Seeing and noticing are not the same thing.
I notice when I allow my attention to be caught, when I’m not so wrapped up in my own thoughts. It’s sobering. Walking, assuming I’m ‘here’ and then suddenly realising I’ve missed it. I haven’t noticed the change in light, the shift in greens in the woods, the people around me in the city.
Each day I’m trying to be more deliberate in being here, paying attention to what’s going on around me. Being is a glorious gift – but only when I remember…
But I have so much to think about and the rhythm of walking the familiar path somehow lulls me into my alternative world. So I check myself and am always rewarded.
Treasures on the periphery of vision, whether to the side or at my feet.
This morning I noticed an emerging wildflower. The valley is full of diverse vegetation, much of it flowering in the sun. But this wasn’t lit by sunlight. Its head of white and pink petals caught my eye against a shaded backdrop. I stooped to look, delighting in the profusion of delicate colour.
Why did I stop? How did I even notice it?
I suspect only because I was deliberately being open – a decision I’d made earlier in the walk. For me this means walking slightly more slowly, having my head up and eyes attentive to what is around. Not rushing onto the next thing, or being caught up in an intense train of thought.
In one sense the flower was commonplace. There are plenty around. But instead of the vegetation being a backdrop (to my far more important stuff), I wanted to be there with a sense of wonder and gratitude.
So I saw it. And stopped to notice.
And out came the iPhone…
Having my attention caught and the automatic reflex of reaching for my camera kicking in doesn’t mean I am really seeing it. Just capturing it.
We can do this when we notice things. Somehow we recognise that this is different and we feel we have to ‘do’ something with it. After all it’s important enough to divert our attention.
But do we really see it? Or just use it as another talking point or something to share or show off? Does our noticing somehow make it ‘ours’?
Seeing, in this sense, goes beyond being distracted or metaphorically acquiring it.
It was only as I stopped to really look at the flower, up close, that I saw the bee. I also saw the multiple facets of the flowerhead. How the pink clothed the white interior and in its unfolding released a complex inner structure. Awesomely beautiful.
This shifted from it being ‘my’ flower of the day. To being that which I was privileged to witness, in all its glory in a shaded hedgerow. And I may be the only person to ever see it.
Choosing our orientation
This may be pastoral or bucolic wisdom, but I sense it has wider application.
There is so much going on around us. Sometimes it’s so much easier just to put our heads down and walk right through. The rhythm of our steps, our days, lulling us into a sense of security in our own world.
But what do we miss? Do we simply not notice the subtle signs in our relationships or environment? Or the shifts in our clients or colleagues?
And if we don’t notice, what do we not see? The deeper seeing that recognises the other as ‘other’, with intrinsic value and worth.
I am concerned that in our increasingly divided and siloed world we stop noticing and truly seeing. To reverse the trend requires intention and courage. Not so much that it overwhelms us, but just enough to slow down and look up. With curiosity and wonder.
And potentially see the opportunities that sometimes masquerade as simply a subtle change.
I still have my ‘L’ plates on.
Will you join me?