“There’s the frog. There’s the ladybug.” My two year old grandson Robert is pointing excitedly to a green plastic frog poised to devour a plastic ladybug. The sun illuminates the spider web that stretches across my neighbor’s small front yard pond and waterfall, a fasicinating place that Robert avidly visits every time he comes over.
Robert never tires of discussing the various frogs, lizards, giant ants, snakes and butterflies that our neighbor has carefully placed around his pond’s perimeter. We count the lizards and marvel at the new scary black spider. We notice the bubbles as the water cascades down its rocky slope and we marvel at the large frog that’s taking a shower. One miniature yellow frog perches across the pond on a flat rock while a turtle bathes serenely several rocks up.
Although they are seemingly inanimate objects, under Robert’s vivid scrutiny they come to life. Each time, we notice something different and we admire something familiar. Each time Robert visits, I can’t wait to go to the waterfall with him.
Noticing Can Lead to Understanding
Robert intuitively knows something that I had to struggle to learn: just noticing and speaking aloud the details can lead to understanding and admiration.
One summer, Ron and I went on a spiritual retreat and the teacher gave us this exercise. “Go on a noticing walk,” he told us. “Take turns simply reporting out loud on what you see.”
At first, it seemed silly and awkward to say, “I see a red barn,” or “I see a mica rock.” But after about ten minutes, our noticing became more natural. As we reported the sights, the intricacy and important importance of each object seemed to sink into us. We walked more slowly, eager to appreciate our environment.
Using Awareness on the Caregiver’s Journey
Years later, when my mother was deep into Alzheimer’s, I remembered that walking exercise and decided to use it on a visit to her.
At first, I felt an emotional charge as I walked up to the Memory Care Unit and “noticed” the keypad that let me into the area, a keypad that symbolized the locked unit, the loss of freedom, the decline of my mother. I had to take a breath and remind myself, “This exercise isn’t about symbology; this is simply an observational experience.”
My mom was asleep when I reached her room and I sat down and began quietly looking at her. I noticed her silver curly hair. “I see pink fingernails,” I murmured. “I see a woman wearing a navy blue sweatshirt.” I slowed myself down and noted the details of the room, each one interesting in its own right. By the time my mother stretched and awakened, I was right there, grounded by the simple act of noticing, ready to look into her eyes and meet her wherever she was. The awareness exercise had slowed me down and opened me up.
Take Ten and Appreciate
What can you more deeply appreciate through noticing? It’s fun to take ten minutes and just report to yourself on the objects around you. It’s even more fun to do this with someone. And if you’re lucky enough to have a child and a pond, get ready for a delightful experience.