The Strength of Our Attention


As a cut will heal, the strength of our attention will mend a cut in our outlook, if we give ourselves again to life.

Whenever we feel burdened and lost, or fragmented and bereft, the strength of our attention is a way back to feeling vital and alive. What this means is that as water will fill any hole, life-force will fill us and animate us, if we can release our full attention. It doesn’t matter to what, just that we try one more time to be completely present and hold nothing back. The oldest tools of presence are holding and listening. These are the instruments of attention that never seem to fail. When we can attend whatever is before us, we become immersed. And no one can be immersed without being brought alive. There you have it. As far away as care might seem, we only have to cross the barrier of our weariness to begin again. Still, it can seem impossible when weighed down. That’s when we need the attention of others, to be curious when we’re numb, to bring us water when we think we can’t drink, and to feed us wonder when we think there’s none left in the world. As a cut will heal, the strength of our attention will mend a cut in our outlook, if we give ourselves again to life.

The Creative Storm

We drive an hour north to Meijer Gardens, a sweet amphitheatre carved into a small hill. As we file in with our coolers and lawn chairs, the summer stage and soft clouds drifting behind the shed make it seem like a hill outside of Athens 2500 years ago. We’ve come to hear Chick Corea and Béla Fleck, two jazz legends drawn together by their love of the unknown.

As they begin, their virtuosity is obvious. Relaxed and focused, they seem to be doing nothing while doing everything. I can feel the long devotion necessary to trip so easily into wonder. Imagine climbing stairs made of water to a doorway of light, through which we both leave ourselves and find ourselves. This is the rush of unity that musicians and artists and lovers know when they give themselves completely to their music and their art and to what they love.

Look—the pianist’s fingers float faster than any mind can direct, and the graying banjo player spans octaves with the ease of a heart trusting all that it hears. The clouds part as the two improvise, chasing each other like goldfinch in the sun. And the creative storm circles us. Instead of debris, this storm leaves The Köln Concert by Keith Jarrett, and “Ode to Joy” by Beethoven, and “Jupiter” by Mozart. And here in a piece Chick and Béla call “The Enchantment,” it appears again, as eighty years of playing obeys the flutter of notes running through their hands.

Tonight, the creative storm is strong, rising as the sun goes down. It’s here. Look—a gust of wind swirls their sheet music across the stage. The pianist and the banjo player close their eyes and just keep going, through years of calluses and broken strings. Look—the instruments are playing themselves, like two fast brooks headed for the sea.


The above is excerpted from Mark Nepo’s 19th book, Things That Join the Sea and the Sky: Field Notes on Living (Sounds True, November 2017). For more information about Mark, his books and touring schedule, please visit: or

Mark is on the road this fall, upcoming events include:

OCT 13-14: Mile-High Church, Things That Join the Sea and the Sky: A Publication Reading, Fri 7:00-9:30PM, and Sat Workshop, The One Life We’re Given, 9077 W Alameda Ave, Lakewood, CO 80226

NOV 3-5: Pine Manor Retreat Center, The Way Under the Way: The Place of True Meeting, Weekend Retreat 2, register at Pine Manor, or contact Gail Warner at 949-552-1633


Editors NOTE: the Chick Corea link, just in case:


About Author

Mark Nepo moved and inspired readers with his #1 New York Times bestseller The Book of Awakening. His recent work includes a new book of poetry, The Way Under the Way: The Place of True Meeting (Sounds True, November 2016) and the upcoming Things That Join the Sea and the Sky: Field Notes on Living (Sounds True, November 2017).

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