What You Pay Attention To Will Thrive

August 4, 2011

We spent the weekend deep in the woods of New Hampshire, hiking with great friends we have known forever.   We sat at benches to eat family style, slept in bunks, and hiked the rocky trails all day long.

I may be just the tiniest bit sore in the calves as I write this post.

On our way up north in the car, Grace and Abigail and I spent a long time pondering that classic question about the tree falling in the woods, and whether it makes any sound.  This idea of a soundless crash baffled them at first, and then gradually began to make some sort of weird sense.

“Sound is just waves,” I explained.  “It’s only our ears that turn them into something that can be heard.”

“But the sound waves happen no matter who hears them,” Grace argued, using 6th grade science logic.  “And what about the mice?  And the birds?  Wouldn’t they hear the tree?”

“Well, their ears can turn those waves into sound, too.  But if there are no ears to hear the sound, no ears at all, they remain waves. And then gradually die away.”

We were quiet then, although it was a listening and thinking quiet — the quiet of togetherness and not the deeper silence of nothingness.

“Oh.”  She said, very simply, suddenly struck by the understanding that it is we who make the world, as much as it makes us.

It’s nearly impossible for us humans to understand the power of our perceptions, whether we are trying to imagine the darkness of a world without eyes to see it, or the silence of a forest without ears to hear it.

During the weekend, we walked to Jackson Bog, a unique ecosystem of acidic mud in a scooped out bowl of rock on the top of a mountain.  A trail crew had laid wooden planks over the top of the mud, four feet deep beneath our feet.  Soft green and reddish moss grew over the mud like a thick carpet — except it was a carpet that would swallow you whole if you stepped in the wrong place.

It was a clear day, and we could see the long stretch of trail from Mizpah Springs hut, past Mt. Pierce, and Mt. Eisenhower, to Mt. Washington.  That’s it in the photo, the tallest one you can see.

Jackson Bog, near Mizpah Springs Hut


It was incredibly still, and beautiful.  Grace and I had hiked ahead of our friends, and for that moment, she and I were the only people around.

She breathed in a long breath, and let it out in a happy sigh. “I love it here, Mummah,” she said.

Taken by the quiet and the beauty of the place, I whispered to her.  “You know, sometimes when I’m off in the big world where it is so noisy and busy, I need to bring my mind to a place like this.  Remember, Grace.  This place is always here, even when we are far away.  It will always, always be here, even when there are no ears to hear it or eyes to see it.  Because in your mind, you can come here any time you choose.”

The time is passing so fast these days I can barely keep up.  I hate to complain about a long summer of happy children, but clearly their happiness and their amazing growth are only making the time pass faster.

First it’s Memorial Day, and then it’s softball in Vermont, and suddenly camp is over, and we’re flying off to visit some other place with soft light, cool water, and the sound of birds.

The girls grow inches a day, I swear.  And with all this light, music, hiking, picnics, and time with their families, they are becoming ever sweeter, ever stronger. I pay close attention these days, and I can’t quite believe everything I see.

I write this because parenting does not always feel this way.  OK, let’s be accurate:  it rarely feels this way.  I remember this, because all winter and spring there was a sign hanging in the yoga studio I go to as often as I can.  “What you pay attention to will thrive.”  I was paying close attention to the girls then, but I thought this sign was a lie.  I saw my attention flowing into them, but couldn’t quite see them thriving.  (Of course, I was also paying close, close attention to my own worries for them — and those worries got bigger by the day … )

And then, sometime in the late spring, into the summer when everything starts to grow, there they were — these incredible big girls.  So fully and richly themselves.

These days, I am the eyes and the ears that take their measure.  I know that they would grow without my watching them, but I feel like the witness for whom the sound of their voices comes into being.

I look at them and I see the beauty of growth.  I hear in their voices the sound of time passing. What you pay attention to will thrive, and these days, I can not look away.

Lindsey August 4, 2011 at 6:45 pm

I couldn’t believe this more – our attention is the truest (and only?) manifestation of our love, and pouring it somewhere will result in growth, and joy, and, as you say, thriving. xox

denise August 4, 2011 at 6:54 pm

Beautiful. So true–and so hard for me to see, at times, when I’m deep in the forest of my own worries and doubts. Shocking (I write with steep sarcasm) how I stay in that forest until I look up and see the sun.

I needed this reminder today. Thank you. xo

Christine @ Coffees & Commutes August 5, 2011 at 7:07 am

It happens exactly how you describe, less because we are present in every moment, and more in bursts of wonder and amazement. Sometimes I think it’s better that way, because how we see them, their changes, is more startling and, by extension, easier to remember. Just this morning I was thinking about how my own boys have this amazing, blossoming relationship. It’s been happening in slow bits, but I didn’t put together the pieces and become fully aware until just now.

Lovely post!

Launa August 5, 2011 at 7:25 am

A lovely relationship between siblings is an amazing thing. We think it’s never going to blossom, and then there it is. Congratulations — enjoy it!

GailNHB August 6, 2011 at 6:42 am

It sounds like you are thoroughly enjoying in, Launa.

When I make similar statements about my shock and joy and gratitude for how well our children are growing up and how wonder-filled they are, my husband says things like, “How can you be surprised? You have spent all these years pouring yourself into them, loving them, answering their questions, and confessing to your own. Why wouldn’t they be growing up to be great kids?” While I realize that things don’t always work out that way, I am enormously grateful that sometimes they do.

Sometimes the hard work pays off in high dividends, Launa. I believe you are seeing and reaping and basking in the benefits of all your years of watching, loving, hoping, wishing, begging, cajoling, explaining, standing firm, melting into a puddle, and working really, really, really hard at being an attentive mom to your thriving daughters. Yay for you!!!

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