November 2019: Pay Attention

In her poem “Gratitude,” Mary Oliver asks herself and then answers eight questions of attention:

  • What did you notice?
  • What did you hear?
  • When did you admire?
  • What astonished you?
  • What would you like to see again?
  • What was most tender?
  • What was most wonderful?
  • What did you think was happening?

It’s a poem that treats the details of our days as a blessing and calls us to do the same.

Spiritual Exercise

So for this month’s exercise, let’s accept her invitation: First, take a few days and just spend some time with the poem. Here it is for you to read: “Gratitude,” Mary Oliver

Here’s an arresting video of it being read aloud.

Then use Oliver’s questions to write a version of your own by giving your own answers to her eight questions. Here’s an elegant example of someone making it their own.

But here’s the catch: You’ve got to decide how to gather the details for your poem. When reading Oliver’s poem, you get the feeling she wrote it at the end of a long day outdoors. But it could just as easily have been written at the end of a week, a year, or even a life.

So you pick what calls to you. Maybe you take a 2-hour hike and then sit down and write it. Or maybe sit down and write it at the end of an ordinary day of work and family? You might even want to answer the questions as if they are asking about the past year of your life. Or the past few decades. Think about sharing the poem with a close friend or your life partner. The point is to let Oliver’s eight questions help you remember that our attention is a way, maybe the best way, we say thanks for these precious days we’ve been given.