Paying Attention

Paying attention.jpg

This is a second post about Laurell K. Hamilton’s new Meredith Gentry novel, A Shiver of Light.  The book has given me a lot of food for thought, and clearly more than one blog post.  Laurell Hamilton is one of my very favorite authors and the Anita Blake and Meredith Gentry series are some of the best I’ve ever read.  Her books are not for the faint-hearted, however.  The level of violence and very graphic, very alternative sex is off the charts, and a reader needs to be prepared for that.  I love it, of course. I love the action and the intensity and the vibrancy of the books. But lately, her books have become significantly more introspective and descriptive.  And, in truth, this has not been a trend I’ve appreciated.  But this time, as I read the new novel, I was called to consider why I was unhappy with the slower pace and increased introspection.  I was called to pay attention to how, why and to what I am inclined to pay attention and what these inclinations have to teach me.

I have always preferred action to scenery, plot progression to character development and movement to stasis.  I have always set my sights on the destination, the goal, the ending, the last page.  And while I’ve never been one to cheat and read the end before I get there, I’ve always enjoyed seeking signposts along the way that might tell me how it’s all going to work out in the end.  This has led me to spending time looking for foreshadowing (as I’ve mentioned, Charlaine Harris clearly broadcasts Sookie’s final choices and future path beginning in book 1 for those who were paying attention—why anyone was surprised, I’ll never understand).  It’s also given me a penchant for tarot and rune readings, and even led me to do some research on these channeling techniques myself.

So, I do pay attention.  The question at hand, however, involves that which captures and holds my attention, and whether I need to widen my aperture a bit, which I’m beginning to suspect I need to do.

In A Shiver of Light, the faerie princess Meredith spends a lot of time noticing a lot of what I would normally consider minutiae, that which would fall below the level of my notice in real life.

And as I read about the things that Meredith considered attention-worthy, my mind began to drift, and I noticed myself beginning to skim through whole paragraphs, rather than reading them all the way through.  And I felt compelled to stop and think about what I was doing.  Maybe I was missing something here.  Maybe I should go back and read more slowly, savor more sweetly, as it were. And then, the messages started coming fast and furious that, yes, indeed, I was missing quite a lot, in fact.

They say the devil is in the details, and who wants to dance with the devil?  Not me, of course, so I tended to gloss over the details of my life and stick to the major plot developments.  I’ve come to realize that this has possibly been a big mistake and a course correction is probably in order.

Merry notices the smallest things, using all her senses, so that we are treated to detailed descriptions of what she sees, hears, feels, tastes, and smells.  She notices minute changes in the eyes and expressions of the people she loves.  She notices when someone’s subtle body language shifts, and when a tone of voice indicates surprise, unhappiness or joy.  She attends to her environment, noticing the blessings of her Goddess in bringing life back to the land in all its smallest increments.  And as I experienced all of these events through the magic of reading, I’ve been reflecting on the misguided thinking that led me to conclude that attending to the small stuff meant that my life and my world were correspondingly restricted.

I’ve spent a lot of my life believing that I needed to keep my eyes on the prize, my head in the game, and avoid being distracted by the shiny objects that litter the periphery.  But I was dead wrong about all of that, I’ve come to believe.  I think the ability to be present for the small moments of life, to notice the really little things, is a blessing that many of us fail to recognize or embrace. 

Recently a friend highlighted this particular reality in a very visceral way.  This friend shares a gratitude list with me every night.  It is a wonderful gift to read about all that she finds in the world to be grateful for each day.  And her lists are not the usual “thanks for my family, my health, the roof over my head and the food on my plate” kinds of things.  No, my friend’s gratitudes include the baby woodpeckers that hatched in a nest in her back yard, and the opportunity to sit for a while with the sun on her face in the park, enjoying a view of the lake, and the pleasant exchange she had with the cashier at the grocery story.  Her lists point to what she attends to, and by extension, what she values, and it is a beautiful thing to receive each day.  Like Merry’s notice to the smallness of life, such attention actually points to a life lived large, a life of meaningful presence.

So, I don’t think the devil is in the details after all.  I think perhaps that’s where we can find God, or Goddess, or whatever points us toward the Divine in life.