One afternoon I called a friend and got what was his voicemail. It went something like this: “Hi, this is Jake. I can’t get to the phone right now, but leave me a message and I will return your call as soon as I can.” This seemed like a normal voicemail recording, but then there was a pause, and I heard this: “Have a great day—unless you decide not to.” After hearing this, I paused.
You will find many wise sayings in writings by old masters, but here, in a simple voicemail recording, lay a wisdom so simple, yet so profound that it could easily be dismissed. We tend to think that wisdom is reserved for religious leaders, gurus, or the well-educated in our society. But many of the people we consider wise are stuck in beliefs they have no direct experience of. Wisdom needs no education, nor does it need any training. It is there when we are in harmony with life, and anyone is capable of that. Life has no restrictions in place, no necessary qualifications to know it, and no need of any certifications to understand its depths. All that is necessary to know life in its boundlessness is to pay attention to it.
The essence of the tree, the life in it, resides not just in its physical makeup,
but in its very presence.
But how often do we pay attention, and how attentive are we when we do? While teaching a qi gong class, I was speaking about the need to pay attention to ourselves, spend time with ourselves. A person in the class said that he spends time doing that. I asked how, and he said he does it when playing golf. When I pointed out to him that playing golf is not paying attention to himself, but his golf game, he was not happy. Taking time to do something you enjoy is great, but this is not paying attention to life; it is paying attention to a manifestation of life. The difference is subtle but hugely important.
If I ask you to pay attention to a tree that you are standing next to, would you not look at its trunk, its branches, leaves, and so on? You may think you are then paying attention to the tree, and you are, but only its surface details, its look, and perhaps its feel to the touch. The essence of the tree, the life in it, resides not just in its physical makeup, but in its very presence. To truly experience a tree, you must pay attention to that presence; otherwise, the tree is just an object. Many trees have been on this earth longer than you have, and will still be here when you are gone. A tree’s experience of life can be greater than yours. Maybe we can learn something from their wisdom because they are paying attention to life for sure.
A human is such a complex being, more complex than anything on earth, and in this modern world we live such complex lives. Our time, from the moment we wake up to when we lie down to sleep, is filled with physical, mental, or emotional activity. Even when we sit, read, watch TV, or play video games. If asked how our day went, we consider all the activity of the day and make a judgement about how we are, based on what happened. We don’t consider that we could have made the choice ourselves about how we are during our day. We let circumstance dictate it. When do we truly take time for ourselves, not in any activity, but just paying attention within? What I find hard to understand about our human condition, is that we neglect our wellbeing until some illness, sickness, or accident occurs in our lives. We are negligent in our attention to the one that is most deserving of it, ourselves. We put aside no time for the most important part of life. Why I say the most important part of life is because life is within you, and where else can you experience life more directly than within yourself?
Your wellbeing, mine, and the earth’s is not separable;
it is inescapably and manifestly tied together.
Spending time paying attention to yourself is the most important thing you can do for yourself, humanity, and the earth. That may seem silly when you consider all the great work people do around the world for others and in trying to keep this planet thriving, but it is the truth, and this is why: When we pay attention to the life within us, we are paying attention to all life, and when we pay attention to all life, we harmonize with it. As I sit in attention to life within me, I am sitting in attention to life within you and all other beings on this planet. This attention brings us to the source, where everything and everyone is connected. Just this attention can have an enormous effect on us and all we are connected to.
Everything is energy, and so everything has a vibration. You, me, the animal, the tree, the mountain is a vibration of energy. There is an optimal vibration for everything, including us. Each organ within us has an optimal vibration that maintains its health. The magic of paying attention deeply to life within us is that it brings about not only the optimal vibration for our individual human condition, but it also enhances the vibration in all manifestation. We are but a small part of this whole manifestation, so our capacity to affect others is limited. However, the more we practice this attention, the more effective we become. It stands to reason, then, that the more you pay attention, the one closest to you will be affected the most—which is you!
You don’t have to be a great guru, a spiritual or religious teacher of any kind, or an intellectual, to understand and experience life in all its depths. The beauty of life is that it is within you and all things. It is not exclusive, but rather inclusive. If you go deep into life, you will know that what you do to me, you do to yourself, and what you do to yourself, you do to me. Your wellbeing, mine, and the earth’s is not separable; it is inescapably and manifestly tied together. How we are affects the earth, and how the earth is affects us.
Too many humans live life only paying attention to its manifestations, making judgements that are based in ignorance, not wisdom. The ones we choose to lead us, to represent us, have no experience with life, and so we become divided, not united. There are many paths to walk in the manifest world, but only one path leads to wisdom. That is the path to knowing life. That path begins with paying attention. The words on my friend’s voicemail are a wise truth. “Have a great day—unless you decide not to.” How you are is your decision and that decision manifests itself, affecting everything else in some way, but you most of all. How your life is depends on how much attention you give it.
Ed Williamson © February 2019