How to Unlock Devotion


“Attention is the beginning of devotion.” - Mary Oliver, UpStream


Six words is all that is.

I picked up her book this morning, and happened onto this particular page, where she spaciously places these six words.

I am guessing they stood out in her heart as they do in mine.

I’ve been wondering about attention, and tending to life. How to do that in a way that supports both humans and the more than human world. And the importance of attention. I remember for years a former brother-in-law would say to me-it’s all about your attitude-and I would think-nope, not for me, that isn’t quite it.

I realize now, if he had said it’s all about attention, I would have breathed a deep, heartfelt YES.

Then when you add is the beginning of devotion you have me practically on my knees.

Devotion is a word I don’t hear often. Even saying it, again and again, brings a smile.

And to be devoted to something, to anything, seems like such a gift.

I remember when I was attending to my babies...oh so long ago...and the quality of devotion I held for those precious beings that needed me. Without attention human babies don’t thrive. My devotion to their thriving. That continues to live in me. 

And on the other hand how often I am attending to unhelpful thoughts! Worry when my kids are travelling, distress at an unintended difficult conversation, the state of the world.  Noticing how much of my attention is directed towards things I don't want to be devoted to. Like worry, or fear, and yet they grip me with a fierceness these days.

So I am attending to my mind, I am listening, and re-framing and being gentle with myself. Listening and questioning seems to be what I am most devoted to lately, both inside myself and towards the world.  

I wonder if some of the most amazing questions and insightful answers will come from people who haven’t been given the opportunity to be listened to. So I want to listen to people who haven't been heard.

I wonder about how to listen more deeply to the more than human world and what will happen as I do.

Listening is an art and a skill. The kind of listening I am talking about isn’t one in which you, the listener, have to do or say anything. It's listening like you listen to the sounds of the ocean, Fall leaves crackling under your feet, the heartbeat of a loved one as you lay your head on their chest, or the touch of a hand in yours. 

Listening with your wondering heart and mind.

Listening with attention and devotion to witnessing another.

Listening to see, hear and acknowledge truth in the moment.

Listening as an act of love.  Listening feels worthy of my devotion.

Sweet beautiful sentences like this “Attention is the beginning of devotion.”-are meant to be savored and to potentially change you and me.

Letting words like Mary Oliver’s linger inside you. Let them dance on your chest and in your head for awhile. No need to rush. Then perhaps ask questions like these:

Where am I placing my attention?

What am I devoted to?

What is worthy of my devotion?

How does living into these answers begin to change me? 

Write a poem, a sentence, an intention about your attention and your devotion. Hold it close. Let it move you.

Here’s to the beauty of six heartfelt words and the magic they offer up to the world!