What noticing does

man looking out over the sea

I was sick for most of last week, just a cold, but it reduced my energy and capacity for doing things pretty significantly. And this on a week I had a couple of significant things to accomplish.

First, there was the class I took, called "The Big Artist Workshop." On Tuesday night for three hours, and again on Saturday for six hours, Chris Wells, the instructor, led us through a series of exercises and discussions that required a great deal of energy and focus. They were wonderful days full of juicy revelations and fantastic tools, but draining ones, too. And in between, my contract with myself stated that I was to complete three tasks, one of which was to write up another story for (here goes) a book I have been long procrastinating about.

I'm happy to say that, sickness and all, I got through it, got my work done, and got a great deal out of the workshop itself. But by Sunday, I was knackered. Worse, I was up at 6am and knackered. Why my body should pick the time it's most tired to not sleep is beyond me. There it was, though.

So I popped in a DVD, the first disc of a 2008 BBC adaptation of Little Dorrit, and settled in with a cup of tea to watch. And then I popped in another. And another, and another, until I had spent the best part of the day watching it in its entirety1: 14 episodes, 452 minutes.

What was fascinating to me (other than Little Dorrit, whose plot and particulars I was unfamiliar with, and which completely engrossed me) was noticing how I felt as each episode, each disc, came to an end. I was anxious, partly to know what came next, for Dickens was king of the cliffhanger, but equally because of the weird feelings of guilt and desire that started bubbling up inside of me: Was it okay to watch another episode? Wasn't I horribly indulgent to even think about it? Shouldn't I be doing something else, something more useful, or physical?

Again, I had been sick for the better part of a week. I had, nonetheless, worked diligently on Friday, carefully husbanding my resources so that I'd be able to again work diligently on Saturday. I was now smack dab in the middle of a holiday weekend with no other obligations than to show up as a guest at a couple of parties. And I felt anxiety about not-doing.

Which I, drum roll, please, noticed. As in, noticed but (mostly) did not judge. This is a critical thing about noticing, I think, if I'm to get any real use out of it. I have to fully commit to the noticing of whatever I'm feeling in that moment, and the next, and the next, all the way down to the core of the onion, or until it really and truly feels like neutrality of emotion that I'm noticing. Then something else happens, of course, and the cycle repeats itself.

In the past, I had to be slowed or stopped by external forces. It took getting booted from the Groundlings for me to notice what a dreadful vessel for the truth I was turning myself into; it took getting decimated by the Crohn's onset for me to see what the truth really was. If this noticing seems tedious (and embarrassing, both because I'm so bad at it and the things I'm noticing are not particularly noble and fine), it is also far, far gentler on me than having the universe kick me in the head to wake me up.

I was not a regular noter of things, and now I am starting. I was definitely not a regular noticer of things, and now I am starting.

It does not make me wiser or better. It definitely doesn't make me happier, yet, anyway. But it makes me feel, once I move through the anxiety, a little less anxious. It makes me feel a little more secure in myself, a little more grounded.

It makes me think that for now, and for as long as "now" lasts, I am best served not by doing, or at least, not by doing at the expense of noticing. Do, notice. Do, notice.

I guess this is what all you meditators have been talking about all this time. You may have yourselves something there...


Image by timparkinson via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

1I did watch a couple of episodes the night before. After I finished the last episode of Season 3 of Dexter. What can I say?