05 February 2012

Attention, please... (September 2011)

The signs have been revealing themselves for a week now. A subtle change in light, cool mornings, spider webs sparkling with dew. “Fall’s here,” people are saying, “can you feel it?” This morning I turned on the hot water faucet to undeniable evidence: the water was cold coming out of the tap.

We know the seasons are changing because we notice the little details. And isn’t that what makes life so delightful, all those details? Certainly they’re what bring my life joy. Listening to the hens cackle all morning, inhaling the perfume of pennyroyal as I walk past the pastures, eating a sun-warmed blackberry straight off the cane, noticing the barber-pole swirls of bark climbing a redwood, petting a purring cat (or three)…

A couple of weeks ago, on a quiet mid-morning, grey with coastal overcast, I was hanging my laundry on the line in full faith that the fog would burn off to reveal yet another blue summer day. The cats were nearby, as they always are when I hang laundry. Zachary was licking Jules’ forehead, a tender grooming that inevitably leads into kitty wrassling, while Ochosi watched and Henry Hunter wondered how he could get in on the action. The chickens were roaming, scratching and pecking and clucking – those who weren’t in a nest getting ready to lay an egg – and some of them gathered around my feet, waiting to have their rears scratched, their tail feathers ruffled. As I pinned my damp clothes to the line, I realized that I was completely, peacefully happy, that it is on mornings like this when I’m hanging clothes out to dry that I am most content. To be engaged in such a simple task, surrounded by happy critters, with each sense alive to beauty: colorful clothes against a backdrop of pastoral river valley and wooded hills; birds singing; chickens and cats carrying on; a subtle scent of ozone and cut grass; soft perfect-temperature air… these are my perfect moments.

Principle #8 is to Slow Down and Pay Attention. I call it the Zen practice of being organized. As you move through September, notice the details that make you smile, and give them a quiet, appreciative nod. Your life will be richer for it.

Tip of the Month

Krishnamurti wrote: “When you concentrate on a subject, on a talk, on a conversation, consciously or unconsciously you build a wall of resistance against the intrusion of other thoughts, and so your mind is not wholly there; it is only partially there, however much attention you pay, because part of your mind is resisting any intrusion, any deviation or distraction… If you listen both to the sound of the bell and to the silence between its strokes, the whole of that listening is attention. Similarly, when someone is speaking, attention is the giving of your mind not only to the words but also to the silence between the words. … [B]e all the time aware so that your mind is all the time attentive without being caught in the process of exclusion. … If your mind has space, then in that space there is silence – and from that silence everything else comes, for then you can listen, you can pay attention without resistance. That is why it is very important to have space in the mind. If the mind is not overcrowded, not ceaselessly occupied, then it can listen to that dog barking, to the sound of a train crossing the distant bridge, and also be
fully aware of what is being said by the person talking here. Then the mind is a living thing.”

Years ago, when I taught fourth grade, I would have my students close their eyes and just listen for a few minutes, noticing what sounds they heard. It was always surprising to realize how many sounds we tuned out. As an exercise in building awareness and attention to detail, try it. Close your eyes and listen. That’s all – just notice. What do you hear?

Quotes of the Month

One instant of total awareness is one instant of perfect freedom and enlightenment. – Manjushri

Do not seek with cold eyes to find blemishes, or the roses will turn to thorns as you gaze. – Sabisistari

If you pay attention at every moment, you form a new relationship to time. In some magical way, by slowing down, you become more efficient, productive, and energetic, focusing without distraction directly on the task in front of you. Not only do you become immersed in the moment, you become that moment. – Michael Ray

Attention enables us to step back from our waking dream, while at the same time bringing us closer to a true encounter with our life. It serves to clear out all that we add to this bare moment, and lets us see it as it is. – Philip Martin

Recipe of the Month

Claire’s Stuffed Zucchini

Quarter two large (not gargantuan monsters, just decent-sized) zukes. Place them face down in a 9 x 13 Pyrex with a bit of water covering the bottom. Cover the top with foil and bake until the zucchini “meat” is tender. Remove and allow to cool enough to be handled without scalding your fingers.

While the zukes are baking, sauté
1 diced onion (medium, yellow or white)

When the onions are translucent, add
8 to 10 sliced mushrooms
3 to 4 chopped garlic cloves (good sized; if the cloves are puny, use 8 to 10 of them)

Once the mushrooms have cooked, remove from heat and stir in
1 teaspoon to 1 Tablespoon of yellow curry powder (to taste)
1 to 2 teaspoons of dry thyme
2 to 3 Tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce

Use a spoon to remove the zucchini “meat” from its shell, and add the “meat” into the onions/mushrooms/garlic. (Leave the shells, face up like little empty rowboats, in the Pyrex and remove the extra water.) Use the spoon to mash the zucchini so that it doesn’t have any lumps and is blended in with the onions, etc.

You will have extra liquid in the mixture at this point, thanks to the zukes. (Note: this is not the liquid you removed from the Pyrex. That was to be discarded, or reserved for a veggie broth, or something.) Add enough bread crumbs (I use seasoned) to sop up the liquid, making the veggies a solid – but not dry – consistency.

Mix in about 1 cup of grated sharp cheddar cheese.

Spoon the mixture back into the zucchini shells (they’ll be heaping once filled).

Bake, uncovered, at 350 until nicely browned, about 20 to 30 minutes.

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