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The Art of Paying Attention

I am lucky enough to have a poet-photographer as one of my friends.

She told me one day about the macro function on my camera (‘do you have a button with a flower picture next to it…? Yes, that’s it…‘) [No, I really didn't know, and don't tend to read instructions.]

More importantly, she encouraged me to take and share less ordinary photographs.  Photographs that capture the extraordinariness of everyday things.

With her encouragement, I started taking photographs of the wild flowers that I saw as I walked.  (I love to walk).  Such a simple sentence:

I started taking photographs of the wild flowers that I saw as I walked

The words can’t do justice to what really happened, changing the way that I see things for ever.

Because as I walked, and took photos, I learned to:

  • Notice beauty and wonder all around me
  • Find evidence of life and growth in the most unlikely of places
  • Stumble across the tiniest of flowers, previously hidden from my view
  • Bend down, hunker down, lie down in order to notice them properly
  • Pay attention to detail
  • Listen to what the flowers had to say (yes, they do talk)
  • Celebrate colour
  • See patterns
  • Say thank you
  • Wash my eyes in wonder

If I had to try and sum it up, I’d say it was the art of paying attention.

It’s how I want to walk, from here on, through the world.

And it’s how I want to write.

I want to write: detail, patterns, colour, wonder, thank you.

Eyes washed in wonder.


This post is a contribution to this month’s What I Learned From group writing project, run by Robert Hruzek at Middle Zone Musings.  This month’s theme is What I Learned From the Plant World

Thank you to Robert for inspiring me with his post here on noticing lessons from flowers and photographs.

Thanks to the less ordinary Amy Palko for inspiring me to take photographs and pay attention.

More on paying attention and how it links to possibility next week.

UPDATE: ‘Eyes washed in wonder’ is a phrase that flows from a prescription for poetry I’ve been taking for the last few years.  ‘Wash eyes in wonder’ is one of the lines in the Poet’s Prescription by Diana Hendry.  You can read more about it, and how I’ve been taking it, here: April Showers: Eyes Washed in Wonder

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  1. Leanne says:

    I love the way photography does that. I notice so many things now that I just used to walk by before I started carrying my camera. I especially notice clouds; beautiful and different every day.
    .-= Leanne´s last blog ..Weekend Reading =-.

  2. Joshua says:

    The writer/monk Thomas Merton loved taking photos. To him the fine art of paying attention was more than just inspiration; it was spiritual. I tend to agree that paying attention to the small details of life is essential to living itself… at least living to one’s fullest.
    .-= Joshua´s last blog ..What would you like to read more about on Writers Community? =-.

  3. amypalko says:

    Oh Joanna, you’ve made me cry now! What a beautiful post - thank you so much for your words - they’ve left me really quite speechless. Quite a feat, as you know ;-)
    With much love
    .-= amypalko´s last blog ..A Breath of Fresh Air =-.

  4. Barbara Ling, Virtual Coach says:

    Oooo what a tremendous post! I related to “Listen to what the flowers had to say (yes, they do talk)” - amazingly enough, I get my source of inspiration from the karate classes I watch. Simply watching *how* kids are taught and the different styles will always give me ideas on unique takes for my own writing.

    Inspiration is all around us if we give ourselves permission to be receptive.
    .-= Barbara Ling, Virtual Coach´s last blog ..How to EASILY make superb ebook covers for free - Bonus Report Tutorial =-.

  5. Brad Shorr says:

    Joanna, One day I hope you will write about what the flowers say to you. That is a very intriguing subject. Several years ago I became interested in meditation and Eastern spirituality (partly, to Joshua’s comment, through the influence of Thomas Merton’s writing), and I would take long walks in the country trying to live completely in the moment, focusing on every leaf, every puff of wind on my face. Those walks remain incredibly vivid in my memory.
    .-= Brad Shorr´s last blog ..10 Great Twitter Follows =-.

  6. Robert Hruzek says:

    Joanna, what a wonderful and delightful lesson from you this time around. Looks like “paying attention” is catching on!

    There’s a certain humility in photographing like this, isn’t there? You have to lose your sense of reserve and just get out there and shoot, no matter how silly, contorted, or unusual the position you need to use to get that shot. But the rewards are always worth it, I’ve found.

