Today, I’m going to share a wonderful, powerful tool that will help us overcome our reluctance to believe we are being helped and guided. In fact, it is one of the best tools I know of, for holding at bay, if not permanently eliminating, our despair, doubt, and defeat.
Like many important skills, it sounds very simple, but it takes a lifetime of practice to master.
It is the fine art of paying attention. When the crazymakers have us cornered, or it seems like we are struggling in the dark, or our dreams and desires keep getting stomped, we might need to just stop struggling. We instead need to slow down and pay attention.
It takes slowing down and paying attention to notice the lucky chances, odd coincidences, and serendipitous events that Helping Hands offer to us. They are rarely as noisy as our inner fears, or the saboteurs in our external world.
“Very often,” Julia writes, “a creative block manifests itself as an addiction to fantasy. Rather than working or living the now, we spin our wheels and indulge in daydreams of could have, would have, should have. One of the great misconceptions about the artistic life is that it entails great swathes of aimlessness. The truth is that a creative life involves great swathes of attention. Attention is a way to connect and survive.”
Three of Fire – Experiencing © Osho Zen Tarot
She goes on to describe her grandmother’s painful life, riddled with loss and disappointment. Julia shares that at times, the rest of the family would watch in anger and despair, wondering how she could stand her circumstances.
“The truth is, we all knew how she stood it. She stood it by standing knee-deep in the flow of life and paying close attention… survival lies in sanity, and sanity lies in paying attention. Yes, her letters said, Dad’s cough is getting worse, we have lost the house, there is no money and no work, but the tiger lilies are blooming, the lizard has found that spot of sun, the roses are holding despite the heat.
“My grandmother knew what a painful life had taught her: success or failure, the truth of a life really has little to do with its quality. The quality of life is in proportion, always, to the capacity for delight. The capacity for delight is the gift of paying attention.”
Often, it is our pain that forces us to pay attention. It has been my own observation that humans rarely learn much from the status quo. Success is only instructive when contrasted by mistakes and failures. Aches, pains, and broken hearts are all signals that something is wrong and we need to take notice.
Kahlil Gibran wrote, “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain. Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?”
Tomorrow, I’ll offer some more ideas about learning to pay attention, and slowing down. For these skills are not only crucial for our recovery, but fundamental for the making of our art.