Friday, October 3, 2008

On Paying Attention

In Verona, Italy, there is an alley that leads off the main street into a small courtyard below the famous balcony on which Juliet is supposed to have appeared to Romeo. Along the walls of the alley leading to the courtyard are layers of post-it notes, placed there to commemorate loved ones and romances.

The texture of the wall of notes is very appealing, so I took several photographs, but there were so many tourists that it was hard to get the wall without them and without being jostled by them. None of the shots I got were particularly crisp, but this one seemed to be the best of the bunch. It's not very exciting -- there's no obvious center of interest -- but I like the texture, the color, and the light.

This morning I was reading about "Inattention: the first level of delusion," a state familiar to us all. How many times have you taken a familiar drive, lost in thought, and arrived with no memory of the drive? How many times have you asked a question and not really listened to the answer? How much of your life do you live on automatic pilot, paying little or no attention to your surroundings?

As Kornfield says, "When things are neutral, we get bored and spaced out because we are so culturally conditoned to seek high levels of stimulation. So we miss the aliveness behind the neutral experiences that make up much of our day. And yet when our attention grows, what seems neutral or dull becomes full with an unseen richness."

I've certainly spent plenty of time in this sort of hazy space, so I decided to look for an image that might illustrate that "aliveness behind the neutral"; something that would offer a little extra spice, an "unseen richness" upon closer inspection. It took a lot of searching, but I knew I had found the right image when I came to this one.

Because if you look at it closely -- and I've downloaded it in a slightly larger format than usual to help you do that -- you'll see that on the left-most edge of the image there is a single blue note, the only one on the wall. And on that note, written in bright pink ink, is the single word, Katie, with what looks like a butterfly drawn beside it. Katie, you may remember, is the young lady to whom this blog is dedicated; the child who lost her life to cancer over a year ago.

How could I not have seen that? And how is it that, even though I didn't see it, I photographed it? And how wonderful, that the blue of the note is echoed by the bluish light that comes to us from the end of the tunnel leading to Juliet's courtyard!

I have a friend, long divorced, who has expressed with some frequency his conviction that marriage and passion are mutually exclusive terms; that the dailiness of a long-term relationship necessarily precludes the depth and richness and power of true passion. As I look at this image, and ponder the issue of inattention, I realize that the boredom and lack of passion which he claims must necessarily plague a long-term relationship are not, in fact inevitable, but only a function of inattention.

It is, I suspect, easy to stop noticing those we live with; easy to assume their behaviors are predictable; easy to miss the sparks of interest if our minds are always elsewhere; easy to grow accustomed to the texture of a relationship without noticing the light and color that give it depth.

But that doesn't mean the spark is gone, only that for whatever reason we have been distracted by other stimuli. And somehow I find it immensely reassuring that even though I might not always be paying attention, not only is there still something there that deserves to be seen, but there is also some part of me which is actually very consciously engaged with my surroundings.

Somewhere the spark is registering, even if I don't see it at first glance. Which is why it's important to stop once in a while, to look, to devote some energy to the moment at hand, and to the relationship at hand. Who knows what you might discover!


Unknown said...

I LOVE the note in the photo...
Yes, I pray that "she is wherever the light is."
Thank you for remembering Katie! How she would have loved the association with that place, and that great, eternal story of romance. God bless you, my friend.

Anonymous said...

Thats a beautiful way of expressing love. I hope Katie is resting in peace in a place even better than earth. I am from Los Angeles and in one of my golf trips to Europe me and my golf partner will make sure to visit this place...