I absolutely love summer. Summer is fresh, warm, abundant. (I start Hashtagging #bringonsummer in January!) Summer is when the pace of life/work slows down and we are afforded time to pay close attention to the little miracles unfolding in nature. One of my favorite poems, written by prolific poet Mary Oliver, offers the act of ‘paying attention’ as an act of prayer.
Although there are no hard and fast rules, traditionally, the difference between prayer and meditation can be summed up as this:
Prayer is the act of talking with God.
Meditation is the act of listening with God.
Today, and for the rest of the summer season, my Meditation Challenge for you is to pay close attention. Pay close attention to the small miracles: the intricacies of the insects crawling on your sidewalk, the slow growth of buds on the tomato plant, the sudden unfurling of spinach leaves in the garden. Even as I was writing this, enjoying the summer sunshine on my back porch, a lightning bug danced on my hand for a moment. Her wings were beautiful and her smile made me grin. Pay close attention: life is short and meant to be savored.
Also, pay close attention to your body. The form of Meditation I’ve been teaching in my Sunday Morning Meditation Classes (you can read a review here and see my full teaching schedule here) is focused on paying attention to each part of your body and then fully relaxing that body part. We are often unaware of the places we hold tension– in our jaw, in our wrists, in the space behind the eyelids– until we consciously ‘let go and relax’ that tension.
Notice how, in this poem by Mary Oliver, the art of Paying Attention is equated to prayer. It is a form of Meditation, as well. Her reminder that life is short is not meant to be grim: instead, it is meant to entice you to pay close attention to life.
The Summer Day
by Mary Oliver
Who made the world?
from New and Selected Poems, 1992
You can practice the “Attention and Relaxation” Meditation at home.
1. Lay down on your back in a comfortable place.
2. Take three cleansing inhales and exhales out of your mouth
3. Focus our entire awareness on your toes. Pay attention to how your toes feel. Curl the toes, tighten the toes, clench the toes on your inhale; on your exhale: totally relax your toes.
4. Do this two more times with your toes.
5. Travel your attention to your feet and your ankles. Pay attention to how your ankles feel. Curl the toes, tighten the foot, engage the muscles on your inhale; on your exhale: totally relax your toes, feet, and ankles.
6. Travel your attention all the way up your legs, your back, your torso, etc. Continuing the same Attention and Relaxation technique. When you get to your shoulders: move through your arms to your hands and fingers.
7. Lastly, pay attention to the wrinkles in your forehead and the tension in your ears, eyes, and jaw. Let your face be at peace. Relax your entire being.
8. Sit up, keeping eyes closed, and resume seated quietude for three minutes. Mindfully enter back into your physical space with a few deep inhales and exhales to conclude your practice. Pay attention to how you feel.