    Thanks and a big tip o’ the hat from the Middle Zone!
    .-= Robert Hruzek´s last blog ..Constrictor =-.

  7. Ulla Hennig
    Twitter: ullahe

    Beautiful post! And I can relate so well - everytime I carry my camera with me I am seeing things I would not if I were without it.
    .-= Ulla Hennig´s last blog ..Great Expectations =-.

  8. Janice Cartier says:

    Now we’re talking! Can you see me celebrating here? Huge smiles and happy heart. Those flowers, those bits are calling up in you…your own kind of blossoming. And I for one am truly, dancingly, grateful.

    Such loveliness in pics and poetics this morning. Thank you.

    ( a little button here, a little paint there…and Joanna…coming even more to life….and that IS cause for celebration…)
    .-= Janice Cartier´s last blog ..First At Bat =-.

  9. Fractured Bloughts » People » Are you there? says:

    [...] life too? Always doing 3 or 4 things, not really being anywhere. Joanna Young wrote about The Art of Paying Attention. You can say it’s not about “don’t multitask it’s about watching [...]

  10. 10 Easy Ways to Get Inspired - Tips on Inspiration for Writing | Writers Community says:

    [...] I mean to take this literally as well as figuratively. For me this phrase is the epitome of being an “in-the-moment” kind of person. If you make an effort to enjoy small pleasures the moment they strike you, then you will live a [...]

  11. Davina says:

    You’ve just found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow… without needing the rainbow. I love these pictures Joanna. I was also just looking at “Daisy” on your Flickr page. Absolutely stunning!
    .-= Davina´s last blog ..Group Writing Project: The Yogi Blogger =-.

  12. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Leanne hello :-) It’s amazing how something so simple as carrying a camera can change the way you step through the world, isn’t it? The clouds are indeed astonishing: every day, and every hour

    Joshua thank you for telling me about Thomas Merton, I need to find out more about his work… There is a spiritual dimension to the practice of taking photographs (and writing) too. Like you say, it’s about living life to the full, and being more completely alive.

    Amy well, now my work is done :-) I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Your encouragement has changed many things for me, and I’m sure I’m not the only less ordinary photographer who feels that way

    Barbara yes, I think that’s it, absolutely:

    “Inspiration is all around us if we give ourselves permission to be receptive.”

    Brad if I carry on at this rate of stretching out of my comfort zone then yes, indeed I will share that one day. I absolutely have to follow up this Thomas Merton reference now, thank you for sharing that, and for telling us more about those mindful walks. They sound amazing.

  13. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Robert yes, I think humility is part of it… it’s a feeling, a state, a frame of mind that goes along with wonder and gratitude, don’t you think? I’m glad you wrote your piece during the week because it gave me the hook for this and the opportunity to take part in WILF, which you know is something I love to do if at all possible

    Janice you know me so well. Yes, all of this is part of becoming fully alive. Thanks for everything you’ve taught me about the art of doing that :-)

    Davina I have read and re-read these words of yours… They mean so much to me. You understand just what I’ve learned, and found.

    “You’ve just found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow… without needing the rainbow”

  14. Luke Gedeon says:

    I have been enjoying your flikr photo-stream for quite a while. More than half of the pictures I have used as desktop backgrounds over the last year have been from there. Thanks for noticing all those flowers and especially the lochs.
    .-= Luke Gedeon´s last blog ..What I Learned From a Bunch of Spinach =-.

  15. Middle Zone Musings » All Entries: What I Learned From Plants says:

    [...] The Art of Paying Attention, by Joanna Young at Confident Writing [...]

  16. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Gosh Luke thanks so much - I had no idea! The landscape round here really is gorgeous, once you start paying attention it’s hard not to fall headling in love… Glad you’re enjoying what I’ve captured

  17. Mistakes Were Made | Janice Cartier says:

    [...] the love Joanna Young The Art of Paying Attention. Wildflowers from Scotland and her own blossoming. Having A Little Faith, from the multi-talented [...]

  18. Ben says:

    I like that, finding the extraordinary in everyday things. Those always make the best pictures. And I love your word picture at the end, washing your eyes in wonder. Thanks for sharing.
    .-= Ben´s last blog ..Quiet Desperation =-.

