Keeping Watch

What of the world has touched me this day? What, gratuitously, has reached me? Via all my preoccupations and distractions, what have I allowed in, registered? What grace have I mindfully received? To what and to whom have I given my attention?

These have been the questions that have been informing my way of late. It used to be that I kept a list of all that I did in a day. I tried that for almost a year in an effort to discover how it was at the end of a day I was utterly spent and with no memory, let alone satisfaction, of how I had become that way. So, I kept a list. Looking back over that list did not make my heart sing, however, not at all. Who cares, I thought? Not even me: all the things I did. It was a little misery-making to realise this, I confess. Papers marked, grades logged, meetings attended, classes taught, papers written, emails sent, phone calls made, bills paid, swims swum, walks walked (OK, that last one I do care about.) It seemed an experiment that bore no fruit, no nary a blossom.

At bottom I was haunted by that line of Annie Dillard’s ‘How we spend our days is how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour and that one is what we are doing.’ (A reflection on this very question, is here.) I guess one of the reasons I decided to keep the list was to see how I was spending my days, my hours. I wanted to see if I could get a peek at something bigger than my sense of fragmented business. I wanted to make sense.

The alternative practice I started at the new year, based on the questions (above), can be seen to be somewhat (informally) connected to the Ignatian examen (which I’ve never really been able to get into).This way is, I feel, a focus more on being (attentive) than on doing. In one sense it is effortless; in another it requires a certain orientation of mind, a certain alignment of intention, an attunement to divine frequency. Into a notebook I’ve begun to write down the things that penetrate the fuzz, or buzz, of living. Mostly I’ve noticed that they are sensory charges. Detonations in the routine hum-drum. Poetic Instances. The cold, sweet sip of water in the middle of the night; the fragrance of slow-cooked hot sweet potatoes bought off the wagon in the shopping street;  the sweetness of a mikan eaten while soaking up the sun; watching an earthshine moonset from my apartment window, a new moon accessorised by bright Venus in a two-tone sky of peach and gradated blues; the sound of my keys thunking into the ceramic bowl as I return home.

Oh, blessed asymmetry of life!

This day of ashes and of earth is a reminder: we are home. Being with this, orienting around it, encouraged and inspired by all the gifts I am sensing along the way, these things really do make the heart sing.




10 thoughts on “Keeping Watch

  1. Kate, beautiful piece. As one who suffers the need to always be doing at the expense of being (even when I slow my gait to become the observer, I seem to want to put what I just observed to work) I am attracted to your practice of intentionality and attunement to the divine frequency. I have noticed the same things you mention (Venus rising! the comforting aroma of roasted sweet potatoes greeting me each time I enter my local Korean market!) and I mentally pocket those experiences for later use, but instead, like the thousands of pictures I take with my phone, I rarely make time to simply enjoy them at the moment they occur. I’m rambling here when I might have just said, “I love this so much!” and hit enter. But by way of comment I am thanking you for inspiring me to practice making space, allowing cracks and to leaving a little of today’s dust for tomorrow.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Susan, for your heartwarming comment. It made me smile! Perhaps Lent is a good time to enter the wilderness of just being?

      P.S. Rambling is welcome … I, too, am a rambler. In rambling, don’t you find that sometimes unexpected treasures emerge? Oh, efficiency has its place, but every now and then a bit of fossicking around the mind, making and unmaking sentences, is fun, too, and why not? (Especially, in this case, when the nub of it is so lovely! 😊).

      Liked by 1 person

  2. The alternate perspective you describe seems to me could be described not only Being (vs. doing) but receiving our life as a Gift rather than something we have to create. I love the way you write about the examples.

    May the experience of Lent give you many heart songs to sing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Quite right! Interacting with the Gift perspective you mention elicits a sense of participation. It’s not so much that one ‘has to’ create but that one ‘gets to’ (if not “co-create” then) enter more fully into the flow of creation.

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  3. And here is a truth I’ve discovered: there can be times when being-and-doing are no longer separate, but one experience. You mention Dillard. I think of her story of the tree with the lights in it, and these words: “I had been my whole life a bell, and never knew it until at that moment I was lifted and struck.”

    To veer off just a bit: I didn’t have the time to “do something” with a particular experience for Ash Wednesday, but perhaps next year I will. I was able to visit one of our prairies this year only days after a prescribed burn. Never in my life have I felt the desolation of ashes so sharply. It was as if all life had been destroyed — until I began looking more closely. Here, a single blade of grass emerged. There, a bit of spider silk strung between burned stalks bore witness to spidery life. But only stopping, and really looking, allowed me to see the life in the midst of the apparent destructiion. More on that, later.

    Such a lovely post — and thought provoking, as always. One more odd thought. My grandmother used to say, “Sometimes I sits and thinks, and sometimes I just sits.”

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    • Reading your comment I was a bell struck three times! Each part of it resonated in rather amazing ways … the dancer and the dance, the doing and the being aligning: yes!

      The prairie burn – yes! I’ve recently been reading and thinking about blighted landscapes (different than what you described but not without similarities). In our place we have a garden wide burn – usually around the beginning of Lent which has always seemed particularly apt to me (, allowing for certain regeneration/resurrection come Easter.

      My great grandfather used to say exactly the same thing as your grandmother! 🤣 (Ah! We do well to learn to sit and think; better still, sometimes just to sit!)

      Thank you for sharing your kind words and associations.

      Liked by 1 person

      • The post you linked is intriguing. I need to come back — I will come back — and give it the attention it deserves. In the meantime, how’s this for a somewhat strange but intriguing association: when I walked across the burned prairie for the first time, the song that came to mind was the Moody Blues’ “The Story In Your Eyes,” with its line, “from the ashes we can build a better day.”

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