April 18 – The Purpose of Full Attention – Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening

This is the ongoing purpose of full attention: to find a thousand ways to be pierced into wholeness. 

A most profound and helpful learning came to me when struggling with the pain of having a rib removed. For weeks I felt a corset of pain girdling each breath. but watching the winter water of a stream begin to thaw and flow, over and over, I finally saw that to make it through the pain, I had to be more like the water and less like the ice.

For when trees fell into the ice, the river shattered.  But when large limbs fell into the flowing water, the river embraced the weight and flowed around it. The trees and winter water were teaching me the the pain was more pointed and hurtful when I was tense and solid as ice. Then, each breath was shattering.  But when I could thaw that fear and tenseness I carried, the pain was more absorbed, and I could, like the thawing stream, move on – not pain free, but no longer shattered.

It is this way with much of nature. By opening fully to our own experience, we can feel and see the resilience of life around us. Feeling our roundedness, we can learn from the hollowed stump how to root smaller greens. Feeling our sadness, we can learn from the leaves too tired to be blown along, how to surrender. Feeling our tenderness, we can learn from the caterpillar how to endure the tremble that precedes the appearance of wings. But it is only by showing up, by denying nothing, that other living things reveal to us the secrets of how they manage to live.  In deep counterpoint to the old saying, “An eye for an eye,” there is a deeper law that guides use to a wholeness: a truth of being for a truth of being.  So the purpose of full attention is to invite through personal surrender the particular example of life force in whatever is around us to show itself: a truth of being for a truth of being.

Yes, when in pain, be like flowing water.  When suffering near the bottom, feed off what you can, like the brilliant ocean fish, and spit back the rest. When feeling burdened, watch small birds to see how they begin to fly. When feeling finished, watch newborn animals open their wet little eyes and imitate their innocence. Once giving full attention,  you will come back – one drop at a time – into the tide of the living.


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