Without doubt, we live in challenging times locally and globally. I’ve written before about the importance of being able to return to the steadiness that is always at the core of our being as a way to manage the collective distress and suffering that can come into our awareness in any moment. It’s equally important to have access to what’s known as the “noticing” part of our brain, the aspect of our awareness that arises within our present-day observer. Janina Fisher writes about this part of the brain in her new book, “Transforming the Living Legacy of Trauma: A Workbook for Survivors and Therapists”.
The observer function is very different from the internal critic or judge. It’s that aspect of our awareness that notices, that mindfully observes. This kind of mindful awareness offers us an opportunity to choose how we want to respond to what comes our way. It can allow us to do so in a non-reactive, or at least less-reactive, way.
Below is a brief practice for cultivating the “noticing” brain, especially focused on those times when you move toward becoming overwhelmed by all that’s going on your life, in our collective human family, and with our beleaguered planet.
- Begin by settling into a comfortable position, preferably sitting if that’s okay for you. The spine is an antenna of sorts and it also helps you to stay alert if you sit with your back straight in whatever way is comfortable for you. If you aren’t able to sit, the important thing is to stay alert and aware during the practice.
- Follow your next out-breath all the way down to the bottom of the breath. There, you’ll notice a gap between this breath and the next. Within that gap is an ever-present stillness. Take a moment to touch into the stillness between breaths.
- Now, notice if you have landed in your internal home base. When you feel you are there, take a moment to settle even a bit more.
- There’s nothing to do but be aware of the sensations that arise as you settle into this internal home base. Allow yourself to sense into the steadiness that is always part of this home base, which is where you access your core presence. The steadiness is an aspect of your being that cannot be disturbed. It is always there, even during those times when it may slide into the background of your awareness.
- Spend a little time, now, simply noticing whatever arises in your awareness. Whether thoughts, feelings, visual impressions, or sensations, simply allow yourself to be aware without having to do anything other than noticing.
- You may discover here how just “noticing” allows your body-mind to settle even a bit more and, if you find that you aren’t settling, notice that.
- Continue to bring your awareness to whatever is present right now. You might notice that you are uncomfortable somewhere in your body or that you have some emotional discomfort right now or a thought that troubles you. Practice simply noticing whatever is there without doing anything about it right now. Allow it to arise and then to move through without your adding anything to it.
- An important thing to remember about doing this kind of practice is that you have the choice to allow everything that arises to move on through without your having to actually do anything about it. Awareness is enough. There’s no need to argue with thoughts that trouble you. That would be a form of reacting rather than noticing. Sensations can just be there if you let them, without your adding more tension or distress by fighting their presence. Noticing is the opposite of reacting. That doesn’t mean you can’t choose to do something about what you notice. The key thing is that you want to act from choice, not from reactivity.
- For a moment, invite yourself to return to the gap between breaths and touch into the stillness that’s there. It’s always there to return to when you’d like to rest in the stillness. And, this same stillness is found behind every thought, every emotion, every sensation, every urge, every action. There is also an expansive field of stillness right behind you at all times and you can lean into it, as well, when you want to rest a bit.
- Before concluding your time of noticing, return for a moment to your internal home base and touch into the steadiness that’s still right there, always right there, and give your body a moment to resonate with it.
- When you’re ready to come back, take a moment to wiggle your fingers and toes to help bring you all the way back.
As with all these practices, there’s really no right way to do them. There’s your way and you are invited to play with this practice to find the ways in which it works best for you. And, please remember to bring along curiosity as your constant companion and to pat gently on the head any judgments that may arise, allowing them to move on through without your having to do anything about them.