The one most crucial skill to develop: Attention

Check out on Spotify: Philosophize This!

by Steven West | #172

I had some nice insights from the podcast about the philosophy of Simone Weil (1909 – 1943) in ‘Philosophize This!’ from Steven West. I like to share this with you because for me, this really speaks to Neurobiological Somatic Training that I give in my work as a Somatic (Sex) Educator.


Simone points to ATTENTION as the one most crucial skill to develop if we are going to be able to live life in a way that is not at the mercy of other forces in the world around us. The proper way to direct your attention, not only can change your life, but also the people around you and then the world and then the history that comes with it.

Not only does the quality of your attention dictates THE WAY you experience every experience that you have, it also dictates WHICH experiences are even POSSIBLE for you to experience.

Simone writes in one of her notebooks:

‘Our thoughts should be in relation to all particular and already formulated thoughts as a man on a Mountain -who as he looks forward- sees also below him, without actually looking at them, a great many forests and plains. Above all our thoughts should be empty, waiting, not seeking anything, but ready to receive in its’ naked truth the object that is to penetrate it’.



So, we don’t have to deny or forget our baggage of learnings from previous experiences, but we can learn from a perspective that is more open. We can start from a position of acknowledging that whatever our position is at this moment is at best a partial truth. There is always more that the world can expose to us through experience. It means that we can have these experiences but we’re not exploring them with an agenda. Simone Weil asks: what would happen if people would experience with a perspective that is more detached from assumptions and expectations, more open and receptive, but at the same time it doesn’t ignore the knowledge you’ve already gained in a certain area. It just makes sure that you’re not chained to that knowledge unable to move.

Somatics and attention

I link this open state of attention that Simone is describing, to the beginning state with which we can start somatic inquiry: we don’t have to ignore or delete our assumptions and prejudices, we can simply see them as at best a partial truth, suspend our personal agendas, not seeking but ready to receive the lessons that can be learned through this new experience. Suspending our personal agendas and prejudices doesn’t mean that we have to except every experience that we are invited to have. We can tap into our somatic awareness and learn to recognize our no’s as well as our yesses and maybes from this more open, less biased state.

What doesn’t work:

Simone also talks about what doesn’t work in directing our attention:
If you put in zero effort, you only learn at the rate things circumstantially arise in your life. This is lazy and you ultimately have no control over it. But to spend every second trying to wield solutions into existence by tons and tons of effort doesn’t work either. You end up projecting yourself onto reality to such an extent that it distorts what you end up learning from the world.

Simone suggests taking the middle path: instead of no activity or over-activity, the middle path is a kind of ‘NEGATIVE ACTIVITY’. Not sitting around doing nothing, not trying to force things. Negative effort is the effort where you remove something from your experience. You remove your own prejudice. She says: ‘The effort which brings us all the salvation is like the effort of looking and listening.’

It’s not searching. It’s just looking and listening, receiving.
In Somatic Sex Education we often invite our clients to try ‘Seeing with fresh or new eyes’. This means truly being there with your open and receptive attention to learn, postponing assumptions based on earlier experiences.

“The great human error is to reason instead of finding out”.

Simone accentuates the importance of Action instead of only reasoning about things. She says: ‘The great human error is to reason instead of finding out’.

This is for me what somatic learning also is about: instead of only using our ‘head brain’ to overthink what works or doesn’t work for us, we can start finding out by using our whole bodies as source of learning as well.

I do again have to say that this doesn’t mean that we have to dive into everything for the sake of truly finding out. Simone took this more strictly than I do; she went to the frontline in WOII, because in her opinion she could only say something about the war if she had experienced it herself. Although she has a point, I believe that imagining ourselves in an experience can already be a great exercise as well. We can reason our way into some solutions but we have to admit that learning by experience might give new insights that bring you further. With somatic practices we can explore and discover in steps that are -as one of my teachers Caffyn Jesse says – just right for us and our nervous systems and safe enough to allow us to be brave.

Full body experiential learning for better integration

Also, for integration purposes we best need our whole bodies to really implement our learnings. As Simone Weil points out as well. In her opinion, what’s the point of talking about philosophy all day, having conversations about it if you are going to live a life that doesn’t correspond to any of the insights that you’ve gained? At a certain point it is just a waste of time. If we really want to sustain transformational learnings, we have to put them into our everyday actions; our way of moving, breathing, eating, standing, our somatic practices etc. We have to start living the change instead of thinking the change. And that begins with directing our attention.

Did you enjoy reading this blog or perhaps you want to learn more about developing your (somatic) attention skills? Send me a message message!