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Today, Notice the Small Things

Today, notice what goes unnoticed.

Notice the reflections in your spoon. Notice the exact sound your feet make on your bedroom floor. Try to hear every nuance of a dripping faucet. Find a color that exactly represents the word “movement”. Unfocus your eyes and feel just how much air there is between you and the objects around you; all moving, pulsating, yet totally invisible to our eyes.

Or think of larger ideas, even if the answers are impossible. How many children are speaking their first word right now? How many paintings were created today? Why are we speaking English? How many electromagnetic signals are crisscrossing your body right now?

Our world has been accelerated to such an incomprehensible blur that these gestures may seem meaningless or even boring. But I’m convinced that attention is everything. By really paying attention to those aspects of your daily life that were once ignored, you’re training your brain to create finer distinctions, sharpening your senses and invigorating what is otherwise a monotonous series of events (otherwise, you would have remembered them vividly… right?).

It is always useful for us to realize the “circle” of our actual perceptions–not that which has been informed or given to us in other ways, but the actual sum of our sensory and mental/spiritual experiences. In other words, it’s important to think in terms of what has occurred within “body space”. Taken in this way, much of our supposed life appears missing. Most of us have not traveled far, and have not done or felt or seen nearly as much as we erroneously believe. The physical actions of our bodies–or the states of consciousness we experience–are often clouded by vast arrays of thought, outside input, and objective “knowledge”, to such an extent that we often have difficulty recalling what it is we’ve done as opposed to what others have written or spoken about. Very rarely do we actually remember the feeling of a warm cup of tea or coffee in cold hands (have you ever felt it?) or the sound of rain when everything else is silent. The spread of mass communication has given virtually everything a sense of familiarity, even the unfamiliar. The result ends up clouding everyone’s experience of the Real, the Here and Now. It is no wonder so many people have become addicted to newness, acquiring and consuming whatever they can in order to feel that rush of unfamiliarity. With most other frontiers removed, our exploratory senses have learned to be satiated by advertising. There’s no world out there to conquer, but there is a sale going on downtown…

Much of what we do in life operates on the basis of assumptions– some, like gravity, are relatively necessary. Others, like the persistent existence of a world “out there”, complete with wars and bicycles and export laws, are less grounded in actual perception. We assume these things exist because we are told they exist, and this reinforcement leads us to stop wondering about it. The problem comes when our brains assume virtually everything about our day-to-day life, saving its exceptional pattern-matching software for more important tasks.

I live across the street from the World Trade Center site in downtown New York. There is currently ongoing construction, day and night, virtually 24/7. There are jackhammers, trucks, and drills pounding away in a continual percussion that echoes across the neighborhood.

When someone came to visit me recently, they could barely hear me speaking. “What’s all that noise?”

I had forgotten the construction was even there.

Far from my brain thinking these jarring sounds meant that now was probably a good time to run (as it should be, if one were to ever encounter this sound in a prehistoric Earth); no, here loud drilling and hammering has become, in essence, a new form of background noise. For some readers, this may be difficult to imagine, but for others the experience is all too familiar. Our brain must continually dump otherwise pertinent data in order to try (as hard as it can) to find what is relevant in a situation. The end result of all this is that we no longer see what is right in front of us. Our thresholds have been raised too high to actually experience our own lives.

So take this last day of 2007 to remember where you are, and what you can know, right now. Notice the small things. Key in to your own experience of the world–not what you’re told to experience, not what you’ve heard experienced–and find something truly your own. Ultimately, learning to see more depth in daily life will allow you more detailed levels of thinking, because the brain learns to not shut out as much input as it has grown accustomed to. Cultivate silence. Appreciate noise. Whatever it is, shut off your analytical mind for a second. Extend your senses as far as they can go. Take it in. And have a wonderful New Year.

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