Paying Attention to Attention

I recently went on an amazing art retreat in rural Devon in the UK. The grounding premise for the art retreat was “attention” – the art of attention to be precise.

I had no idea what to expect.
I went with the intention of being aware and curious, “Attentional Aperture” (see this post for more about this). Gay Watson has this to say about attention and creativity:

… surely there can be no creativity without attention.  Attention – to focus our minds, clear our minds, open our minds, train our minds, all to provide the space within which the novelty of creativity may arise and be received – clearing the ground.

Considering processes of attention rather than the content or objects of attention is actually fairly uncommon in our culture.  We are more used to focusing on information and activity, ends rather than means.  This perhaps, is the greatest difference and the greatest benefit of studying Buddhism; the focus on process and the use of attention to reveal the construction of our worlds and our selves.
[Gay Watson – presentation at the Institute of Oriental Philosophy, Taplow Manor in July 2010.]

Why did I choose an excerpt by Gay Watson?

Gay lives in Devon and is a friend of the retreat owners. At the opening session of the week, the manager of the retreat read a few quotes from Gay’s book “Attention: Beyond Mindfulness”. Gay also came to speak with us informally on the Wednesday evening.

The focus of the retreat was based on this notion that the “process” of attention is more important than the the outcome or the product.
We were engaged in a process, paying attention to the process in every moment – in yoga, pottery and drawing.

Of course, my inner critic made herself known, when I looked at what I had produced and judged it as good or bad.
A pause
A deep breath
Taking a step back to remind myself that it was the process I was engaging in that was key to this learning experience.

We were not there to produce fine art but to pay attention to art. 
Our purpose was to pay attention to our relationship with ourselves, our art and creativity.



The day before I went on the retreat, I wrote in my Morning Pages:
I wonder what I will pay attention to this week?

a pot emerging from a lump of clay using just my fingers and thumbs as basic tools
how fresh and cold the clay feels in my hands
the grittiness of crank compared to smooth, wet porcelain
finding the perfect balance for a pottery tool in my hand
how holding a tool in different ways produces different marks on a page or clay
the varying stages of clay hardness
how those stages can be manipulated to enhance a pot
the satisfying feeling of unintentionally making a pile of porcelain clay shavings


1people talking and sharing their stories
a deep belly laugh and how that makes me feel
expert teachers sharing their knowledge and experiences
what hot drinks people prefer to drink and when
the varied textures and kaleidoscope of food colours
generous servings, enticing us to eat with delight and abandon


exploring the smoothness and roughness of drawing papers
how daunting it is to be confronted with a massive expanse of blank paper
foraging for tools to make marks with
the satisfying sound of charcoal dragging across a textured piece of paper
the joy of movement in my mark making



the beautiful Japanese Cheery trees arching over the pathway framing my walk to the studio
the intricate stone work patterns in the old farm buildings
the earthy smell of log piles stacked against outdoor walls
the blue sky, sunshine and crisp spring air
the sound of a running river



the outer boundary of my body, where it comes into contact with the physical world – the air, the ground
the boundary of my body from the inside,  its elasticity and translucent quality
my breath, joints, muscles, emotions and mental states
the way my body happily moved into some poses and resisted others
how each side of my body feels after a yoga asana


Paying attention to art is paying attention to the self

As it turns out, I paid attention to many small and seemingly inconsequential things.
As it turns out, all those small things came together to form a satisfying whole.
As it turns out, I discovered, through attention, that I have an artist hiding inside of me.
She simply needs to be coaxed out.
To be confident that she may have a style of her own.

As it turns out, this was an experience never to be forgotten.
An experience I can re-visit in the dark times, to remind myself of the light within.

Debbie blog sign off 2019

This post is part of my new Experiences series.

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