Learning to Notice

Have you ever stopped to notice what it is you notice? Or to take it a step further, have you ever noticed what it is you don’t notice? Have you ever wondered why? Why do I notice the things I do and not the things I don’t? And how can I begin to notice the things I don’t, to understand the reason for the things I do and don’t notice, and to place less or greater emphasis on the things I do?

Begin with this experiment. Stop reading and observe your surroundings. Try to notice every detail of everything around you. How much of this immediate world are you ignoring? How many things, thoughts, memories, and emotional responses await you within a few feet in this familiar space? Are you noticing them?

Now consider the vastness of our existence outside this small space. Our travel, employment, relationships, and the world that surrounds us. Consider the myriad of both the material, physical world, and non material world of ideas, emotions, and thoughts both of ourselves and others. As you live your life how much do you really notice? What is the color of your neighbors car two houses down the street? What is your spouses favorite fragrance? What is your child’s greatest fear or joy? How many pictures do you have on the wall in a given space? Have you really looked at them lately? Do you know why, or remember why they are there? I could go on and on but I’ll leave that to your notice.

The second question I ask myself is why? Why do I not notice how well the grass is growing as I rush off to work? Why did I not notice the mood my wife is in, or perhaps that yesterday was my anniversary? Why did I notice the broken item my child left but not the twinkle in their eye when I came home? Why did I have a problem listening to the conversation while being unable to stop thinking about that blemish on your face? And why can I not stop noticing that shiny new object I
want to own? Why do I notice everything wrong with my opponent yet nothing good? Why do I only see the good in the things I choose and not the problems?

I submit the possibility of a trained and taught focus. A response to the stimuli based upon a learned process, both internal and external. By internal I mean that which is our personality and DNA. That which you are born with. By externally I mean that which is generated by forces outside of ourselves, such as parents, friends, and the mass of social media. This includes religious, moral, social, and economic influences. That which we have been taught, by coercion, manipulation, and instruction, from words, images, and actions of others. This nurture goes beyond parenting and includes the pulpit, the classroom, and all forms of media.

So I have many forces at work, both internally and externally. I have been trained to view the world in a specific way. I have been trained to notice certain things and not notice other things. I am overloaded with external stimuli competing for my attention from all directions and I consciously and subconsciously filter all the information for various purposes and reasons. And as I progress through life’s experiences my focus can become more and more narrow. My ability to notice the things I don’t already notice becomes more and more difficult. My world becomes
smaller and smaller. I think this process becomes automatic. In essence we create our own reality and verify it, be it good or bad, healthy or unhealthy. This reality may or may not be truth.

So how do I begin to notice what I notice and why? And how do I begin to notice what I don’t currently notice? Well, to begin with, observe. Observe what you currently notice during the day. What was your first thought today? Second? What did I notice about my family today? My employment? The weather? Politics? Relationships? What did you observe in your world today?

Now reflect on all those things. What was the bulk of your thoughts? Were they concerned about the natural world? The spiritual? Were they passive, aggressive, or apathetic? Were they critical, constructive, fearful, playful, positive, or negative. These are the things you notice. And reflection will tell you why. This is a picture of myself and my view. This may or may not be who you want to be but this is who you are. Who I am.

Next thing we can do is to really attempt to notice what is around us. Stop the bombardment of sensory overload and notice things. Turn off the T.V. or internet. Try to block out your preconceived ideas and notions of reality. Observe one thing, perhaps your child, or wife, or dog, or that picture on the wall. Try to notice all the things you are currently missing. Get lost in that picture on the wall. Spend a while getting lost in the amazing person that is your spouse, child, or friend. Notice everything about them. Their physical being as well as all their hopes, thoughts, and dreams. Really notice who they are and not who you think or hope they are. Go outside and spend some time just looking…and noticing.

Another exercise is to attempt to really listen and enter in to another’s point of view. This is quite difficult. Try to notice what it is that someone else notices for the reasons they notice it. Why is it that so many photos of the same location are vastly different? Why are their so many political and religious views? Why do so many people relate to people I do not? Attempt to get another perspective. Try to learn to notice things from a different view. You may or may not agree, but it will help you notice that there is another view and you may ultimately find out it’s better. At the least it will help in the power of observation, and it will help you relate.

Lastly, consult with someone you trust. Ask them what it is you seem to notice, and what you don’t. Ask them why they think this is the case. They may be able to help remove your blinders. Who knows, maybe you’ll discover there is another world out there that you never even noticed.

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