Keep Custody of Your Nervous System

"The least we can do is try to be there."

That's what Annie Dillard counsels in her 1974 book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, when it comes to what we do about the fact that “beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them.”

It's tucked under the heading Heaven and Earth in Jest — a bewitching chapter title that qualifies as a 1970s analog version of clickbait. Minus unscrupulous trickery to snag your email address.

I scored a dreamy, old, dog-eared, and fragile-faded-pages first edition copy of the book for under $2 online. There's romance in well worn used books, especially library gems with those manila pocket inserts into which hand-stamped due date cards sit frozen in pre-Kindle era time.

It's the finest winter mindfulness reading investment I've made in years.

Few writers in my lifetime rise to the Thoreau-like heights of Dillard when it comes to chronicling the value of undistracted observation. The art of being curious and attentive to what's happening, while it's happening.

With 2017 in our rearview mirror, more than a few of us find ourselves back in the unwelcome terrain of feeling crushed by alarming headlines while jostling around figuring out how to take it in. Is there a way to stay responsibly informed and take appropriate action without sacrificing full custody of our nervous systems?

Dillard's chronicle of a full year of close observation of a small Virginia waterway overflows with clues.

When we cultivate the skill of awe, every moment is an opportunity to refresh our experience of grace. We make more intelligent decisions from that headspace. Take a look out your window right now. That particular swatch of color with that angle and quality of light won't come around again.

The least you can try and do is be there for it.

We'd do well to devote at least a fraction of the time and energy we put into scrolling media feeds into present moment acknowledgment of the non-virtual landscape.