“Attention is the Beginning of Devotion” – Mary Oliver
My husband and I spent the latter half of 2020 starting our days off with a Mary Oliver poem. We slowly worked our way through Devotions, a compilation of her work, while we sipped on our morning coffees and I couldn’t help but give Sophie little pieces of my toast.
One of the themes that pulses through Ms. Oliver’s work (I will resist calling her Mary, though I almost feel like she is an old friend or long lost soul mentor) is closeness to life. Her devotion to the natural world reverberates through every word, line, and metaphor, and this devotion is grounded in her ability to pay attention.
To pay attention to the snake that lies at the side of the road. To pay attention to how the little green frog went down the heron’s throat. To pay attention to the strange creatures of the sea that wash up on the shore.
When I feel into this type of attention, it is not the pointed focus of the Tyrant King or the hunter’s eyes that are endlessly seeking for life to consume. Rather, this attention is soft, receptive, and open. It allows life to come up close simply by our lack of resistance or barriers to it.
This attention is reverent and sweet.
In how many spaces in your life do you feel yourself held in this type of attention?
What facets of life do you hold in this loving gaze?
In our modern world, our attention spans are only shortening and our presence in the moment is faltering. During dinners, we disconnect from those around us to check our phones. Multi-tasking dominates our days (and sometimes not by our own conscious choice, but rather because there are too many tasks to complete and simply too few hours). Articles in massive publications are written sloppily because they know so few of us will get to the end anyhow.
If Mary Oliver was right and attention IS the beginning of devotion, what are we showing ourselves to be devoted to?
I also can’t help but wonder, if we gave more of our attention to the natural world around us, if we would also grow more devoted to it. We would no longer be as willing to turn the other cheek. We would sense our connection to the tree in our yard, feel compelled to help clean the creek by our home, and be enthralled by the tiny green grasshopper taking respite in the center of a rose on a rainy morning.
This type of soft attention, which is starkly missing in our world (and the absence of which is palpable and costly), is also the cornerstone of coaching, in my opinion. For an hour out of our day, to not be subjected to the scrutinizing and analyzing gaze of the Tyrant King, but rather to be held in the loving and undivided presence of the Wise & Wild Woman is deep medicine. She who sees below your words and your behavior to the soul who swims beneath the surface. She who listens for what is left unsaid. She who believes in your inevitable blossoming in your own divine timing.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
Mary Oliver from The Summer Day
Starting this month, I am offering a new six-month one-on-one coaching container, which is unapologetically steeped in the magic of the Wise & Wild Woman. Homecoming: Returning to the Wild Soul Within is rooted in this gentle attention that listens for your soul’s whispers, gives you a soft space to land, and creates a space where all of you is welcome. This is not your standard six-month coaching program, where I make you all kinds of promises as to what your life will be like at the end of it. In fact, Homecoming is not for most people. But if it is for you, you will know. You can read about it here.
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