I have an inkling that there is a direct correlation between attention and appreciation. Increased attention to the stuff of life – books, conversations, scenery, foods, people, tasks, and so on – leads to an increased appreciation of what could otherwise be easily overlooked. For an example, I find that annotating articles or books helps me pay closer attention to the ideas expressed in them, so that regardless of the extent to which I like or dislike the piece of writing, I am more able to understand and appreciate the point the author made. The more I take notes, the more I pay attention, and the more attention I pay, the more I appreciate.
Another example comes from my experience working as a hospital chaplain for a year. I spent my days listening to people talk about the intricacies of their lives – the details of their families, their pets, their fears, their career histories, their regrets, their past travels and their hopes for the future. In paying attention to these individuals’ stories, I came to possess a sort of awe at the complexity of human beings whom I might never have noticed, let alone appreciated. I learned through chaplaincy that I can’t appreciate that to which I haven’t paid attention.
Writing is a form of paying attention. It involves taking the mass of loose connections, images, phrases and strands of thought and distilling them into a coherent statement. It’s a bit like putting together a jig-saw puzzle in which there are more pieces than necessary. Synthesizing requires concentration, discernment and an ability to think openly and creatively. And the act of discerning and integrating that which fits — in bringing order to chaos — appreciation of the component parts is elevated.
Taking notes on the various aspects of my life — the books I read, the places I travel, the people I encounter and the sights, sounds, smells and tastes that I experience — heightens my sensitivity to the details of the ordinary. And in turn, noticing the details opens my eyes to the miraculousness of the every day, heightening my appreciation for life.
What helps you take notice? How do you cultivate attention?