The Lost Art of Paying Attention

I’ve forgotten how to pay attention. Not how to concentrate, but how to notice things. I am often reminded of this by my preschooler, who notices everything. In my hectic adult life, running here and there, always with a To-Do list in hand, always multi-tasking, I no longer see what’s around me. I no longer live in the moment. I no longer pay attention.

Sometimes, though, an event happens that forces me to pay attention. To see. To hear. To feel.

I came out of the library the other day, and a huge flock of birds blanketed the scenery. The ground, the trees, the bushes, all wiggled with black bodies constantly flitting, shifting, trading places. The noise hammered at me—screeching, cawing, cackling. Enough to make my ears ring.

Then a strange silent boom echoed through my body, and the world muted. Silence as deafening as the previous noise wrapped around me. In a second, the silent birds took to the air, hundreds of them in perfect synchrony. Thousands of feathers slapped the air with a thwip, thwip, thwip, and a rustle like silk whispered on the wind. The air pressure changed, pushing down on me as the flock flew just feet over my head.

Wheeling, angling, swirling in the air like a living kaleidoscope, the birds slowly dwindled to dots, disappearing into the heavens.

A wondrous event.

It may not sound like much—a flock of birds flying away—but I had never before felt and heard their flight. Never noticed all the details—unable to, really, since I usually saw this flock through the windows of my house, safely disconnected from the outside world.

In that moment, engulfed in the birds’ takeoff, I knew what it must have been like years ago, when enormous flocks of passenger pigeons literally blotted out the sun, or infinite streams of waterfowl flew the flyways. I connected not just with today’s nature, but with the past. The birds carried me outside of time, outside myself.

It would have been so easy to miss, to have been so lost in my own thoughts as to ignore them. But that silent boom, whatever it was, grabbed me and made me pay attention.

I need to pay more attention.

Not just because paying attention to the details of the world around you is a necessary skill for a writer, but because it is necessary for really living life. I have always lamented that I don’t have a fantastic memory. But maybe it’s not my memory that’s bad.

Maybe I just haven’t been paying attention.

What about you? Have you ever had a moment that is seared into your soul, a moment when you felt more alive than ever before?

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  1. I saw those birds too and was trying to think of a way to describe them in one of my stories. Black pepper in the sky? But generally I do not pay attention either. Being a writer, I’m ashamed of myself.


  1. […] it’s Nature’s way of telling me to slow down. To take a break and enjoy life a little more. To pay more attention, as I have vowed to do more this year. To be that kid […]

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