Writing

Paying Attention

by | Mar 28, 2021 | 6 comments

“The next sixty seconds could be like an eterni- – -ty.”
– Bob Dylan, Things Have Changed

My daughter has been listening to Bob Dylan lately. She’ll come out of her room and, while prepping lunch or making tea, talk about some of the more recent tunes in her playlist rotation. ‘Visions of Johanna’ and ‘Blind Willie McTell’ have come up several times. ‘Shelter From the Storm’. ‘I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight’. ‘Like a Rolling Stone’.

“I like his phrasing,” she offered during one of these exchanges.

I experienced these words with a jolt. They arrived with a sudden burst of embodied electricity that, for the next few moments, sizzled through my system. “I like his phrasing.”

When we pay attention, we might notice that a lot of our so-called ordinary day to day comes with this kind of quality in it’s wake. A seemingly mundane conversation induces a shiver along the back of one’s neck. A chance encounter with an old friend is accompanied by flutters in the lower belly. Reading a single word or phrase in a favourite novel brings forth waves of energy that we consciously identify as longing or yearning or perhaps something else.

When we pay attention, we might notice there’s a kind of pointing out that happens again and again in the course of our lives. Everyday moments often come with an inexplicable responsiveness woven into them. Through this, embodied experience draws our attention and seems to say, ‘There’s something worth attending to here.’

It’s all so no big deal that it’s very easily overlooked. After all, we’re all so busy with the many other things we need to care for each day. And, if you are anything like me, we’ve all got so many ideas about these things and these lives.

In the instant noted above, I’ve listened to far more Bob Dylan than my daughter has and happen to know a fair bit about the vocal stylings he’s used throughout his career. Consequently, her comment initially seemed like an ideal opportunity for me to lecture and prove myself. Or so I thought.

Somehow that embodied sizzle caught my attention though, and this provoked a pause. “Like what?” I eventually asked. This question let our conversation wind and wander until we were listening to the notable gap Dylan allows between the third and fourth syllables of a single word in ‘Things Have Changed’. The gap that lets the word ‘eternity’ stretch into – well, stretch into eternity.

Did this experience change me? Did it alter the world in any way? Maybe not. But for a moment – one deliciously extended moment – I was reminded of wonder and awe in the world. I was reminded of beauty in this inexplicable life. I was reconnected with the timeless mystery of creation.

Not bad for a little instant of paying attention.

– Neil

6 Comments

  1. Enjoyed this. I’ll be listening more closely with my body today. Thanks!

    Reply
    • I didn’t actually catch your phrasing on my first few reads, Priscilla. But what a provocative articulation: ‘listening more closely with my body.’ It feels like an experience inclusive of much more than sound, to me.

      Reply
  2. Very inspiring Neil. Right now, spring…these days feel like a cascade of these amazing instants. Thank you.

    Reply
    • An interesting observation regarding spring, Katherine. Reflecting upon it, there does seem to have been an abundance of such blossomings these past few weeks. A fresh and sparkling cascade.

      Reply
  3. For some reason, the moment when you wanted to lecture your daughter on Bob Dylan’s phrasing brought up in my mind the lyrics: “Something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is — do you, Mr. Jones?” There is that “Mr. Jones” in us that always wants to think it knows what’s happening. But then, with a jolt, the rug is pulled out from under us in these magical moments, and we are left astonished, in the space where “something is happening, but you don’t know what it is…” And everything you could ever want is contained in those moments.

    Reply
    • Yes, Dunja, that really captures the feel of this particular moment. A sense of ‘I do know what’s happening’ somehow became more tentative. And in this space – a kind of delight and wonder. Funny and painful to connect with how quickly Mr. Jones wants to assert itself, however. Here’s to those jolts!

      Reply

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