  19. Karen Swim says:

    Oh Joanna, the photos are beautiful! I delighted in the lessons learned and felt my heart stirring right along with your awakening passion to “wash your eyes in wonder.” Through your post I felt your heart, a lightness and the fanciful flight of a spirit that is soaring on the wings of possibility. Beautiful Joanna, beautiful.
    .-= Karen Swim´s last blog ..Painting by Numbers =-.

  20. Nancy Kourmoulis says:

    “Eyes washed in wonder”…loved this line. Seems if we pay attention God’s creation is so amazingly wonderful.
    .-= Nancy Kourmoulis´s last blog ..School Time… =-.

  21. Karen Wallace
    Twitter: karenwallace

    Oh Joanna - hooray.

    It seems to me, because Amy’s had this effect on me also, that you’ve learned to live in each and every moment and to not just enjoy it, but relish it. Finding beauty is easy when we have our eyes open.

    I once had an email from a dear friend who broke my heart when she said said she didn’t have time to appreciate the sunset because she was so busy with all the chores and duties of her life (I’m paraphrasing, but that was the message). Ever since then, I’ve noticed every sunset, I’ve watched the sun rise with joy, and noticed the smallest flower. We are surrounded by beauty, joy, love and wonder - and it is no less than a miracle when we are finally open to seeing it all. My heart is filled with joy for you!
    .-= Karen Wallace´s last blog ..How to be Happy Right Now =-.

  22. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Ben i think so too - pictures and words. I’m glad you liked the last line… although it’s not original - I’ve updated the post to show where it comes from (it’s something called the Poet’s Prescription)

    Karen thank you, not least for joining me in that flight, and showing how you’re painting your own way into possibility. See how Janice is gathering her little band of artists? ;-)

    Nancy hello, and welcome. As I said to Ben, that line / idea isn’t my own.. but it is one I’ve internalised, and yes, it makes me alive to the wonders of creation

    Karen (Wallace), how appropriate your comment should link to a piece on how to be happy right now because that’s what we’re talking about isn’t it? How to appreciate, notice, be in the moment, and relish it. And yes, find and make the time to do so, because otherwise the moments will just flash past us and then, really… just what would be the point? Here’s to a celebration of every sunrise and sunset, and every moment of wonder that pops along in between

  23. Jeanne Male says:

    Joanna, the moment I read the words, “eyes washed in wonder” I paused and let the words wash over my spirit. What a glorious placement of four simple words.
    .-= Jeanne Male´s last blog ..What Does Career Satisfaction “Look Like” to You? =-.

  24. iGoMogul says:

    I finally had some time to catch up on my RSS feed (was sick last week) and while the commentors have already mentioned it, I just wanted to say WOW!

    “Eyes washed in wonder”

    That is one of those gems you hang onto for dear life, one you put in your pocket and pull out when you need to sup from it’s sparkle.

    Thanks for inspiring me today. Oh, and thanks for the Macro tip. I, too, am not an instructions reader.

    Sara @ iGoMogul

  25. Carla says:

    Though I usually don’t take my camera along with me because of the size, I usually don’t regret it when I do. I do pay attention more and notice things that I usually don’t see without it. Strange how that happens!
    .-= Carla´s last blog ..Trying to keep up =-.

  26. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Jeanne I’m glad those words resonated :-) They’re borrowed… although it was me that did the placement ;-) Thanks

    Sara so glad I’m not alone in not follwoing instructions! Hope you’re feeling better, and glad the words did a bit of wonder-work for you :-)

    Carla it’s interesting indeed how changes in our practice affect our ability to pay attention. You’ve got me thinking though about things I notice more of without the camera as well as what I see with it… I guess it’s more of the non-visual - sounds, smells, feelings… all of which we can pay attention to through our writing

  27. [...] A is for audacity, for attention, and remembering to focus it [...]

  28. Lance says:

    Saw the title and instantly thought of yesterday’s night sky overcast and in the middle of a crowd something as simple and beautiful gets lost, I really ought to use my smartphone to start snapping photos.

  29. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    @Lance: yes, taking photos will shift your perception, definitely.