the ability so to direct attention is love...

Attending is at the core of living a poetic life.

Attending to the world out there in all its particularity and variety. Attending to ourselves and our dreams.

Our attention is one of our most precious gifts that we can offer to another person or to the world. When we attend to another person, we are with them as fully as we can be. We listen, look, imagine how it might be inside them, try to understand them and us and us-and-them. If we engage from a position of attention, they can feel heard and understood. And if attention is reciprocated, we become a shared force for changing things.

What is this act of attending?

It’s a kind of mental focusing, like turning an internal spotlight on to a person or object. And it’s more than mental, it’s a whole body experience – a kind of tuning in with all our senses to what or who we are focussing on. A physical as well as metaphorical turning towards, which requires a temporary turning away from self.

I believe that the poetic is rooted in attending, that it involves a turning towards the world around us, the people, objects, events with a concern to really see and understand their depths and complexities. As a result, we may paint or write poems, but that is an outcome, not the process. The poetic begins with choosing to attend.

I have so much to write about attending, and about its close friend noticing, and how they relate to the poetic dimension of our lives, that it will need several blog posts.

Attention has threaded itself through the work I’ve been doing throughout my life. Today I’ll describe how it works in children’s learning – I’m sure you will be able to connect this to your own experiences of learning and being with babies and young children, and out into your poetic life.


Research in child development shows the positive effects of caregivers engaging babies and young children in shared attention to activities with toys and tasks. Using the spotlight metaphor , shared attention creates a pool of light in which adult and child are really together in what they say and do. The adult is tuned in to the child and where she is at, and so can use talk and action to help them do what they can’t yet do by themselves. The space under that light of shared attention becomes a rich and supportive learning environment.

The recent centenary of the birth of writer and philosopher Iris Murdoch helped me find her book ‘The Sovereignty of Good’, in which she connects attention with moral choices, with truth, beauty, art, good, empathy - all things that seem to be critically vital at the moment. She describes attention as “a just and loving gaze directed upon an individual reality”.

I’ll leave you with this quote from her:

The direction of attention is, contrary to nature, outward, away from self….towards the great surprising variety of the world, and the ability so to direct attention is love.

Where will you direct your attention today?

somewhere in Greece, a wheelbarrow by a wall

somewhere in Greece, a wheelbarrow by a wall