classes. This motivated me to practice a new spiritual discipline. Camera in hand, every day I would intentionally go out into the desert around my house and "pay attention" to what I saw so that I could take a picture of it.
This discipline of paying attention has allowed me to participate in moments of great beauty that I might otherwise have overlooked.
However, over the past few weeks, I've become somewhat lazy about doing this. I think maybe I just got into a frame of mind where I was taking it all for granted. So I've been leaving my camera at home, and my desert walks have been more devoted to exercise than to paying attention.
Yesterday something happened that shook me out of my lethargy.
As usual my wife and I were about to walk onto the trail. There is a little passage way across from our house through which we enter into the wilderness trails. A shriveled up old tree stands next to that entranceway and I pass under it almost every single day.
Yesterday as I walked along, oblivious to my surroundings, my wife stopped me and said "Look, it's coming back to life." She also said, "what a great picture that would make." And indeed she was right. That old tree was neither shriveled nor was it dying. Bright yellow blossoms and fresh green branches were sprouting out of it. I actually had to push them aside when I walked on the path, but I just didn't pay any attention to it.
So I went back home and I got my camera. I stood in front of that "tree come back to life" and I basked in its living presence. It was a sacred moment of profound beauty that I had earlier brushed aside because I just wasn't paying any attention to it.
I have been very intentional about being more "mindful" in my life in the desert. I begin every day by sitting in my garden, clearing my cluttered mind, allowing myself to pay full attention to the moment.
But I have discovered that my life of mindfulness cannot be restricted to this meditation time. My disciple of "paying attention" leads me outside my "self" and helps me to be aware that "I" am a relationship with everything that "is." For me, the best way to go outside of my "self" is to literally and physically go "outside."
The physical place outside of my house, the wilderness world, is on fire with the energy of "God." Every piece of sand and stone, every tree and bush, every singing bird, the sun and skies in the day and the moon and stars at night - all brilliantly blazing with an abiding Holy Presence.
But if I stay "inside" (inside my walls, inside my own self-important ego), I miss it all. If I stay inside because I am too lazy or take it all for granted, I miss it all. So I must go outside and pay attention.
Of course, you don't have to live in a desert to pay attention to the world outside.
As I sit and reflect in a graden at the beginning of a new day I recommit myself to the practice of paying attention. In fact I commit myself to paying closer attention to it all, attention to every tiny particular, to every minute detail -all so full of energy, so ablaze with holy beauty.
Even if I don't have a camera in hand, I will act as if I do. I don't want to ever again brush away that emerging new life standing right in front of me on the pathway.