You See What You Pay Attention To

“Happiness is not given to us, nor is misery imposed. At every moment we are at a crossroads and must choose the direction we will take.” – Mathieu Ricard

October 27, 2014

I remember the first day I visited my community. We were still in training, our first delicate weeks incountry, and had a 5-day test visit, first glimpse, chance to meet people and get a feel for the place. I remember how in awe I was at everything around me and promised myself to never take these things for granted: giant termite mounds, cows/pigs/horses/sheep blocking the road, people’s friendliness, giant toads, beautiful sunsets, the smell of burning trash, the cool-looking Brahma cattle, loud Paraguayan music blasting from four different homes, free-ranging bulls, guinea hens that don’t let you sleep, millions of mango trees, wispy baby pink flowers along the footpath, how every car appeared to be older than 1980 and every delivery truck was a Mercedes model, and more.

Well, despite my promise, the other day I was walking home from the next town and saw a burrowing owl on top of a termite mound. I didn’t remember this termite mound or …the dozens next to it.

Burrowing owl perched atop a termite mound near the road on the way to my community. These guys are so cute and less than a foot tall.

Burrowing owl perched atop a termite mound near the road on the way to my community. These guys are so cute and less than a foot tall.

In that moment, I realized I’d stopped ‘seeing’ the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of termite mounds dotting the prairie; they’d become invisible to me, just another part of the landscape. I realized I’d forgotten to swoon over the rust colored soil all around me or the way the long spires of sugar cane waved in the breeze.  My senses had become lazy, taking the everyday sights for granted so I could spend needless energy chasing, silly unhelpful stories or fears in my head, or start making plans for the next activity when I got to the house. And look at everything I’d been missing in the meanwhile!

I challenged myself to reconnect with my surroundings and be present in every moment. I caught the smell of smoke from a new prairie fire and the ever-present essence of cow manure flattened into the road; I heard the calls of various birds, felt the pang of baby goats calling to their mamas and mama cows calling to their babies; I appreciated the rumble of motorcycles and thunder in the distance. Through a simple matter of shifting my attention, I reopened a whole new world of amazement. We see what we pay attention to.

What are you missing out on by not being present? Are you even aware when this happens? What are you going to do about it?

Categories: Peace Corps Paraguay | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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