How to pay attention with empty hands

I’ve always thought it’s fairly easy to spot a person who is well-loved. She has a quiet glow on her face, a sureness in her movements and gestures and lips that are ready to smile on the world. People who are cherished by their tribe seem to radiate a sense of wellbeing.

It’s difficult to cherish when we’re distracted. When our hands are always holding some sort of device, our attention is constantly divided between the screen (& the lure of all the worlds it holds) and our loved ones.

I was reminded of how prevalent these devices are on a recent visit to Jozi. I was staying with my best friend: she was folding laundry in her bedroom and I was sitting on her bed. We were chatting.
She looked over at me suddenly and remarked in surprise, “It’s weird to talk to someone who doesn’t have a phone in their hands.”
“It’s weird that you actually noticed that!”
We laughed, shaking our heads.

The next day, we all went for a wander along the banks of the Crocodile River in Muldersdrift. The world was green and dripping after a deluge (which left me, an honorary Capetonian, wanting to rush around with a bucket). The river, brown and swollen, gave off that musky smell of earth, like a whiff of Mother Nature’s armpit. A hadeda stalked along the muddy lawn, stabbing its long beak into the soil.

Our party straggled in loose groups along the banks. Half of us were on our phones, thumbing messages, engrossed in that little backlit screen, looking up occasionally to steer across a puddle and a wonky wooden bridge.

Imagine if that lazy Sunday was our last day on earth? What would we remember of that stroll?

In ‘Downsizing’, a lukewarm science fiction movie about shrinking people as a solution to overpopulation, there was only one scene that struck me. The end of the earth is nigh and one of the communities of downsized people gathers on the shores of a Norwegian lake for their last evening before they go down into bunkers to start a new life underground.

Silence descends amongst those gathered on the sand as they intently witness their last sunset on earth. The sun slowly sinks beneath the horizon and as the light drains from the day, the camera zooms in on their faces. Tears roll down one man’s face.

Imagine if we paid this much attention to a sunset? To a walk along a river? To a little brown bird perched on a branch?

I know I couldn’t sustain this level of constant attention. It would be potentially enlightening but bloody exhausting. I need to numb out sometimes and let my eyes glaze over, or flick across a screen. But I do carry an awareness that the Earth is not simply a background to my daily dramas. She’s a being in her own right (on whom we’re actually scarily dependent). She deserves honour and a daily positive regard, for her good. And for my own good.

Imagine if we embraced the Earth as one of our tribe of loved ones: the Female in our lives who we honour with regular, loving attention; a listening ear; receptive hands empty of all devices. What if she’s longing to bask in our appreciative gaze? What if she’s waiting for us to behold her as she is?

And what if this gave her sustenance? Alongside all the obvious environmental initiatives and actions, what if this sense of appreciation flowing out from us in little moments each day, helped the Earth to glow like a well-loved woman?

I’m sitting on our veranda and I keep looking up from my Scrivener writing app to witness the dimming of the day. (There’s a bit of pressure to do so, considering my topic.)

The light in the sky is ever-changing. Clouds shift soundlessly from grey to a glowing orange to a dusky pink. And I notice for the first time that our Cape honeysuckle is in bloom: throaty orange trumpets of joy.

Just simple loving attention, right now. As she is. As I am. As we are.


(Thanks to Caroline for the pic! And loads more…)


4 thoughts on “How to pay attention with empty hands

  1. This is a remarkable piece of writing and profoundly thought-provoking. All living things respond to, and need, attention – so why would it be different for Mother Earth. Thank you for the timely reminder. xxx

    Liked by 1 person

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