An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
of August 25, 2002
written in the woods just south of Natchez, Mississippi, USA

ON THE PLEASURES OF
PAYING ATTENTION

These days are like the minimalist, modern music of Philip Glass. At first that music seems monotonously repetitive. But if you stick with it you begin noticing that the piece is forever changing. The same melody may be repeated again and again, but now it's in a different key, now it's accompanied by counterpoint, etc. Once you get the hang of it, Glass's music can be a pleasure, even a great one.

In the same way, these days seem all alike, yet every day there are delightful changes if you pay attention.

The process of learning to pay attention is itself a pleasure. Years ago when I began studying yoga and for the first time in my life focused on the joy of breathing, of stretching and relaxing muscles one by one, of merging with my own heartbeat -- it was like being born again. A similar awakening took place in college when I discovered a book on Japanese flower arranging. Day after day I would look at a certain few arrangements, constantly discovering new patterns, new color combinations, new tensions in the interplay of symmetry and asymmetry...

You can train yourself to pay attention. This Tuesday morning, for instance, I consciously made the effort to absorb what I could of the essence of a certain mushroom. For a good while I hunkered next to the mushroom smelling it, admiring its rich colors and unusual shagginess. I visualized its network of hidden hyphae gradually migrating throughout the leaf litter below us, then one recent day budding and sending up this mushroom. I visualized spores dropping from beneath its dusky cap at that very moment, riding air currents I couldn't feel, heading for unknown forests perhaps far away. I spoke to the mushroom, called it by its name, and this worked certain connections in my own head.

Yesterday I spent a good amount of time standing beneath an umbrella-size, star-shaped leaf of a 15-foot high (4.5 m) Castor Bean (known locally as Mole Plant), admiring how the sun caused the plant's leaf tissue to glow a certain bright yellow-green the mere seeing of which evoked the sparkling hum of sunlight during photosynthesis, of leaf cells dividing, and of sweet sap surging through the leaves' phloem. I imagined myself inside the leaf, sunlight-glowing and sweet-wet myself. Like the plant I felt myself sky-reaching, issuing strange flowers with primitive-looking bunches of stamens on repeatedly branching filaments, and with those crazy-looking, purple-feathery styles.

Whenever something touches you the way the mushroom and Castor Bean plants did me, it's an invitation by that thing to commune. Maybe there's no more beautiful thing a person can do than to consciously and whole-heartedly experience the Creator's works, to rejoice in the mere act of doing so, and to be grateful for having had the opportunity.