Observation and Attention

Attention and observation by Mireille Marchand


Here is a new excerpt from my book “Un carnet à soi” (in french, sorry!). It’s a passage from a chapter that I especially like about attention and observation, because I think that’s what’s at the heart of our desire to keep a sketchbook: stop, be attentive, observe and try to retain a little of all this in our notebook. Here is this excerpt:


6. Attention and observation


This chapter slipped here seems like nothing, yet it is at the heart of our practice. I deeply believe that if we want to keep a notebook, it is because we aspire to observe the world, to witness our lives, our daily lives. We aspire and we get there so little. It seems so easy and it’s not. Every meditative practice makes us aware of how difficult it is for our mind to be in the here and now and its propensity to travel in time, to chase away dangers, to ruminate, to be everywhere except here in the moment.

For me, drawing is my most powerful meditation. I have observed this phenomenon countless times: my mind is restless, I choose to draw, I draw and I calm down. Eye, hand, brain coordination works miracles. Focusing on one point, gently bringing my attention back is all that drawing practice requires, and it dilutes anxiety and stress. I have the feeling that when I draw, nothing can reach me, I am in a space of tranquility.

In a world where the flow of images, informations and solicitations is permanent, these moments of gentle attention, focusing on the simple things of life are beneficial. They have the power to sooth our nervous system down, to deepen our relationship with the world too. Because, for me, this is where life occurs, in these everyday details, in this gesture, in this light, in this scene, in the curve of this object. I believe strongly in it. Keeping a journal is a practice that connects us with that. With life.

In this chapter, I suggest you to slow down a bit, take the time to stop here or there, breathe and look, draw sometimes, write a little bit too, take some notes or not all. Just take the time. It’s little and it’s a lot. For me, it is the hardest thing that is and the most indispensable. But gently, try to bring a little attention in our daily lives.

How to practice

Caught in our daily lives, our habits and our thought patterns, we literally forget the attention. It takes practically an earthquake so that we notice a change in our environment. If we want to keep a notebook in the first place, it is that, perhaps in a still confused way, we wanted to reconnect with our environment, to connect, to notice, to see, to hear, to feel, to note. The habit of inattention is strong. Terribly strong. That’s true, it can be useful in order to work more efficiently. Yet our notebook can allow us to bring back some attention and act as a bridge. To pay attention is to calm the mind. To calm the mind, calm the body, slow down enough, take the time. It looks easy, it is not. The mind resists much to attention. It does not have time for that. To watch carefully a flower? It’s ridiculous, it’s useless, isn’t it? So, gently bring it to that, sometimes, a little, from time to time and realize then that you are so well there. And a notebook can help us with that. A little is enough and already makes a huge difference.

This is what I propose you: to take excursions/discoveries/explorations. It’s exciting, isn’t it? I know that I often say that enthusiasm leads beyond discipline, but I also recognize that it takes a little discipline at the beginning, to force the habit, to force the door and to explore new tracks. Set in your agenda one hour per week for this kind of exploration. This will be your artist’s trip. One hour a week, you will go out in the city, in the nature, in a museum, where you want, but go out. Take your notebook with you and start your observation. You can walk or sit at a café or on a bench next to the river. And then watch. Look at the world as a five-year-old or as a stranger arriving in a big city. Forget this impression that “you know what’s there,” rediscover it. Look. Really listen. And then note. Note what attracts your attention. This helps to slow down the flow of attention. For example, consider the color of this tree and start asking yourself some questions: what kind of green? Rather olive, blue, yellow, brown … What nuances? And then the shadow, how is it? The light comes from this side, okay. How does this influence the green of the tree? What shape do the leaves have … strive to linger (…..).


Here we are! And it’s a nice way to end the year smoothly and to slide to 2018! I wish you sweet holidays and look forward to seeing you here next year! Mireille

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