Paying Attention

Pentecost 8

Luke 10:38-42

Marian Free

In the name of God, Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. Amen.

Over the last few weeks as our attention has been drawn to the beautiful windows in this church, I have become conscious how little attention I have given to them. I suspect that when many of us come into this amazing building, we are distracted by many things – the task that we have to do, the people with whom we want to catch up, the affairs of the week just been, the worries of the week to come. I don’t imagine that many of us bring our full attention not only to the place, but to the task (or should it be privilege) of worship.

Today I’d like us to do an exercise which I learned from a friend of mine who is both a psychologist and an Anglican priest. It will give you some idea of what it mans to be fully focused[1]. Please take a raisin as they are passed around. Then sitting quietly, I’d like you to imagine that you have come to earth from Mars and that you have never seen this object before.

Imagine you have never seen one of these before

Take the object (raisin) and hold it in the palm of your hand, or between your finger and thumb.

Pay attention to seeing it.

Look at it carefully, as if you had never seen such a thing before.

Turn it over between your fingers.

Explore its texture between your fingers.

Examine the highlights where the light shines … the darker hollows and folds.

Let your eyes explore every part of it, as if you had never seen such a thing before.

And if, while your are doing this, any thoughts come to mind about “what a strange thing we are doing” or “what is the point of this” just note them as thoughts and bring your awareness back to the object.

Now smell the object, take it and hold it beneath your nose, and with each in breath, carefully notice the smell of it.

Now take another look at it.

Now slowly take the object to your mouth, maybe noticing how your hand and arm know exactly where to put it, perhaps noticing your mouth watering as it comes up.

And then gently place the object in your mouth, noticing how it is “received”, without biting it, just exploring the sensation of having it in your mouth.

And when you are ready, very consciously take a bite into it and notice the taste that it releases.

Slowly chew it, ….  notice the saliva in the mouth, … the change in consistency of the object.

Then when you feel ready to swallow, see if you can first detect the intention to swallow as it comes up, so that even this is experienced consciously before you actually swallow it.

Finally, see if you can follow the sensations of swallowing it, seeing it moving down to [2]your stomach, and also realizing that your body is now exactly one raisin heavier.

I imagine that you have never experienced a raisin in quite that way before! You can apply this sort focus to any task. Next time you have a cup of tea try to be fully present – paying attention to the cup, the heat, the feel of the tea on your lips, in your mouth, as you swallow. You can do this sort of exercise at any time in any place – simply by giving your whole attention to the task at hand rather than being only partially present.

In today’s gospel, Jesus doesn’t berate Martha for being busy, but for being distracted. Martha, the host, is so caught up in her preparations, so concerned with providing an excellent meal for Jesus, that rather than being a good host, she is ignoring her guest. Worse still, Martha, instead of providing a comfortable, welcoming environment for Jesus is trying to draw him into her stress. Martha is not able to focus on what she is Mary’s “better part” is her ability to give Jesus her full attention, to be fully present to what is happening.

I wonder what sort of hosts we are. Do we give Jesus our full attention or are we only partially aware of his presence, constantly distracted by other things? How might our relationship with Jesus change if we were open and alert to his presence, fully attending to his place in our lives?

[1]If you are reading this, you might like to find a friend to read the instructions to you. (Then you could swap.) If no friend is available, read the instructions to yourself and then spend some time focusing totally on your raisin. As you will see as you continue reading, this is an exercise that can be done at any time. Next time you have a cup of tea, focus totally on that experience – don’t sit down with a book, or with the television on – give your full attention to the act of drinking the tea. You might begin by looking at the cup, at the steam rising. Then you could think of the feel of the china as you pick up the cup – the weight of it in your hands, the feel of it on your lips. As you take a sip, feel the heat on your tongue, the dampness as it fills your mouth and finally be aware of the movement of your muscles as your body moves the tea from your mouth to your stomach. Be aware of moving the cup from your mouth to the table and so on until the tea is finished. Or you could give your full attention to simply the act of sitting – being aware of your body in the space it occupies, being fully present to everything you do rather than distracted by what has just happened or what will happen next. (Don’t worry if thoughts come into you mind – as they will – simply notice them and let them go and then return to the exercise.)

[2] Based on Kabat-Zinn, in Segal, Zindel V., Williams, J.Mark G., Teasdale, John D. Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression: A New Approach to Preventing Relapse. London:The Guilford Press, 2002: 103.


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