Jul 282013


Seeing and hearing the world around us

So often we go through life, not really seeing or hearing people and things around us.

I had my hair cut this week. I’ve had the same hairdresser for thirty years. I trust him and don’t give a lot of direction about how to cut my hair, other than letting him know if I want it short, want to grow it out, am looking for a change, or need something that is super-easy to care for.

After the cut, short and easy-care, he handed me a mirror and turned me around in the chair so I could see the reflection of the back of my head in the wall mirrors. I commented on the w-shape at the nape of the neck. He said he’d done that last time and I hadn’t noticed.

He was right. I hadn’t noticed it last time. Granted, I was probably paying more attention to the subtle purple highlights I’d finally agreed to, but it made me think about what we notice and what we don’t.

How many times have you looked at someone and tried to figure out what was different about them? Hairstyle? New glasses? You can’t quite put your finger on it because you can’t remember or visualize the hairstyle or glasses from the last time you saw the person. How often have you not completely heard what someone is telling you because you are busy formulating your response?

We are preoccupied with our busy lives. Much of what is around us seems little more than “background noise”. Can you describe the cashier at your last purchase? The waitress or waiter at your last meal out?

I practice Taoist Tai Chi. In order for instructors to provide useful corrections that improve participants’ moves, they need to watch carefully. Although a correction may be simple or small, what is needed is not always obvious. Correcting a balance issue may require a change in hand position, not foot position. Slowing down a move may not be about slowing down at all, but making sure to complete all parts of a move. The kind of seeing an instructor needs to offer corrections requires patience, focus, and a willingness to put aside preconceptions.

Sometimes we need to consciously push away our preoccupations, forget about ourselves, and just pay attention to who and what are around us.

What stories do you have about paying attention or not paying attention?

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