Chance favours the prepared mind.
Louis Pasteur

Astonishing material and revelation appear in our lives all the time….We just have to be open for business.
Anne Lamott from the book: Help, Thanks, Wow

I have a friend who leads an interesting life. She travels, has a wide range of friends and seems to be able to venture into new territory with apparent ease: writing a book; starting a new business; producing a film. I am amazed at what she has accomplished and much of it was after her children were grown.

We have all met people who seem to catch wonderful opportunities more often than the rest of us. It is remarkable to witness. Somehow, they are able to take ideas and turn them into something wonderful.  One could say that such people are simply born with many advantages. But those advantages are of little value unless they are used. In other words- an opportunity or idea needs to present itself and someone has to either take hold of it or create conditions in which the opportunity manifests itself.  I think a key element in making this happen is the practice of paying attention and it has implications for women at midlife and beyond. In fact I would suggest that Paying Attention is another condition, along with Start with the Body; Find an Ally; and Play that sets the stage for great opportunities and adventures that move us From Here to There.

Paying attention is a skill that can be developed and honed. It is a practice that enables opportunities to come our way so that we can appraise them and take them for our own if we choose. This is a very active process. Perhaps some of us just do this as a matter of course.  We are naturally curious or have a habit of pursuing questions to their final conclusions.  But some of us too easily dismiss thoughts that could support our own larger than life ideas to bring about an enriched life beyond the usual routines that inhabit our days.

Paying attention encompasses many dimensions. It can be the state in which we are attentive to what is happening in our immediate environment- noticing a subtle change in the demeanor of a friend; seeing the detail in a painting; realizing- as we are about to stuff that chocolate in our mouth- that we are really not hungry. Paying attention can also cause us to reflect and understand what is happening now within the broader, dynamic context of the whole.  We can look at someone or something in a different way. As a result, we are able to observe the needle in the haystack; infer the emotion underlying the glib response; or note the gap in a report.  It is noticing the threads in a majestic tapestry and being able to gaze in awe at the whole.

Many women are skilled at paying attention- accustomed to balancing the needs of others, reading between the lines, and capturing nuance in a response, but may not readily identify or seize opportunities that directly benefit themselves and no one else. Can we use this amazing skill of paying attention for ourselves? I believe we can but it requires practice.

Practice is essential because the distractions and interruptions we experience on a daily basis can take us off course. To be sure, some of those interruptions are the opportunities themselves that require our attention. But if we attend to what is going on around us and what passes through our lives, we just may notice something that could serve us well if we reach out and claim it. There may be a few among us who hear the blare of horns and see waving flags to grab their attention. But for many of us, the ideas and opportunities that could shape our lives are small, quiet, and easily missed. I’m talking about a chance encounter; a book that prompts a train of thought; a new route to work that makes us suddenly think of an idea out of the blue. These are the fleeting wisps of thought that are here and gone, but if attended to, can lead to a series of “somethings” – possibilities- to which we begin to form meaning.  As Elizabeth Gilbert has pointed out in her book Big Magic, if we don’t notice or bring that idea to us, it will head toward someone else who can receive it and nurture it along. But the good news is that there are a multitude of opportunities out there and if we miss one, there will be others.

Paying attention requires patience of course. And the risk is that we slip into not noticing without even noticing. But we can move from a distracted state and outward focus to being more conscious of our interior lives as well as what is happening around us. To be able to see the patterns and the unfolding and the connections that did not seem possible to connect. And not wait for them to land on our lap but grab them as they go by and choose them for our own.

PS My thanks to Cheryl Sylvester for inspiring this blog.

2 thoughts on “Paying Attention

  1. Such a powerful question you ask — “Can we use this amazing skill of paying attention for ourselves?” Wow. So many possibilities from that one shift in perspective.

    And thanks for the acknowledgement — you inspire me, too — Cheryl


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