It always surprises me how challenging it can be to do the simplest thing - like pay attention to what's going on around me. Were we always this distracted?
I get thrown off by my cell phone dinging. I lose my focus when loud cars roll by or people spill into the office, talking loudly. I fall back into old habits of rushing not even always realizing that I'm doing it.
I'm trying to take a slower, more deliberate pace, especially at this time of year, when work is so stressful. I make time to write down my tasks in a date book every day, to help me focus on what I'm doing and where I'm going. I try to force myself to take breaks and to focus on taking care of my body.
Nevertheless, the rush creeps in. Just last weekend, as I was wandering the woods, looking for my owlets, I realized I was crashing through the brush at a rushed pace. Why on earth was I was going so fast?
Habit. Pure and simple. When I walk, I usually walk for fitness and am focused on what I have to get done when my walk is over.
But that's not the case when I'm owling.
I had to remind myself to slow down. I had to remember that I can't find those precious little creatures unless I walk very slowly and listen for their soft calls. I have to pay attention to every little thing around me.
I have to take notice of the magpies flying above. The way the wind is blowing. I have to look so carefully in the trees and listen with deep concentration so I can hear the owls' squawks.
All of this is a necessary reminder.
My bicycle commuting used to be this touchstone of focus for me. I can remember writing blog posts about how much bicycling slowed down my attention and helped me to appreciate the trees and flowers, how it allowed me to notice such "small" things like a beetle crossing the road - something I never would have seen from a car.
But all these years later, in another town, at a much faster pace, I have lost this sense of attention when I'm bicycling. I'm moving too fast. Hurrying too much. Trying to avoid the traffic, trying to get to work on time.
So now I must re-learn this lesson from the owls. Stop. Listen. Look around. Pay attention.
As I reminded myself of this last weekend, I stumbled upon a bush that was surrounded with owl feathers. I stopped, realizing my little owls had been there, probably not so long ago. My focus deepened, instantly.
Looking up for more clues, I found myself almost face-to-face with one of the owls. Right there. So close.
It took me several more minutes to realize that his sister was sitting right next to him, concealed by a branch. And another several minutes to notice his other sister just across the path from me.
There are a lot of things in life that sit quietly in the trees, waiting for us to notice them. It can be hard to see them. Hard to hear them. But if we remember to be deliberate and focused, we will take notice of the clues.
Go slowly. Listen deeply. Look closely.