The practice of "Noticing"
This past week has been a particularly busy one for me. My mornings have been filled with early meetings, cooking, teaching, event planning, and related activities that have prevented me from taking my daily 40 minute walk in the park. When this happens, my stress level rises and I can feel the tension creep up my spine and tighten like a rubber band about to snap. Can you relate??
Fortunately I was able to squeeze in walk time this morning, and that's when I had an epiphany. Even when our lives are in chaos, when we feel we don't have a second to spare, that's when we need to be most aware of the need for self-care. And we can do that every day, even if it's just for 5 minutes.
I depend on my morning walk not just for physical exercise, but for preparing for the day ahead, for settling my mind, and easing into the responsibilities I have in front of me. The walk becomes a meditative practice that helps me focus and stay grounded even amidst the busiest of days. Without it, I always feel as if I'm struggling to keep up. And on days like I've had this week, I'm left wondering what I can do to prevent that anxiety from welling up. The answer is "noticing."
Noticing is the practice of awareness and becoming in tune with one's self and one's surroundings. It's paying close attention to how you feel physically, emotionally, mentally, and even spiritually at any given moment. And it's also observing external factors that influence those feelings.
But noticing can also be a meditative act performed without judgement, as in this 5 minute exercise. Do it when you feel you've had enough, when you're desperate for a break, or when you just need a moment to ground yourself. If you have longer to spare, turn this into a guided walking meditation.
Stand with your feet firmly planted in the ground. If you're able, step outside to do this. If not, standing in front of a window is an alternative. Feel yourself connecting to the earth and allow the earth’s energy to rise within you with each breath. How do you feel?
Take a scan around you and simply observe with your five senses. Notice the air on your face as you breathe. Smell the aroma of a distant fire in a fireplace or soup cooking in a kitchen. Listen to the call and response of birds and fallen leaves crunching under your feet. Observe the unusual bark patterns on the trunk of a tree and the veining of leafless branches. What do you see?
Shift your focus. Noticing can also be about what you choose to leave out. I live in an urban environment where the low rumble of traffic is ever-present, but I choose to allow these sounds to fade into the background underneath more gentle sounds of nature. In this way, I also allow my mind to empty of worrying thoughts so that I can instead focus on simply noticing and being present with my surroundings. Where are you now?
I sometimes practice this simple three-step standing meditation when I’m washing dishes or cooking meals for my clients. Instead of rushing through the process, I find that taking the time to consciously notice connects me to the task at hand and creates a more satisfying experience. Work becomes a peaceful activity that can be enjoyed and even savored.
Try this exercise the next time you feel stressed. Maybe it will become part of a daily habit of noticing and reflecting and engaging more closely with the natural world.