Walking along in Central Park one morning on my way to my office, I found myself seeing things that I haven’t noticed over the nearly 19 years I’ve been making this daily journey. Somehow, a cluster of trees caught my eye and I was astonished to notice that four trees stood together in a particular way that was quite lovely and balletic. What surprised me was that I’ve never seen this configuration before and it’s always been there.
This got me to thinking about how many other things my awareness misses on a daily basis and how many things there are to discover even in the context of a familiar, everyday routine. I started to pay attention to other places along the way, to trees, rocks, birds, critters, and views that I have come to know intimately but may not have fully seen or taken in. Every fall, I am struck by the unique beauty of trees after they have shed their leaves, noticing things about them I hadn’t seen before. Here, in the season of lush green, I find myself looking now for other ways to notice what makes each thing I see unique, for what characterizes it in that moment that I haven’t noticed before.
For this week’s experiment, I invite you to do the same, especially with aspects of your environment that you encounter every day, without fail. I suspect it serves the brain well to take time to pay attention to things that are novel. At my age, I’m always in support of generating new neurons, and I know that novelty is one of the things that does that. So, along with having the delight of discovery, I also offer my brain some exercise that it seems to enjoy.
As you play with this experiment, notice if paying more attention to what’s new in your familiar surroundings, and nourishing your moment-to-moment awareness in this way, enhances your sense of well-being or touches some other positive response in you. Engaging your environment with interest can enhance a sense of being connected to your world, along with sparking the natural benefits that come when you discover something unexpected or new.
Be sure to track what happens in your body as you play with this one, and notice any mixed feelings that may arise. There’s nothing wrong with mixed feelings—they’re just about inevitable in almost everything we do. The key is to meet them with curiosity and notice if they point the way to next steps in healing, a deepening of awareness, or an opportunity to engage yet another round of self-acceptance. For me, the journey into deepened self-acceptance has been life transforming and I’m constantly grateful that I can experience my flaws as well as my gifts, my fears as well as my strengths, as equal contributors to the person I am able to be in this particular present moment.