Adam Phillips on attention

My friend Paul Paschal sent me this brief quote from psychoanalyst Adam Phillips’ book Seeking Attention (p.96):

Freud is suggesting that attention is primarily, if not essentially, already thoroughly censored (or selective, as we more blandly say). That looking is a way of stopping us seeing; that talking is a way of stopping us speaking; that listening is a way of stopping ourselves hearing. That what we call attending is a process of motivated exclusion; that we concentrate and focus in order to occlude and temper what we might see. That attention evaluates, prohibits and pre-empts; but often unconsciously, without our as yet being aware of it.

I’m in a period of quiet practice focused around doing the strangely named authentic movement with Elizabeth Johnson. It’s hard not to practice any kind of improvisational form — especially one predicated on non-judgemental awareness — without considering the nature of attention: what comes to mind through sensation, memory and imagination and more curiously, what does not. Phillips’ term motivated exclusion seems to punch holes in the desire to be open to what is there in the body as I am dancing. It becomes more a matter of what I want to be there and what I do not want to be there.

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