Intentional attention: a practice for growing joy

By Rev. Anna Blaedel

“How do we describe the sweetness that reclines in the hunger for survival?” –Alexander Weheliye

Dear ones, I was so (beyond) ready to welcome the turning of a new year. The last months of 2019 were full of heaviness and hard, weighing down a year that was already filled with heaviness and hard. So much loss. So much fear. Felt intimately in my flesh and my bones, and stretching toward the national, and structural, and global scales. So much is not right in the world. So much is broken and breaking. So much violence–against the most vulnerable, against the Earth–is escalating. Now, I know better than to think turning a page on the calendar is going to create a clean slate.

Life is much messier than that. Denying the messiness doesn’t save us from it, but it does leave people feeling more alone in it.  Often with additional layers of shame, guilt, or isolation, all of which tend to leave us feeling more powerless than we are, and less response-able than we are, too.

So. I knew that the strike of midnight on the threshold of a day, a year, a decade wasn’t going to change anything, really. And mercy, nothing about 2020 so far seems to have been solved by the calendar turn. But, I also believe in the power of marking beginnings and endings. Ritualizing and setting intentions for leaning into what brings life, and letting go of what threatens it. Cultivating patterns and habits that connect us with ourselves, each other, and the earth. Confronting patterns and habits that destroy ourselves, each other, and the earth. Shedding, and turning toward. Sharing our intentions with others, for the sake of care-full support and accountability. (For real, we can’t do much of anything than matters on our own.)

My intentions for 2020: “Follow joy. Tend aliveness. Practice healing.”

My beloved’s: “Give your attention to what you want to see grow.”

(Both of us have been reading and engaging and being nourished by the work of Adrienne Maree Brown quite a bit over the last year+. Read more about her work on “attention liberation” here and check out her other work, too!)

What we give attention to grows. What do you want to turn your attention toward?

Turning my attention toward following joy, tending aliveness, and practicing healing also means I have to do some soul searching, spiritual work around what elicits joy, aliveness, and healing. And what diminishes it. I am still learning what joy, aliveness, and healing look like and feel like. This is work that lasts a lifetime.

Where (and how, and with whom) do you find joy?

What makes you come alive?

What in and around you longs for healing?

One evening this week, asking these questions, I realized I couldn’t remember the last time I had laughed. Like, belly laugh. And, I hadn’t been out dancing for too long, too. So I turned on Hozier’s “To Noise Making” and danced and sang along in my dining room. Wildly. Loudly. Foolishly. Just for the joy of it. I made myself laugh. You don’t have to sing (or get it) right. Who could call you wrong? Just put your emptiness to song.

The next day I walked in my favorite woods, and let myself get lost on the forest paths and prairie fields in order to find my way again. I felt the cold air in my lungs, air cleansed by the trees towering above me and rooting below me. I whispered thanks to them, for tending aliveness, too.

A few days later, I heard from my neighbor during an ice storm. A limb had fallen on their car. Might I help lift and haul, in the morning? I went outside to look, and they came out too, and we stood together under a full moon, in ice and snow, marveling at the destruction, but also noticing the beauty, too. Listing what we had to share with each other if the power went out. The next morning, while we were sawing, lifting, hauling, and laughing, a new neighbor came by, and offered to help. He looked at me for a moment and said, “Um, I think I saw you dancing the other night?” We laughed.

Joy can spark, and be shared unexpectedly, like that.

The next night my beloved and I put away our work and walked outside in the falling snow, hand in hand, paying attention to what we want to see grow.

As you lose your way and find your way…
As you turn and return your attention toward what you want to see grow…
As you enter this new year with intention…
May joy, aliveness, and healing find and flow through you.

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rev anna blaedel

By Rev. Anna Blaedel

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