A wife asks her husband, “So aren’t you going to say anything?” The husband panics; he silently races through the list: “Is it our anniversary? Did she get a haircut? New blouse? Paint the living room? What am I missing!?” Finally he surrenders and she tells him. “Oh, of course, of course! I’m so sorry, I just didn’t notice. I’ve been so busy and preoccupied lately.”

Take a moment

There’s quite a bit we don’t notice. And there are several reasons why we don’t notice things. Perhaps the main reason is that we don’t give ourselves an opportunity to notice. Noticing does require a bit of time. Not necessarily a huge investment of time, but some.  It’s easier to notice things if we first stop doing other things. It would be wonderful if we all had the opportunity to put life on hold for thirty minutes a day, to take a break from all of our work and worries, and to just sit and smell the roses. But learning how to notice, even for a few minutes or a moment, can make a difference.

Noticing requires that we put on pause other mental activities. If we ask ourselves what our mental state is at any point in time, very often we’ll discover that we are in the act of trying or figuring, worrying or ruminating, wishing or planning, resenting or dreading. Noticing is quite different. Noticing is not so much of an active mental state. It’s more passive, allowing what is to come into our awareness. 

Tune in

It’s allowing the world to occur to us through our senses. We sit outdoors and simply observe. We allow ourselves to see the trees, the sky and the clouds. They were there a moment ago, but we didn’t see them because we weren’t noticing. We close our eyes, and soon we begin to hear. We hear birds. Leaves rustling. A distant lawn mower. A car passing by. We become aware of the air. Its temperature, moistness, blowing briefly and then still again. We begin to smell. Damp grass, wild flowers, food cooking. None of these would have registered had we not begun to notice.

There are so many stimuli approaching our senses that we can’t possibly attend to all. We have to choose. Quite often our attention is in the future, thinking about what we will do. Often it is in the past, thinking about what has happened. Not often enough do we attend to life as it is in the moment. Getting lost in the future or in the past is likely not a conscious choice, but more of a default, a habit. Noticing the moment may require more deliberate choice, effort and practice.

Come back home

Another challenge to the practice of noticing the world as it is in the moment is the increasing number of opportunities to live in alternate worlds. Perhaps humans have always had a fascination with being “transported” and having an experience that is “out of this world.” Columbus sailed and Armstrong rocketed to new worlds. Today we travel through computer, TV and movie screens to have other-worldly experiences. We block our ears with ear buds and headphones and cover our eyes with virtual reality goggles in order to leave this place and time and to enjoy another.

All of these forms of escape and travel can have enormous value and enrich the human experience. But let’s remember to return to home base once in a while too. Let’s remember to pause and notice the tree, cloud, bird or loved one, in this world, at this moment.

Art Frenz, Ph.D.

Image courtesy of BryanHanson/ morguefile.com

Articles

Psychological Fitness

“Psychological Fitness” is my monthly column featured in the Binghamton, NY Press & Sun Bulletin since 2004. This page highlights articles, or adaptations thereof, from that column.