The Whir of I Should Be

Allokataplixis: The Gift of Attention

I learned two complementary concepts today, both from Rob Walker’s always excellent The Art of Noticing. And they’re especially relevant to me, given that I’ve just moved to New York City.

  • Allokataplixis. It’s a word coined by Liam Heneghan. It means “the heightened and delighted attention to the ordinary, which manifests in someone new to a place.” The word comes “from the Greek allo meaning ‘other,’ and katapliktiko meaning ‘wonder’.”
  • Inattentional blindness. The lack of attention that comes as places become more familiar, the natural diminishment of allokataplixis. “We take [our] surroundings for granted, and we stop paying close attention.” A recurring commute, for example, can become profoundly numbing.

Awe and its decline into the familiar: a natural (and necessary?) progression. Heneghan acknowledges that not everyone needs “to live a life of perpetual astonishment,” that “our daily grind is perhaps easier to endure in a state of mild amnesia.” There’s some truth to that. But “surely, there are times when we must be released from our moorings and free ourselves up to notice the peculiarities of everyday life.”

And to “notice something new” in the familiar isn’t just a goal to reclaim “the particularities of everyday life,” but it’s also a gift. Heneghan writes notes that “allokataplixis, as I use the term, is the gift, usually unacknowledged, that the traveler offers to the places they visit.”

The gift the traveler offers to the places they visit. That’s a lovely idea, and a good reminder. This morning, as I commuted to work, I tried something I don’t often do: I didn’t pull out my cell phone or even a book. I just sat there, watching, and listening. And it was startling how new everything felt. The sound of the subway, the thrum of the brakes, the faint tunes coming from music playing at the other end of the train carrying through–these all came to me. Thanks to Liam and Rob, I know now that I was offering a gift to New York City: my attention. It’s small, but I like to think it went appreciated, somehow.

Quote Box: The Conversion of the Imagination

To create a future, we need better imaginations, and for better imaginations, we need to feed them better ideas and better images.

Austin Kleon, January 31, 2019; “Images in the Head”

[What Paul is doing] is a difficult double task. It involves nothing short of that hardest conversion of all, the conversion of the imagination. But that is what is required if people are to understand where they are and who they are as the family of God.

Wright, N. T.. Paul: A Biography (p. 219). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

Paul rereads Scripture with an imagination converted by the death and resurrection of Jesus. An imagination so converted will necessarily see the moral world in which we live and move through new eyes.

Richard B. Hays. The Conversion of the Imagination: Paul as Interpreter of Israel’s Scripture (Kindle Locations 111-112). Kindle Edition.

Formative Christian worship paints a picture of the beauty of the Lord—and a vision of the shalom he desires for creation—in a way that captures our imagination. If we act toward what we long for, and if we long for what has captured our imagination, then re-formative Christian worship needs to capture our imagination. That means Christian worship needs to meet us as aesthetic creatures who are moved more than we are convinced. Our imaginations are aesthetic organs. Our hearts are like stringed instruments that are plucked by story, poetry, metaphor, images. We tap our existential feet to the rhythm of imaginative drums. As we noted in chapter 1, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry captures this well: “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”

Smith, James K. A.. You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit . Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

And he shall be led in paths where the poisonous serpent cannot lay hold upon his heel, and he shall mount up in the imagination of his thoughts as upon eagles’ wings.

LDS Scripture, Doctrine & Covenants, 124:99

A Light So Lovely

Pay Attention To What You Pay Attention To

While reading Rob Walker’s “The Art of Noticing,” my eye caught this gem of a quote:

for anyone trying to discern what to do w/ their life: PAY ATTENTION TO WHAT YOU PAY ATTENTION TO. that’s pretty much all the info u need.

Amy Krouse Rosenthal, Twitter

This is a great idea. I’ve been thinking about this lately: she’s basically saying to be metacognitive; to be still and examine myself; to audit my attention.