For years, I avoided looking out the window of an airplane. The minute I landed in my seat, I slid the crème shutter down to its roots, masking the slightest sliver of the window pane. I thought this simple act could protect me from the unexpected. I dipped into distractions: wrestled with my seat belt, fumbled through the crossword puzzle and chewed my gum with purpose. Not once, did I reach for the closed window. Instead, I glanced at my watch, counted the hours or minutes or seconds before we landed. At the end of the flight, I surrendered. I lifted the shade to confirm the plane met the ground.

I admit, before every flight, I experience a slight bout of nervousness. I check the weather forecasts and glance at the turbulence app on my phone. Once I am seated, I track the flight on my computer, smiling as the clock moves toward my appointed destination. But in the last few years, I’ve embraced the mantra of paying attention, which means immersing myself in all landscapes and surroundings – this observing also includes flying above or through the clouds.

On a flight this past Friday, I captured a snapshot of the clouds barreling into the sun. The rays seem to provide a welcome. The yellow and pink melting together, changing the terrain into a magical and mysterious place. For those brief seconds, the incredible vastness of the sky welcomed me too. My presence seemed trivial juxtaposed against what I couldn’t completely comprehend.

This contemplation led me to think of what I wrote earlier in the month about transience. I pay attention, but what lessons do these observations teach me? I’ve learned the trivial often diminishes into the periphery. Perhaps it is the acknowledgment that certain things aren’t worth my contemplation. There is a certain amount of mental decluttering I’ve embraced since entering my forties. I am more apt to listen when red flags are offering warning signs and I accept when I’ve reached my limit about a particular situation. Having a relationship with the universal means recognizing one singular realization for me: knowing what fundamentally deserves my time and learning to carve out what is important in my personal landscape.

This sentiment is even more crucial in the arc of midlife. There is time, but at least for me, it has to posses the texture of being well-intentioned and purposeful. This doesn’t mean I am contemplative every moment of my life, but rather I pursue fun on my own terms. Realizing this epiphany has made it easier to say no to people and events that don’t fit with my definition of having a good time. The word, FOMO, doesn’t enter my vocabulary. I accept I will not be loved or liked by all – this is a natural outcome of interactions. I try to be kind to every person that intersects with me, but that doesn’t mean I am necessarily looking to confess my innermost thoughts or want to cultivate a relationship. The Brene Brown quote always rings in my head, “Our stories are not meant for everyone. Hearing them is a privilege, and we should always ask ourselves this before we share: “Who has earned the right to hear my story?” If we have one or two people in our lives who can sit with us and hold space for our shame stories, and love us for our strengths and struggles, we are incredibly lucky. If we have a friend, or small group of friends, or family who embraces our imperfections, vulnerabilities, and power, and fills us with a sense of belonging, we are incredibly lucky.”

Looking into the horizon, I sensed a renewed relationship with the universal. It took many years to gain this perspective and to feel physically comfortable to gaze out the window – paying attention is also a work in progress.