When a visitor asked the 15th-century zen master Ikkyu the meaning of life, the master responded, "Attention." "Is that all?" the visitor reiterated, inpatient. "Attention, attention," said Ikkyu.
"Attentiveness is the natural prayer of the soul," wrote the 17th-century philosopher Nicholas Malebranche. "To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work," agrees the contemporary poet Mary Oliver. "I don't know exactly what a prayer is," she writes in another poem; "I do know how to pay attention."
Sounds so simple, but so hard. To stay awake. To see the flower in the crannied wall, the grain of sand. To listen to the almost inaudible glide of black water under the bridge, the tip-tip of the nuthatch.
The world is inexhaustibly strange, beautiful, terrible. John Ruskin wrote in Modern Painters: "The greatest thing the human soul ever does in this world is to see something, and to tell what it saw."