Part four of my thoughts about seekers and what I pay attention to is attention to detail.
This is the one I wanted to talk about last (go see the others over here, earliest stuff at the bottom) because it’s the hardest to talk about. Sometimes, when someone starts talking about this particular aspect, it’s really easy to get locked into minutiae and details, and people feel oppressed and crabby because they don’t match up to some standard that’s not clearly defined.
So, first of all, I want to say: I do not expect anyone – not seeker, not friend, not covenmate I’ve been working with for 6+ years – to get all of this right. I do not expect myself to get every detail right. People are human, our memories are flawed, we have other things going on in our lives, and we will forget details every so often. Someone messing up on one is generally not the end of the world.
On the other hand, I don’t think that’s any excuse not to try.
What does paying attention mean?
In meeting someone new, or in approaching a group, there’s a lot of new information. Names. Remembering which name goes with which person. In Pagan settings, which name you use at which time, if people have a circle name.
There are issues of group structure (both the obvious stuff and the not-so-obvious stuff), how people treat each other, treat new members, treat the group leadership. Do senior members get challenged and asked questions about things that don’t make sense or seem inconsistent? Or are they ‘off-limits’ somehow? How do they respond?
There’s also all sorts of ritual details: doing structured ritual often involves keeping track of a lot of details. We did a new moon ritual last night, and while we were doing our circle set-up, I was struck by how many tiny details we were both tracking.
Everything from the physical set-up before ritual, to how we move around the (very tiny) space in my front room, so that L could cast circle, to how we hand around and place the small candle we use to light our other candles from. (In particular, we’re both attentive that when we’re lighting things on the main altar, the lighting candle goes to in front of the next candle to be lit. It’s a small detail, but it makes for beautiful flow.)
Paying attention means that you’re aware you’re getting all this new information. You may not recognise it all consciously, but you are aware there are things going on.
And when it’s clear that you are paying attention (and retaining much of what you see), your conversations with others can move further ahead, with new ideas, practices, opportunities, and interactions – rather than going over the same things again. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather do new stuff than go over the old stuff more times, given the choice.
Paying attention also means you can act on the information (at least so one hopes.) Walking into a room with a group you’re interested in working with: what do you need to know?
It can be embarrassing to show up at a ritual where everyone else has brought potluck and you haven’t. Or where you aren’t sure who the person is you’ve been talking with on email. Asking a few questions and paying attention to the instructions in email can help you feel a lot more comfortable when you show up. That’s good.
Getting people’s names right is a good step. It shows you’re trying. Me? I’m lousy with names, and therefore don’t use them until I’ve gotten them firmly in my head (which usually involves hearing them several times over the course of the evening, or both hearing them and seeing them in writing). I have various tricks to help me (my former group’s combo of having people fill out an info sheet and also talking to them works well for me, for example.)
But I also notice and appreciate people who get my name right. (Jenett. One n, two ts. Pronounced JEN-et, like Janet with a ‘Jen’ instead of ‘Jan’). People who spell it wrong in an email when it’s right in front of them do make me wonder. Getting it wrong won’t make me hate you or anything – but I do notice, and someone getting it wrong regularly has me paying attention to their other observation skills. I think it’s particularly relevant in Pagan settings, where many of us have chosen names that reflect particular parts of our identity or what we wish to become.
Pagan groups often meet in people’s homes, which have their own quirks. Is this a ‘take your shoes off before entering’ house? Should you feel free to get water from the fridge? Should you check before you use the bathroom? Hosts will hopefully indicate some of this up front, but it’s useful (and polite) to remember for the next time (or at least be proactive about asking.) This is just part of getting along in a community.
Many groups or traditions or communities have specific ways they do things (and one hopes, reasons for those choices.) Which way we turn in circle, what we say to greet deity or other entities, how we share blessings with each other, how we share food and drink. Again, no one I know expects a newcomer to get this all at once – but paying attention and adding more things each time is a definitely good sign.
If there’s a gathering for shared food or conversation, pay attention to how people interact, who you most enjoy talking to, how the group as a whole responds to one another. It can tell you a lot about the group.
How to help yourself:
If a group has a website, printed material, or sends you info in email, keep it handy and make use of it. You may find a lot of your questions are answered there! If you need help with something, or it’s confusing, ask questions – but you’ll get definite points from me for looking at the information you already have first (and telling me you’ve looked at it: if I’m confusing, I want to fix it.)
Very useful -and as long as you don’t keep asking the same things, shows that you’re looking to learn and trying to pay attention. (If you find yourself wanting to ask the same thing repeatedly, that’d be a good time to take a step back and try and figure out why, or ask for time for a discussion, or something.)
Let people know if you have a specific need:
For example, a hearing impaired friend of mine who lipreads has a button she wears at large events, that says “I haven’t seen a single word you’ve said” – it helps start conversations and reminds people she doesn’t see often that she’s lipreading. (She’s also proactive about telling people what things help her.)
Same deal goes with how you learn: if learning stuff from material you read is really hard from you (and doesn’t stick), ask if there’s some other way to go through it, like talking through it with someone. I’m definitely willing to do that if asked, but I’m probably going to balance it with asking people to read on their own and discuss later unless I know that’s a problem.
These things reduce wear and tear on you – and on everyone else. Again, it lets you get on to more interesting things faster.
Consider taking notes:
Not just while you’re in a discussion (sometimes that makes sense, sometimes it doesn’t) but also when you get home. Did you have questions? Do you want to get to know someone better? Did you have a conversation you want to pick up on sometime? Is there something you want to remember to bring next time? Do you want to remember someone’s name? Write down the name and a few notes about them – things you talked about, what they looked like, whatever will trigger that memory for you.
Some people carry a little notebook. I’m fond of index cards – they’re cheap, easy, don’t take much space, and they’re fast to type up later if I want to keep the notes more than briefly. Whatever works.