Today’s blog post is by Trish Stefanik
I don’t have a cell phone.
I have been meaning to get one, over the years, but still have not done so. I know I will – I am not against the motion of technology, and I imagine I will enjoy many an app and ways to ease communication. I imagine, too, the relief of not having to field disbelieving, even angry, expressions and remarks to my not having a smartphone. But for now, I enjoy cultivating the art of noticing.
Just this week walking to and from the Metro I notice a lavish rose flowering in a lot more suited for weeds. I stop to admire the humor and creativity on a signboard outside a coffee shop: an artistic rendering of the Peanuts character Linus hugging a pumpkin and the invitation, “Welcome Great Pumpkin Chai!” Later I see a bundled beauty of a baby in a stroller at peace and oblivious to the urban sights and sounds teeming around her. In the little patch of green in front of an apartment building, a dog leaps and without fanfare (on his part – I am amazed) catches a flying red Frisbee mid-air. I definitely would have missed this moment if I were looking down at a screen.
Then there is the October sun, situated low in the sky and more apt to be blinding this time of year. I have gotten caught, frozen, more than once in its inescapable glare. I take the opportunity to be grateful to simply bask in the light, as if it is God’s Presence manifest in all-embracing radiance. I take the time to feel that from head to toe to heart.
The leaves turn, swirl, and fall gently in a colorful, graceful display of letting go. Flocks of birds zigzag repeatedly across the sky. I’m not sure what this is about, but I delight in the visual melody. I see a sparrow rustle under a tree at the edge of the sidewalk; on a bare limb above another sings. Yes, there is birdsong amidst the typical engine noises, sirens, and shouts! And when the piercing sounds of the city bear me down or stop me short, I offer a prayer for the EMT workers and the situation they are rushing to, or for a stressed-out driver or harried pedestrian.
I especially enjoy noticing the people along my walk. I don’t mean detached, curious observation. I mean to walk slowly enough, and sometimes stop, to offer a friendly greeting. More than polite etiquette, I light up with the kind of smile that comes only from within and is self-offering. I recognize that human being as beautiful to be seen.
My greeting is not always reciprocated but is more often than not. And when this happens, I experience something shining beyond the encounter, like that embracing Presence in the sun. In some mysterious way, taking the time to really pay attention opens a doorway for a holy spirit to work wonders in me and in you and in whatever the situation may be. Not in a Pollyannaish way. Suffering and pain are all too real, and all the more evident as I take the time to be present. In which case, I still have my presence to give.
I am not always paying attention; I do not always connect with my surroundings. My thoughts distract me; I am not a purist. It is laughable how easily I can move from a beautiful moment of connection with the newspaper carrier at the top of the Metro escalator as he offers, “Have a Blessed Day!” to a place of unawareness on the platform as I bury myself in the paper.
Then I remember and look up, back in the present moment. My friend Joseph talks about “the aesthetic nature of living.” Each moment holds the Eternal, if only I awaken in it. I still have plenty of time to get to work and back home. And I come bearing a heart full and grateful.
FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION: Take the time to notice. “Have a Blessed Day!” How are you experiencing your surroundings? What are you seeing and hearing within yourself? What is your response?
Trish Stefanik is a program administrator for Shalem and a contemplative retreat leader living in Washington, DC, after seven years with a study retreat community in a mountain wilderness environment and one year at an ecumenical Benedictine monastery. She is a graduate of Shalem’s Transforming Community: Leading Contemplative Prayer Groups and Retreats program.