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  • Writer's pictureBill Stauffer

Gratitude Friday 11 19 21 - Doing More Than a Drive by In Life

“Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.” ― Confucius

I do not claim to be a great listener or to have incredibly powerful observation skills. No doubt I miss a lot of things going on around me. Often multiple times before my attention is drawn in. Technology does not help. Gadgets vie for attention with buzzes, dings, flashes of light and not so gentle vibrations. In reflection, it is not possible to identify what I failed to hear or see, because it never fully registered. I probably miss a lot more than I am aware of. But what is true is that when I have really seen or heard the things going on in me and around me, they have been life changing. How much better we would all be if we devoted more of our resources to listening and to deep observation?

There is some growing evidence that the way we live in our technological immersion of constant interruption is deteriorating us. A study in the UK found that emails, texts and messages led to an average IQ loss of 10 points, more than double the four point mean fall found in studies of heavy cannabis users. According to this very short TIME article, there was a Microsoft study a few years back that our concentration has fallen from an average of 12 seconds to 8 seconds. They claim that in comparison to goldfish, goldfish win in respect to comparative powers of concentration. How did they determine that last point? In our defense, a goldfish in a bowl has less stimuli than we do.

The most significant thing I ever failed to really see in my life was my own addiction. When it was enveloping me, I was aware of it on some level, but I also jammed it out of sight and out of mind. Often, not in a conscious process. Huge defense mechanisms hard at work to keep me from really seeing that which was killing me. I can still recall the feeling I felt when I understood the stark truth about what substance use was doing to me. It was a visceral feeling. It felt like I was a child confronting a monster under the bed in the dead of night. I have a body memory of the experience over 35 years later, it was that powerful. Use equals pain and death. Recovery is life, it opened my eyes and ears to the world.

As part of my own healing, I spend time in nature. It does speak to us if we listen. During the pandemic, I have made even more regular pilgrimages into the woods, fields, and swamps. Often to the same spaces and sitting in the same spots. Spending time in one place reveals additional levels of experience. It has helped me feel the rhythms of the planet we inhabit more deeply. A place visited often will show nuances you miss on a drive by. Different plants, different smells, differences in light. The subtly shifting migration and cycles of the beings that we cohabitate the earth with become more observable. It is, at least for me, grounding. In those moments, I see nature, and in a sense I cannot fully explain, nature sees me. I am more one with the world. About as deep as my spirituality goes.

Perhaps the greatest gift of my life has been the opportunity to more fully see and hear people with very different life experiences. To walk alongside them in their healing journeys. To be more fully present for another human being is a deep honor and responsibility. People facing the same kinds of demons I battled with. I suspect I have learned more from them than them from I. The net result of decades of deep listening to the most personal and sensitive things that people struggle with is a deeper empathy for humanity. An appreciation for the hidden facets of their stories. Things we all grapple with, openly and not so openly. We have no idea what another person is wrestling with. The thing behind the fixed smile, the broken dreams of persons we walk past. The effort it takes for some to hold on to life itself. The things we miss when we don’t put effort into being fully present. Perhaps the most important things there are.

In a world that increasingly does not listen and instead hates and judges, what would happen if everyone just started to listen to understand and to actually see each other with open hearts and open minds? It is a powerful question. I know I have worked hard to get to a point where I don’t as often experience these more destructive energies. Truthfully, it may not be entirely within my grasp all the time. But when I can open up on this level, it is profoundly rewarding.

I am grateful for the things that have registered in this way with me in my life. They were often things I missed until a later time. Usually, they first appeared as perplexing, too complicated or too sticky to unpack. The instinct we often have is to roll right past that stuff. To keep it moving. But I have found for me that instinct is to my own detriment. Typically, the experience of focusing effort on these types of things yields the greatest reward. That earlier reflex in life to pass by such things has evolved into a focus on them. They are far too important to pass over.

I am grateful for the opportunity that being alive today has provided me to look, feel and listen to what is going on around and inside me. The things I may have missed seeing, feeling, or hearing before. I am grateful I have my senses to experience the world. I am grateful for the opportunity that this season offers to slow down and be with those who love me and whom I love. The pandemic put all that in stark relief, it is what is important.

What are you grateful for today?

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