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Our attention is bombarded from many sides: ads, podcasts, school courses, business priorities and deadlines, live streaming, texting, music, searching the internet, and listening to reminders pinging on our phones; and that’s just in our immediate surroundings. Often there are more things vying for our attention! As a result we may have gotten into the habit of reacting to the latest attention-grabber, instead of making free or conscious choices of how to spend our energy and where to invest our attention.
Paying attention can be a spiritual practice. It’s a better habit to cultivate in life. When I use the phrase “paying attention” I mean making choices about what to pay attention to and when.
This spiritual practice becomes especially vital when we’re trying to understand what God is calling us to do with our lives. Discerning this choice needs our commitment to paying attention. Decisions that support us in paying attention include setting aside time for quiet and deep listening, even, at times, to go away for a few days of retreat so we can be less interrupted in our listening to ourselves and to God.
The heart is a metaphor for this deep listening. In quiet times, especially extended times of quiet, we can pay attention to what matters to our hearts. This is where we meet God, who leads us to choices where we can best use our unique gifts.
May you not delay in making the time you need for this kind of listening, remembering that God is present in your heart’s desire.
Christine Valters Paintner, in her book The Soul’s Slow Ripening: 12 Celtic Practices for Seeking the Sacred, says, “Discernment is essentially a way of listening to our lives and the world around us and responding to the invitations that call us into deeper alignment with our soul’s deep desires and the desires God has for us.”*
With that description in mind, how do we enter that space of quiet where the “way of listening” she mentions is possible? Once we slow down and stop for awhile, our thoughts don’t necessarily stop with us. They keep going and we can count on multiple distractions invading that space! They might sound like: “I’ve got to get going.” “I can’t just sit here like this!” “I have things to do.” “This is a waste of time; nothing’s happening!”
Try sitting in a chair, feet on the floor, hands resting comfortably in your lap and begin breathing slowly, in and out. Count the breaths if that helps. Count them while focusing your attention on each breath until you begin to notice your breathing gradually slows more and more. This intentional quieting each day, even for ten minutes at a time, will begin to develop a pattern in our thoughts. We will start to notice something different is happening. Our thoughts will take their cue from our breathing and also slow down.
Thoughts will never be totally erased from our quiet time. But being intentional about taking time everyday to become familiar with this sacred space within will set the stage for our best and deepest listening to God’s voice within.
*Excerpted from The Soul’s Slow Ripening: 12 Celtic Practices for Seeking the Sacred by Christine Valters Paintner. Copyright 2018 by Ave Maria Press, P.O. Box 428, Notre Dame, IN 46556. Used with permission of the publisher.
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