Notic­ing

The gift of notic­ing is so pre­cious that we need to take some time to no­tice that we have it and lov­ingly de­velop and hon­our it.

Living Now - - Editorial - by Anne Wil­son Schaef

The gift of notic­ing is so pre­cious that we need to take some time to no­tice that we have it and lov­ingly de­velop and hon­our it.

One of the great­est as­sets we have as hu­man be­ings is the gift of notic­ing. This gift of notic­ing is very frag­ile and can eas­ily be ig­nored, un­der­de­vel­oped, or tram­pled on as we move through life

I was for­tu­nate to have grown up in a fam­ily that prized this par­tic­u­lar skill and took pains to de­velop it in me. As I am writ­ing this, I hear th­ese words ca­reen­ing around in my head, “Look Elizabeth Anne. See what this bug is do­ing?” (I was named Elizabeth Anne as a child and upon en­ter­ing high school de­cided that I wanted a name shorter and more chic; so I dropped the Elizabeth for many years and now am com­ing back to it. Elizabeth means ‘house of God’. Per­haps I was not ready for that. Anne means gra­cious. I could han­dle that one as Grandma al­ways said, “Al­ways err in the di­rec­tion of gra­cious­ness”.)

Once I was en­gaged in notic­ing what the bug was do­ing, I could be in­volved for hours with that bug. I don’t know

how much the bugs learned – I learned a great deal from watch­ing bugs. Al­most al­ways, I was en­cour­aged to share my bug learn­ing at the din­ner ta­ble in the evening.

I was al­ways en­cour­aged to ‘no­tice’ on walks with my mother. I learned to lis­ten for, and dis­tin­guish bird calls and sounds in the for­est. I learned to lis­ten to, and watch for sub­tle sounds and move­ments in the grass so I could be aware of the pres­ence of oth­ers whose home was there and that I was in­trud­ing upon.

It was very im­por­tant that I no­ticed and re­spected the snakes, es­pe­cially the cop­per­heads, as they were very poi­sonous and gave no warn­ing like the rat­tlesnakes did. Also, as I de­vel­oped more aware­ness, I be­gan to see tiny clues in the ground cover where things were bro­ken or dis­turbed. Many years later th­ese skills helped me track my horses over rough and rocky ter­rains when they got loose.

Mother was good at notic­ing and would of­ten say, “We bet­ter get back. It is go­ing to rain soon”, when there was not even a cloud in the sky. And, rain it did – al­ways. She never ‘ex­plained’ what she no­ticed. She was teach­ing me to no­tice, not ex­plain­ing how to no­tice. I now know that to take ‘notic­ing’ into our head and our think­ing, in most cases, de­stroys or at least in­hibits the skill. For ex­am­ple, as I was pon­der­ing what to write for this piece, I lay down to rest be­cause my best ideas come when I am not pay­ing at­ten­tion and am alertly wait­ing to no­tice. As I lay there, I ‘no­ticed’ that my arm was un­com­fort­able, and moved to ad­just my po­si­tion. At that point, I knew that ‘notic­ing’ was what I wanted to write about.

I be­lieve that one of the great­est skills we have as hu­man be­ings is notic­ing – in­ter­nally and ex­ter­nally.

For ex­am­ple, as a young pro­fes­sional I was one who prac­tised the ‘busy lit­tle girl syn­drome’. I was al­ways so en­gaged with what I was do­ing that I did not ‘no­tice’ that I needed to go to the bath­room – un­til it was al­most too late. Then I would dash. I soon learned that notic­ing what was go­ing on in­side my body was not only nec­es­sary for my health, it was nec­es­sary for my well-be­ing.

Our bod­ies give us all sorts of warn­ing sig­nals that some­thing is ‘not quite right’. We are not sick yet; we are pre-sick. We are be­ing warned. If we pay at­ten­tion to those sig­nals, we prob­a­bly will not get sick or we will catch the ill­ness in time. If we ig­nore our notic­ings and keep on push­ing, our bod­ies will give us a whack to get our at­ten­tion. If we ob­sess and fo­cus on our bod­ies, we prob­a­bly will not no­tice ei­ther.

Notic­ing is our gift as hu­mans. Of­ten, we don’t no­tice that we have it.

When I ‘ lis­ten’ to some­one, I lis­ten to what, how, and when some­one is say­ing some­thing. I lis­ten to what the per­son is say­ing not­ing that what that per­son is not say­ing may be far more im­por­tant than what s/he is say­ing. I lis­ten to the body lan­guage. Is the body tense? Are they fid­get­ing a lot? Is their foot tap­ping or their leg bounc­ing? Do they ap­pear ill at ease? Do they look me in the eye, look down, chal­lenge me with their eyes, or are their eyes dart­ing? While I am ob­serv­ing them, I am lis­ten­ing very care­fully to their words, the tone of their voice and any­thing that seems or sounds strange to me. Dur­ing this time, I am not judg­ing or in­ter­pret­ing them. That would dis­tract me from my notic­ing. And notic­ing with­out judge­ment or in­ter­pre­ta­tion lets more data in.

