bird nest in tree branches
By Deborah Haak-Frost

“Paying attention is a form of reciprocity with the living world, receiving the gifts with open eyes and open heart.”

—Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants

This piece is part of a series offered by the GilChrist team during the month of October, in honor of GilChrist’s 25th anniversary

I saved my money for a camera. A nice, shiny, digital camera with a big lens. A camera that makes that really satisfying click when you press the shutter.

I didn’t necessarily want to capture the mountaintop views that go for miles or the sweeping sunsets—although I do love experiencing those. I wanted to capture the small details, the tiny moments, those which may otherwise go unnoticed. (Camera-speak calls this the “macro” setting.)

I still don’t know what all the buttons on my camera do, and my telephone device now contains a camera that rivals a digital single-lens reflex (DSLR), but I still love to get up close to take a look at the world around me. I both see things that I didn’t see before, and I start to look for things that I wouldn’t normally look for. The microcosms above, below, and around me bring perspective: I see patterns in leaf structure that are repeated in trees, rivers, and ice formations. I watch a single blade of grass, swaying in the wind that sweeps across the whole prairie. I see myself in an ant, hard at work, carrying a heavy load to its nest.

Getting immersed in a small scene reminds me that I have a place within something much larger than myself. Opening my eyes to the connections—looking, listening, being still—helps me see my role in this deep, rich, and wide world.


GilChrist retreat center logo with white pine sprig

GilChrist is the public retreat center of the Fetzer Institute. We support the Institute’s mission of helping build the spiritual foundation for a loving world by preserving a contemplative environment for healing self, society, and the natural world. We warmly welcome both groups and individuals and people of all faiths and affiliations.