I recently asked one of my yoga mentors, Katerina Wen, for ways in which to evolve as a teacher. She had many insights one of which I would like to share with you. It’s the practice of noticing. To be more clear-the art of noticing.
I’ve been taking advantage of the light-filled mornings and getting out for a walk before I wake up the kids. I notice the quiet around the neighborhood, the refreshing early morning air and the birds-oh the birds! On occasion I go out into the grand forest with my sketch pad and charcoal pencil, sit down by bounty of
salal or a cedar tree or even some cheatgrass and observe ever so closely the fine details; shapes, colors, textures, patterns, dimensions. I try to hone in on one part of the plant or tree and take my time drawing it on paper. I’m not a fine artist, but with practice and time something is recorded on my paper and it usually looks akin to what it actually is. This practice of noticing is helping me to slow down, observe and get to the nitty gritty of what is, what exists. It is a way to develop a refined awareness, appreciation and connection to nature and to the environment around me. The practice is also helping me to be patient, precise and aware. Boring? Nah!! Honestly, it has been one of the most exhilarating and entertaining moments of the day.
I wonder if luminaries like poet Mary Oliver do this sort of thing-take time walking slowly around the backyard simply noticing what is there and recording not in fact form but in a simple string of words, like sketches, what she encounters. She calls on all of her senses and a few other senses (like what Jon Kabat-Zinn calls “minding”) to bring forth a lively and spirited conversation of observer and observed.
One of the unexpected joys of this practice is how it’s showing up in my yoga practice, teaching and in my relationships. I am more alert and aware of what is happening moment to moment. I am noticing myself noticing-my fingers spread out on the ground, my spine soaring up towards the sky, my feet rooting into the ground. The embodiment of the moment lends itself to becoming a more generous listener and more compassionate partner. This is worth noticing!
Summer is a good time to practice the art of noticing-on and off the yoga mat. There is a seasonal pace that grants time and space to attune oneself to what exists moment to moment, breath by breath, dawn to dusk.
I’m including an excerpt from a conversation about noticing with Krista Tippett and Jon Kabat-Zinn from her new book, “Becoming Wise; An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living.”
KT: You really put a fine point on what’s at stake-that any moment in which we’re not aware, any moment in which we’re not attentive, is lost. You quote Thoreau in Walden, “Only that day dawns to which we are awake.”
JKZ: To which we are awake. Only that day dawns to which we are awake. It’s the third line in the book of Walden. This is a realization that he had in the 1840’s in Concord, which we must think of as idyllic. He was describing the residents of Concord, and the farmer, as living lives of quiet desperation. So it’s not just e-mail and the Internet carrying us away from ourselves.”
KT: It’s the human condition
JKZ: It’s the human condition. We call ourselves homo sapiens sapiens. That’s the species name we’ve given ourselves. And that comes from the Latin sapere, which means “to taste” or “to know.” The species that knows and knows that it knows. And now maybe we need to live ourselves into owning that name by cultivating awareness and awareness of awareness itself and let that be in some sense the guide as to what we’re going to invest in, how we’re going to make decisions about where we live, where we’re going to send our kids to school, how we’re going to be at the dinner table. Whether we’re going to take our bodies and our children and our parents for granted, or whether we’re going to live life as if it really mattered moment by moment.
The more we can sort of learn these lessons, the more we will not be in some sense running towards our death, but opening to our lives. There’s a huge distinction between the two. And all the scientific evidence is suggesting that when you choose life in the way I’m talking about, your brain changes in both form and function, your immune system changes, your body changes. I mean, we start to really take care of what’s most important. And there are very, very tangible results at the level of the body, the mind, and the heart, and most importantly our relationships with the world and with our loved ones and with our own bodies.”