Here’s How to Notice the Lessons All Around You
Once upon a time, I had a teacher who gave a talk about the opportunities for insight that hide in our daily observations. He focused his talk on our observation of others, and the stories we tell ourselves about what comes up. He said that when you pay attention, a mirror pulls up. This is a mirror of what’s happening inside, I think was the gist.
Do you see beautiful things in other people? This may be a reflection of an available beauty within you (this is lovely). Do you see ill intent everywhere? You might explore what’s going on with your own intentions (this is hard). If the world is a mirror, then maybe what you observe is a reflection of what’s happening inside you. Caveat, caveat, caveat. This lesson is not perfect, and like most things, requires nuance. In my experience, it’s not often as straightforward as it sounds.
Like you, when I am in a shit place, I see shit all around me. Put another way, when I see shit all around me, I look inward and reflect on if I feel kinda shit. But sometimes, I feel good in general and bad around certain people, and I tell myself stories about those bad feelings. This is not, I don’t think, because “I am bad” (the person looking in the mirror seeing the “bad” thing) or because “He is bad” (what’s reflected in said mirror). Instead, it’s because this bad feeling is giving me information that is worthy of inquiry. The person’s behavior might suck. Why does it suck for you? Does it suck for a lot of people? Sit with it, and see what comes up.
When things are not shit, but you feel shit, you can work yourself out of this. Example: There were many days when, in the beforetimes, I would take the train to work and look around me (sunglasses on, always —when you live in a city like New York, you need to filter your sensory inputs, always). I would find myself playing a game where I locate specific elements of gorgeousness in strangers. (I am a fan of games. See: How to Get Unstuck on Crappy Feelings.) Also, there are cute people on trains. My husband agrees. It’s fun.
Like my other game, this one is simple. Look around, and name (in your head) a beautiful thing about everyone you look at. Literally everyone contains beauty; trust me. Here’s a round:
- I like the way his nose sits between those beautiful, wide-set hazel eyes. Also, I think he just got a haircut. It’s cute. His husband loves it, I bet.
- Shit. She is going to miss her stop. She loves that book. She might miss her stop. Ahhh she is missing her stop! It’ll be OK. She really loves that book.
- He is happy about that new shirt. I can tell it’s a new shirt by the way he is wearing it, and it looks very nice on him.
- I am not sure why, but I feel he is a very loving son. I hope his dad sees it.
- Her nails! She did that this weekend. It looks like Paula did them. I hope she knows they’re amazing. No one with nails that good doesn’t know it.
- The way she rests on her mother’s shoulder tells me she knows she is safe. May we all feel so safe.
- She is smiling for no reason. This is cute. Of course there is a reason.
- He might not have been hot in high school, but probably he just didn’t feel it. I bet he was, though.
Like Five Nice Things, it helps to be specific, so go ahead and tell yourself a little story about the person. It’s the gift of noticing, and the gift of imagination. Both are your teacher. Both are gifts of the pandemic, too.
This lesson, from my teacher, was based on ancient dharma, obviously, and the way he told it, it was about humans. (There is a modern-day corollary to this, which is that we see what we want to see, which I think is a dumb oversimplification of this lesson.)
Beyond people, though, it is also about what we choose to see in the world, and how we choose see it.
You are running. Did you see the little cardinal lift off the branch as you approached, your shoes squishing with rainwater in the deep thick of the best and least-trafficked park of Prospect Park? You have never been a runner, and for as long as you remember you have been telling yourself that you don’t have the body for it, and that is why you did not run. So do you notice that you are now running? Because you started running. Do you see that beautiful bird, and its message?
You have always preferred exercise that requires no equipment (dance, yoga). You have also learned that good sports bras exist. You like running. You want to feel free, and running makes you feel free. Do you notice this?
Notice this. Your teachers are all around you. They never leave you, promise.