At the same time, I am notic­ing what is go­ing on with me. Do I feel safe? Am I drawn to touch them? If so, what is go­ing on in me that I have that im­pulse? Is there some­thing that they are do­ing con­sciously or un­con­sciously, ver­bally or non-ver­bally that is de­signed to elicit a cer­tain re­sponse in me? How do I feel about this be­hav­iour or ‘mes­sage’ I am ex­pe­ri­enc­ing?

It is quite pos­si­ble and quite nec­es­sary that I can fo­cus my ‘ full at­ten­tion’ on and be­ing with the other per­son while com­pletely be­ing with my notic­ing. Me­chan­i­cal sci­ence might tell us that this fo­cus is not pos­si­ble – my ex­pe­ri­ence tells me oth­er­wise.

I need to no­tice what I am feel­ing, think­ing, do­ing, and ex­pe­ri­enc­ing while be­ing com­pletely present to the other per­son or group. This state is pos­si­ble if we are to­tally present and par­tic­i­pa­tory. It takes a lot of en­ergy and it is worth ev­ery ounce of it for our­selves and for oth­ers.

We give, send, and re­ceive vol­umes of in­for­ma­tion all the time. Most of us have trained our­selves and been trained not to no­tice th­ese vol­umes. The vol­umes are over­whelm­ing if we latch on to them and hold on. Oth­er­wise they are re­triev­able aware­nesses.

Peo­ple are of­ten a bit freaked out by what I ‘no­tice’.

Years ago I vol­un­teered to train a group of black peo­ple in group process and sen­si­tiv­ity train­ing. It was right at the be­gin­ning of the Civil Rights Move­ment and na­tion­ally there was only one black per­son trained to do the work. I thought it was im­por­tant for black peo­ple to have at least some black fa­cil­i­ta­tors. I loved work­ing with the group and we seemed to work well to­gether. At one point, a del­e­ga­tion asked to meet with me.

“We think you are a witch!”, one of them blurted out. I was shocked! No one had ever ac­cused me of that – well, ex­cept maybe my ex-hus­band!

As we pro­cessed the is­sue it seemed that they were a bit un­easy by how

I lis­ten to what the per­son is say­ing not­ing that what that per­son is not say­ing may be far more im­por­tant than what s/he is say­ing.

much I picked up that was un­spo­ken or un­no­ticed in them by them­selves.

I had been work­ing as a psy­chother­a­pist for many years. It was my job to no­tice – ev­ery­thing – and I was good at it. Notic­ing is a nec­es­sary skill in work­ing with peo­ple and groups.

Notic­ing, as well as whole-per­son lis­ten­ing, are nec­es­sary skills in liv­ing and work­ing with our­selves and oth­ers.

Some even think I know more about them than they know about them­selves. I don’t. I just no­tice more and lis­ten with all of my be­ing.

Just last week I had calls from two of my old friends. Both had been think­ing about me a lot. Nei­ther re­mem­bered that I was hav­ing my eighty-third birth­day. Both had sim­ply ‘no­ticed’ that I was on their minds. I hadn’t spo­ken with ei­ther for years. I had two won­der­ful con­ver­sa­tions with two dear old friends be­cause they no­ticed some­thing in them­selves and they acted on those ‘notic­ings'. Both ex­pe­ri­ences were heal­ing for us both – and won­der­ful!

• We need to no­tice when we are tired. Go rest.

• We need to no­tice when we are hun­gry. Go eat.

• We need to no­tice when some­thing just isn’t right – and do some­thing or ‘wait with’ our notic­ing un­til we are clear what we need to do.

• We need to no­tice what is hap­pen­ing in our re­la­tion­ships and bring up our notic­ings – not ac­cuse, not blame – just no­tice.

• We need to no­tice what is hap­pen­ing in the world around us and see what we need to do.

• We live in a cul­ture that would pre­fer we did not no­tice some things and we need to no­tice. A few years ago, I no­ticed that the ducks were fly­ing north a long time be­fore they should have been, and I felt con­cerned. Then I started think­ing, “Oh, well, they will prob­a­bly die. What can I do?’ And I no­ticed my­self say­ing back to me, “You’d bet­ter do some­thing soon be­cause this is about cli­mate change.”

Thank you ducks and thank you notic­ings. If we pay at­ten­tion, our notic­ings can be our great­est gift. Notic­ing leads to par­tic­i­pa­tion. No-one ever healed or grew from numb­ing out. n

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Anne Wil­son Schaef, PHD, DHL, is an in­ter­na­tion­ally known speaker, con­sul­tant, sem­i­nar leader and au­thor. She is the pres­i­dent of Wil­son Schaef As­so­ciates and a New York Times best­selling au­thor. There Will Be a Thou­sand Years of Peace and Pros­per­ity and They Will Be Ush­ered in By The Women: The Es­sen­tial Role of Women in Find­ing Per­sonal and Plan­e­tary So­lu­tions is Schaef’s 17th pub­lished book. Schaef has also re­cently pub­lished a book called, Daily Re­minders for Liv­ing a New Par­a­digm. She lives in Boul­der, Mon­tana.

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