• joshua chamberlain

paying attention

I was working on an art piece recently and found myself so focused on the finished product, I didn't pay attention to the details along the way. The result was a piece that didn't come remotely close to match my intention, all because I was focused on the product and not the process. I wasn't paying attention.


I'm about halfway through reading Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, in which an autistic teenager attempts to solve the mystery of a murdered pet. In one passage, the protagonist reflects on the nature of details and how most people fail to notice them:


"...most people are lazy. They never look at everything. They do what is called glancing...and the information in their head is really simple. For example, if they are in the countryside, it might be:

  1. I am standing in a field that is full of grass.

  2. There are some cows in the fields.

  3. It is sunny with a few clouds.

  4. There are some flowers in the grass.

  5. There is a village in the distance.

  6. There is a fence at the edge of the field and it has a gate in it.

And then they would stop noticing anything because they would be thinking something else, like "Oh, it is very beautiful here," or "I'm worried that I might have left gas cooker on," or "I wonder if Julie has given birth yet."


This seems like such a profound truth about our world: we all struggle to be present. We're always thinking about other things. We're always distracted.


Cell phones and computers on make this worse. As companies are competing to occupy space in our brains, we're texting while talking on the phone, sending emails in meetings, and scrolling through Instagram while watching Netflix. No one stops to do one thing at a time. No one pays attention.


If anything, we could all stand to unplug, stop, breathe, look, and listen a little more. I wonder what we'd discover.

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