I went on an educational hike today. The stated purpose was to learn how to identify winter trees, but it was in reality  (shhh…) an exercise in slowing down and paying attention. In doing so, we were told, in a quote read by the leader, ‘we show reverence by paying respect and honoring the beauty’ of those whom we typically walk past in our dazed states .

How lovely.

As a long time lover of trees, it was fascinating to me how little I had actually paid attention to them! I have mostly relied upon leaves if I wanted to name a tree. Adorned in their summer or fall finery, the surface of a tree is easy to mistake for the substance of a tree. Never have I looked quite so closely at the bark, save perhaps the Beech – she of the smooth gray skin. Nor have I noticed the shape or number of terminal buds, the arrangement of twigs on a branch, or paid much attention to the seeds heads atop those branches offering up first nourishment for returning birds.

And I say I am a lover?

I realize that there is a difference between being an expert in binomial nomenclature or mechanistic classification and a lover of beauty, but still, you’d think I would have at least noticed.

I once heard it suggested that we attempt to notice 5 new things about our lover each day. It keeps us seeing them afresh, through lenses that are clear of past experience and expectation, from assuming we know all that there is to know. It also allows them to change.

My partner’s hair has grown a bit thinner, his beard is more white than brown, and his stature is smaller than when we first met. But these things are merely his surface adornment. Do I also acknowledge the more profound, but subtler, changes in his substance? The ways he has opened and closed. The broadening in what and how he loves. His furrowing fears and his budding hopes. The deepening of his roots and the spread of his branches.

This is the way we ‘remember to remember’, to not take for granted the gifts of Love in our lives. And while it is also a joy to NOT have to attend to each small detail, to walk through those same woods and simply breathe in the wholeness, or rest in the comfort of familiar loves, sometimes it is a good and necessary thing to look more carefully, appreciate more intimately the miracle of concentric circles of complexity.

This winter my partner had surgery, which for the last 8 weeks has caused him to be still, then to move slowly. This has granted both of us the spaciousness required to unwrap the gentle gift of witness, attend to that which we haven’t before, and allow to be revealed that which is covered over in our more typical (busy) summer attire. This slower pace has provided a setting in which both of us have time to savor. And we have discovered that what we thought we knew in each other (and in ourselves) is not at all the totality of who we are, either individually or as a couple.


Some claim that naming a thing diminishes it, that we can never again purely experience that thing after our mind has a name attached to it. Instead, we slip it into that box in our brain that is labeled Beech tree or Donald or Vicki and don’t truly see what is standing before us in the whole of its beauty. Of course, on the flip side, others will say that naming a thing enhances our relationship with it, such that it ceases becoming a ‘thing’ at all and becomes something we know and care deeply for, a subject rather than an object.

Something Known.

Perhaps the deepest expression of love we can offer is to bear witness to another… human or tree or other… to gaze with intent to behold.  Likewise, the greatest gift of Love that we can receive is to truly be Seen.  We can’t do either if we are lost in a daze of self-absorption. (Truthfully, we can’t even look in the mirror if we are lost in that, for we will see only that narrow perspective, when we are called to allow ourselves to be witnessed by a much larger Love). A loving gaze, though soft in its way, is a much sharper focus than a daze, after all. If we are to bear true witness, we must don the focused lens of attention in order to Know the many faces of Love.




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