An email came in from one of the Silent Eye’s Companions. He was wondering about our perception of the world around us, saying that we walk through our days not really looking, because we are so used to our environments that we don’t give our attention to the details. Same workplace, office, staircase, or traffic every day. It would, he suggested, be interesting to develop goggles that only record what we truly see.
He went on to speculate that the playback of that movie would be for the most part a blank screen with perhaps a few people popping in and out of existence, or a tv show we have watched, maybe a few personal interactions. That, he thought, would be it. The rest would be blank because we don’t really see it, we expect it to be as usual and so we don’t truly register or process what we look at. Or perhaps we think we see only what we expect to see. It would be an interesting experiment.
To be fair, we have things on our mind, or we are busy, or stressed… or any number of other excellent reasons for being so self-contained that we fail to notice details. But most of the time, if we are honest, it is that we simply do just that… fail to notice. And we don’t even notice we are doing it till someone or something brings it to our attention. It might be a walk with a friend new to the area when they spot an interesting feature that we have walked past for years without it ever registering. Or it may be the loose flagstone we have walked over every day… until the day we stub our toe and pain brings it to our consciousness.
We are encouraged as children to play memory games. We think we are training memory, but really what we are doing is training attention… the ability to register and process what we see. We are learning to look. Now, it may be fun to use the tray full of jewels, but there are enough wonders all around us every day and it is easy to open our eyes and begin to notice them. It might be something as simple as a fly on a leaf, a fish blowing bubbles or the reflection of a deep blue sky on the ripples of a pond.
It is amazing just how much we miss. Try it and see… close your eyes and picture your room right now. Then open your eyes and look… really look. You’ll remember the main things, but details like the cobweb in the corner, the chip in the paintwork or the iridescent beetle crawling on the pot plant you will probably have overlooked.
Attention is not just about sight… the other senses come into play too. Textures, scents, sounds and taste are all part of the picture we build of our worlds. And not just the physical senses form our attention. Part of the process of perception is what we do with that information, and when we start to really look at what is around us, we see much more of the people in our lives. By giving them our full attention, we begin to understand them better, picking up on the minute changes in face or stance that allow us to understand their moods, concerns and fears. It allows us to be there for them when they need us, or to share their laughter and tears with a depth we might have missed.
Whatever you practice becomes stronger. The longer we walk around with our attention switched to ‘off’, the less we notice and the more we miss. As soon as we begin to look around and ‘smell the roses’, the world opens up in all sorts of hitherto unnoticed detail. It is by paying attention that we find ourselves caught up in the adventure of living… and I, for one, would prefer to think that if ever those goggles were invented, I would be able to have a full screen, rather than a blank one when I sit down to watch the movie of my days.