“It matters not what you look at, But what you see.” Henry David Thoreau

Blue sea shell

Blue sea shell

It matters not what you look at
But what you see.       Henry David Thoreau

Colour over the eye; colour under the eye; mask around the eye; colour under the throat, under and over the bill; wing bar – primaries and secondaries; colour on the rump, flank, belly, and on the mantle. And then there’s a long list of the tail’s details: primaries, secondaries, and tertials.  Colour, size, habitat, sound, and movement – beginner notes.

Whew! When I asked for binoculars so that I could watch the birds in my yard, and while on vacation, I really had no idea about bird watching. I pretty much thought I’d sit in a deck chair and just stare into the trees. So when my sister gave me a how-to book for beginners, I was a little overwhelmed. Who knew that I was supposed to distinguish the different species by identifying a multitude of characteristics or field marks? (And, of course, the little creature has to cooperate and stay still long enough that I can observe the many details.)

But after only a year of practising my newly found hobby, I have learned the secret key, the number one ingredient to successful bird-watching – drum roll, please – one has to pay attention. Mindfulness is really the key to the enjoyment of watching birds. (Whether I identify them, or not.)

From my own experience over the last few years when I began to pursue mindfulness as a daily practice, I have discovered that in focusing on the micro, that is the small, finer details, or parts of a whole – a totally new world has opened up. I suspect many creative people, including painters and artisans, discovered this little secret a long time ago.

By narrowing my focus, or zooming in, I’ve learned to identify some birds and more importantly, I’ve learned not to make assumptions and mis-identify them.

I think the idea of attending to the finer details is exciting – at this moment I am looking outside my window and observing the bare branches of the trees at the back of my yard. Oddly, the tangled bare branches remind me of pictures of brain cells (under the microscope) when plaques and tangles have caused Alzheimer’s disease. That comparison is macabre, I know, but since both my parents had Alzheimer’s disease, I have spent a lot of time on the Web, viewing pictures of brains.

But with binoculars, I adjust the lens and zoom in and now I observe …tiny pink buds at each end of the branches. Pink buds! That’s a mini-miracle this minus Celsius winter day.

Whether I am staring at the beauty of nature, or I am surrounded by people in the workplace, or at a long-term care facility visiting residents, I am always cognizant that in mindfulness, we see deeper and fuller.

Just by focusing on someone or something (by adjusting our internal telescopic lens), we can open ourselves to more possibilities and we can expand our experiences. We can live fuller and richer lives.

I believe that mindfulness, staying present in the moment, is the gateway to acceptance and peace within. And the practice makes for a firm grounding.
When I practice paying attention to people on a deeper level (rather than just glancing at what’s easily visible or at the whole), I find that’s when I can really connect with someone.

When I cared for my father, I did not practice mindfulness. In fact, most of the time I was in my own little world in my head. I was sad most of the time; depressed sometimes. And I was angry every day that my father was changing; little by little he became a shadow of the man that he was. I resented the disease; I hated the disease.

The few times that I was really at peace was when I sat with him by his bedside – sometimes, I would just talk to him and sometimes, I would read to him. And often, I would just sit in silence. Those were the times that I remember that I was in acceptance, and therefore, in peace. Most of the other times, I was not.

That challenging journey has taught me many lessons and I used all of those lessons to be a better caregiver for my mother. I was present for her and that made all the difference in the world.

Now I have learned to recognize and acknowledge the “triggers” that cause stress in my body – recognition is step one. Step two is taking a few deep breaths and allowing myself some time (or space) to change my initial response…which is usually stress with a capital “S.”

When I begin to pay attention to my body’s reaction to other people’s comments or actions, I can begin to change my own energy. It was a powerful strategy when I was with my mother who had Alzheimer’s. Her lack of control over her own thoughts and her actions (simply put – her life!), led her to fight back often when I was with her. It became vital to transform my energy first, so that I could slowly influence her energy. When you sit in silence with someone, even though they are raging at you, slowly, slowly, their energy changes – and they become quieter and watchful of you.  Then, in silence, she would look (really look) at my face and feel the love.

In retrospect, I realize that mindfulness and paying attention to the present moment allowed me to accept my reality that my mother had a dementia and that she was more dependent on me, than I on her. I learned to accept that. And I learned to be at peace with it. But I had to let go of the negative energy, first.

My sister and I visited my mother daily when she was in a long-term care facility and I vowed from the beginning that I would never visit her with negative energy. I am so grateful and thankful (that with the Grace of God) I was able to do that.

In her last two years, I was able to pay attention to her and her needs, and I was able to take care of my own needs (because if we do not look after ourselves, we cannot look after another). It really was a life-changing lesson because when we begin to really look after our own body, mind and spirit, we begin to really love ourselves. We are a gift! (with a capital G).

  • It is in awareness that we can discern someone’s distress or pain – and that leads to compassion for that person.
  • It is in awareness that we are able to discern where and when we can help and support someone – that leads to kindness.
  • And it is in awareness that we are able to discern the beauty and the true essence of another, and that leads to joy and a connection.

For me, it always begins with mindfulness, awareness or just paying attention. Such simple steps: Focus. Zoom in. Observe. Connect.

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