Paying Attention

I believe that as a writer, being present is a fundamental part of the job. Now, I'm not suggesting that we should be present all of the time, let's face it, we often delve into another world entirely when we write. What I mean is, there should be moments or periods throughout the day when we can commit fully to the here and now. This allows us to collect information, experience sensations and practice using the senses. This part of my site will be called moments. You can join me here most days for a dose of inspiration, that might be a photograph, a song, a quote from a book, or something that inspired me throughout my day. By writing things down, I am also collecting material that I may look back on and even use in the future. It might even spark your own imagination. This page is an open invitation for you to join in. If you write something or want to share a picture or a song, if you want to share a blog post that has been inspired by this post, email me at I am also happy to share your work on this page. 

So, what do I mean about being present? I mean paying attention; paying attention to your surroundings, to what you are doing, to how you feel both physically and emotionally, to your senses; sight, sound, smell, touch, and experiencing it all as if for the first time. Paying attention is engaging with the present rather than thinking of the near or distant past, or thinking about the future. This allows the mind to quieten down, switches off the autopilot for a while and frees the mind up to receive new information. Let me give you an example: Today, I did two dog walks (both dogs walk at different paces and sometimes it is easier just to do two). I didn't set off with the intention of being present but ten minutes into my first walk I realised I was singing a song. Suddenly, I was aware of myself and my surroundings - this might seem odd but I have been practising mindfulness for a few years and often recognise these moments of clarity, and from that moment, I started paying attention. Walk with me...

It's 3.30pm and the sun is low in the sky. Kimber (my youngest dog) has stopped again to smell the bushes at the side of the path. I am quietly singing Celine Dion 'My Heart Will Go On'. 

As I walk slowly, feeling the soles of my feet connect with the solid ground, I take a long deep breath. The predominant smell in the air is cigarette smoke, a smell that normally makes me recoil, but today, for a moment, I'm back in Dalkeith with Mum, both of us puffing away while she's asking me about my week. For another moment I'm with my partner Helen, we're out the back of Morrison's pub in Stirling. We've only been dating a couple of weeks and I'm trying to convince her to miss her train back to Hull. I'm also trying to get her drunk.  Through a fog of smoke, we talk and laugh and discover a love of politics and education and all subject a bit taboo. The sound of a car exhaust backfiring brings me back to the present.

It isn't cold today, 9 degrees to be precise and it is still January. It doesn't feel natural to be out in January without a coat, but the cool air on my skin is lush. I can feel a hint of warmth on my face and everything looks a little brighter. Now that I'm out of the fug of smoke I can smell the mulch from the bark in the flower beds, the sodden leaves and grass and, and as I round the corner, the smell of traffic, you know, the thick smell of fumes that sinks to back of your nose. All I can hear is traffic now, a bus shuddering in the bus stop, a motorbike, the car exhaust popping in the distance. I'm walking around the carpark at the doctor's surgery, there is some nice landscaping to the right, just under a sign advertising fake lawns, the irony. I love writing about opposites, juxtaposing the natural world with the unnatural world, my mind has started wandering to future blog posts, I must write this down. There are catkins on several bushes and I am still worried that it is too early. I think perhaps we might still have a flurry of snow to come or some type of weather bomb, then spring. I worry about the ecosystem, I worry we have passed the tipping point.

As I turn to the pavement beside the main road, I hold Kimber's leash a bit tighter, and we stroll at a steady pace. There are some lovely walls in Sauchie, kind of like dry stone walls but with concrete. I'm interested in the moss that is growing on the wall, it's so vibrant and lush. I wonder what the benefits of moss are to the environment. I'll look it up when I get home. In the distance, the sun is shining between two crevices in the Ochils, the colours are spectacular, it almost looks like a rainbow has been captured in those hills.

As I turn back into my street, there's a smell of cola cubes coming from somewhere. It momentarily takes me to my childhood and I feel it in my belly.
I tell Helen all about my walk when I get back home, you see, I didn't have my phone with me.

I decide to take my phone when I go out with Millie (mummy dog). It is an entirely different experience though. Unlike my walk with Kimber, I am now looking for things to photograph. I notice my neighbour Jean's Amaryllis has grown since yesterday.

And this kettle definitely doesn't fill me with joy. For a moment I feel annoyed at how people just dump things for others to clean up. But it passes. The sun has now set and the air is a little colder. Millie does a massive poo on the grass beside the road and everyone is watching me pick it up. I tell her she's a good girl and immediately start singing Free Falling by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

 I do exactly the same walk as I did with Kimber but this time there are more human's around. Someone in a white car has his window rolled down and is smiling at Millie, I spot one of my regular work customers limp into the health centre, and a woman walks by me. I try to make eye contact but she looks down. My mind starts to wander, what would I do if I woke up and thought I was the only human on earth? How would I behave? What would I do when I saw another human? What would you do? 
There are stones painted and placed all around the car park. This is a lot of political talk at the moment.
I  unzip my body warmer to reveal my Yes Please t-shirt and walk a little straighter on the way back home. What is happening politically in your little patch of earth? Is it inspiring? Scary? Can you write about it? 

Now is a good time to reflect on the difference between not taking my phone and taking my phone on the walks. Firstly, let me just say, I sing all the time when I walk, regardless of whether I have my phone or not. My choice of song today was random though. On my first walk, I paid attention to things as they happened. Everything was a surprise, the smoke, the sun, the feel of the air. I let my mind drift naturally but recognised this and brought it back to the present. Time slowed down as I walked and I noticed the smells and noises and beauty around me. 

When I was with my phone, I began looking for things to photograph, I took notes of the things I hadn't noticed when I was out before, which meant there were chunks of time when I wasn't present. What did I miss during those times? Strangely, I also became aware of how other people saw me; the people in the cars as I picked up Millie's poo, the stranger. Is that a fluke or was I so distracted with my phone that I was less aware of the larger environment around me and only saw what was directly in front of me. This also gave me irritation, meaning I was less present. 

I will still take my phone out when I'm walking, but I think I'll keep it in my pocket for emergencies only. 

So, going back to the beginning of this blog, what is the point of paying attention? New writing ideas? Curiosity and a research opportunity that I might use in the future? Discovering the senses again? It is all material that I can  use in my writing. Why not give it a go yourself. 

Thank you for walking with me. I hope you recognised little moments of clarity, as well as pockets of inspiration, moments of frustration and the difference of having a phone and not having a phone with me made. Enjoy the music. Click on the link below to discover the benefits of moss for health and the planet. Link

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