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Paying Attention to the Natural World

August 24, 2011

It's easy to pass by little gems. A Pygmy Seahorse. Credit: PacificKlaus, Flikr.

Matthew McDermott over at TreeHugger has a nice book review of The Way of Natural History, a compilation on how mindful (e.g. buddhist) attention to the natural world can bring rewarding and surprising discoveries.

McDermott provides an excerpt that resonated with me.  Worth considering:

Why does attentiveness to nature matter? In a very fundamental sense, we are what we pay attention to. Paying heed to beauty, grace, and everyday miracles promotes a sense of possibility and coherence that runs deeper and truer than the often illusory commercial, social “realities” advanced by mainstream contemporary culture. … Our attention is precious, and what we choose to focus it on has enormous consequences. What we choose to look at, and to listen to–these choices change the world.

As Thich Nhat Hanh has pointed out, we become the bad television programs that we watch. A society that expends its energies tracking the latest doings of the celebrity couple is fundamentally distinct from one that watches for the first arriving spring migrant birds, or takes a weekend to check out insects in a mountain stream, or looks inside flowers to admire the marvelous ingenuities involved in pollination. The former tends to drag culture down to its lowest commonalities; the latter can lift us up in a sense of unity with all life.

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