How to Find Something You Aren’t Looking For

Over the coming century, the most vital human resource in need of conservation and protection is likely to be our own consciousness and mental space.

Tim Wu

A runner I have never been, and not likely to ever be.

A road biker (bicycle) I once was (150+ miles per week), and plan to be again one day.

Active sports participation (first as a player on various teams, and then as an active soccer coach for 14 years) is long past.

My exercise now is walking.

Not a lot – sometimes a couple of miles a day, sometimes three-four miles daily.

For the longest time, I listened to podcasts during these walks. I would have time to listen to at least two or three, and often came back from those walks with eight-ten voice memos on my phone.

Yesterday, I walked unplugged from my phone…

 

Pay attention to what you pay attention to. That’s pretty much all the information you need.

Amy Krouse Rosenthal

While I will always be a learner, both by genetics and environment (vocation), I think that hour a day might be better put to use paying attention, and seeking to grow wiser, not just smarter.

The stimulation of modern life, philosopher Georg Simmel complained in 1903, wears down the senses, leaving us dull, indifferent, and unable to focus on what really matters.

In the 1950s, writer William Whyte lamented in Life magazine that “billboards, neon signs,” and obnoxious advertising were converting the American landscape into one long roadside distraction.

“A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention,” economist Herb Simon warned in 1971.

The sense that external forces seek to seize our attention isn’t new – but it feels particularly acute today. Billboards, shop windows, addictive video games, endless news cycles, and commercial appeals tantalize us from all directions. We contend with the myriad distractions flowing through the pocket-sized screens we carry with us everywhere. By various estimates, a typical smartphone owner checks a device 150 times per day – every six minutes – and touches, swipes, or taps it more than 2,500 times.

The Art of Noticing, Rob Walker

And so I walk, unplugged.

Yesterday, I watched for American flags. In my neighborhood, I’m never out of sight of one. Some are bright and relatively new, since we are in the Memorial Day – Flag Day – Independence Day period. Others, not so much (mine included). Looking a little faded, I’ve got a new one on the way. The American flag has always been more than a piece of cloth to me. A symbol for sure, but one rich with history, sacrifice, and uncommon wisdom.

I’ve also listened to the summer sounds of a mid-morning North Carolina symphony of insects and birds. The insects I’m guessing are mostly cicadas and katydids – first one, then the another, then a whole chorus. And then quiet. And then it starts over.

With one section of my walk bordering a park and the streets and yards filled with trees, I can always hear birds – robins, blue jays, mockingbirds, crows, and more – including a nighttime hair-raising screech owl.

I listened for sounds I didn’t hear – cars up and down the street. Most people have gone to work if they’re going, and lunchtime hasn’t yet arrived. No planes on approach to CLT – that means the winds have shifted direction, and the landing pattern, often overhead, is further to the west. About a mile away, I-77 traffic is no doubt busy – but I didn’t hear it, again thanks to the wind direction.

Tomorrow I’m walking with my feet. Well, of course I will. But I’m going to “listen” to what my feet are saying about the path I choose, and see what I can learn.

When you actively notice new things, that puts you in the present…As you’re noticing new things, it’s engaging, and it turns out…it’s literally, not just figuratively, enlivening.

Ellen J. Langer

 

inspired by The Art of Noticing, by Rob Walker

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