Creativity Lesson: Notice
My yoga teacher, Sarah, loves to start her class in Savasana.
In case you’ve never been to yoga before, that is also called corpse pose. Sexy, huh? You basically lie on the floor like you’re dead for a few, quiet, glorious minutes (fellow moms who spend their days lifting kiddos in and out of car seats and wiping butts know how amazing this feels). I read an article recently about how Savasana is actually the hardest yoga pose to achieve because people are unable to command themselves into relaxation. They also get very distracted.
Yoga Journal describes it like this: The essence of Savasana is to relax with attention, that is, to remain conscious and alert while still being at ease. Remaining aware while relaxing can help you begin to notice and release long-held tensions in your body and mind.
Once the class lies down in Savasana, Sarah continues with instructions.
“Pay attention to how your body feels right now. What is it telling you tonight?”
She tells us to melt into the mat, to ground our shoulders, to soften our hips. She calls out different body parts, instructing us to let go of our muscles and limbs one by one.
Then she says this: “Notice your jaw.”
Even though I’ve taken her class before, that command always catches me off guard. Ten out of 10 times, my jaw is clenched when she says this—tightly, as if I’m on an airplane bracing for landing. My whole body has softened into the mat, but my mouth remains full of stress.
Come to think of it, I'm pretty sure my jaw is clenched a lot of the time (even when I sleep!), but I only ever notice it during yoga when I am explicitly asked to.
This month, I want you to consider me your personal yoga teacher.
(No need to laugh and point; I know that visual is hilarious.)
Don’t worry, I’m not going to take you through a vinyasa flow. I am certainly not qualified to lead anyone in any type of physical exercise. But what I am going to do is give you permission to lay on the floor in corpse pose. I’m going to ask you to notice your jaw and the way the light flickers on the wall when the tree branches sway outside your bedroom window each afternoon. I’m going to ask you to put your cell phone in a drawer for 10 minutes a day and pay attention to the details of your real life, in real time. I’m going to ask you to notice the beauty and wonder happening all around you, and I’m going to ask you to document what you find.
One day last October, my son Everett emerged from Quiet Time and noticed a handful of candy wrappers sitting on my lunch plate on the coffee table.
“Mommy!” he exclaimed with wide eyes, “Did you eat that candy?”
Busted. This quickly became a new habit for him: every day he walked out of his room at the end of Quiet Time searching for evidence that Mommy had eaten some kind of treat while his brother was napping and he was quietly assembling jigsaw puzzles.
Four-year-olds notice everything.
Sometimes, this can be a bad thing. You see, I am not one of those moms who keeps every piece of paper my kids scribble on. Which means that a fair amount of “art projects” end up in the trash. You can imagine the look of horror on my son’s face the day he went to throw away his empty applesauce pouch and saw his latest preschool masterpiece sitting atop a discarded banana peel.
Like I said, four-year-olds notice everything.
On the other hand, sometimes this can be a good thing. My son is the first to notice when I am wearing lipstick, when I am wearing a new dress, when my nails are painted, and when I've cleaned the house. I’m not ashamed to tell you that I find a great deal of confidence in having my four-year-old squeal in delight, “Mommy! Your lips are RED! They look BEAUTIFUL!” or "Mommy! The house is SO CLEAN! You did a great job!"
Kids are good at noticing stuff. They're also good at narrating what they notice.
This can be humorous at times, like when your children ask interesting body-related questions in the privacy of your own home, and mortifying at other times, like when your children ask interesting body-related questions in the middle of the grocery store (while pointing, naturally).
I’m a firm believer that our children can teach us as much as we can teach them. And when it comes to noticing, I believe there’s a lot we can learn from these little observers under our roofs.
Young children have not been plagued by the distracted and busy nature of adulthood. They’re not concerned with paying bills, climate change, or tensions in the White House. They are not mentally distracted by dozens of worries and anxieties each day. Most of the time, children live in the moment—fully and freely and innocently as can be, noticing whatever exists in front of their faces.
They wake up, they notice things, they ask questions, they go to bed, they do it all over again the next day.
Obviously as we grow older, we're exposed to more information, we take on more responsibilities, we learn more about the world (for better and for worse) and gradually our brains get fuller and fuller and fuller with to-do lists and deep thoughts and Big Feelings and more.
Stopping to smell the roses, or even notice the roses, doesn't come as easily as it once did.
I'm aware of this fact every time I take my kids outside for a walk. As I push them around our neighborhood in the double stroller, my children joyfully point out every single thing they see: birds, dogs, airplanes, leaves, clouds. My four-year-old makes actual observations about those things, sometimes asking thoughtful questions. My two-year-old simply points and calls out objects, proud of himself for knowing the right words.
And me? While we’re walking, I’m mostly making to-do lists in my head. Don’t forget to respond to that email. We’re almost out of hand soap. And coffee creamer. Can you order coffee creamer subscriptions through Amazon? Research that later. Did I RSVP to that birthday party? Don’t forget: the towels are still in the washing machine. Don’t forget: the ground turkey will go bad if we don’t cook it tonight. Don’t forget: send a thank you card to Aunt Rebekah for the pajamas she sent the kids.
Sadly, my inner voice sounds like this more often than I'd like to admit. When I'm cooking dinner, I'm thinking about responding to emails. When I'm responding to emails, I'm thinking about what to cook for dinner. Optimists would call me a multitasker; realists would call me ... distracted.
So, what do we do with this problem? Close all the tabs and do one task at a time, for the rest of our lives? I think we all can agree that would be both impossible and inefficient.
But ... perhaps we can occasionally lie on the yoga mat and notice our jaw. Perhaps we can take a minute to stop and pause and check in with ourselves. Can we dedicate 10 minutes a day to noticing beauty and wonder all around us?
This is what I want us to do: I want us to put our phones in a drawer, close our laptops, stop unloading the dishwasher, and quit writing grocery lists in our heads.
What do you notice?
Where are you? How do you feel? Where is the light? What do you hear? What do you smell? What’s going on in your heart at this very moment in time? How’s your jaw?
Maybe you’re at home, and maybe you feel tired. Maybe the light this time of day is shining through the kitchen window, illuminating the dust floating in the air. Maybe you smell coffee; maybe you smell sunscreen. Maybe you hear children running down the hallway in their footie pajamas, or maybe you hear the dishwasher growling.
Maybe you feel grateful. Maybe you feel bored. Maybe you feel resentful, or confused, or ecstatically happy. Maybe you feel invisible. Maybe you feel content. Lean into it. What do you feel today?
Are there any stories floating in the air? Something you could catch and write down? Is there anything worth documenting in this moment? What are you noticing right now? What are you becoming aware of?
As your unofficial substitute yoga teacher, I want to end this class in Savasana. I want you to lie down on your yoga mat or living room rug or bedroom carpet or backyard grass, and I want your body to melt into the ground as I present you with this gentle reminder. Your personal writing is made up of two things: 1) your voice, and 2) your observations.
Do not ever underestimate the power of what YOU notice.
After all, that's where all great stories begin.
I will never forget the day I was standing in the driveway cleaning out my car during one of my monthly (see: hormonal) purge fests. I was in a mood, let me tell you. Everything in my life felt out of control and something had sent me over the edge, like realizing we had not one, not two, but three can openers.
I set my toddler up in the driveway with a bucket of chalk and went to town on the car. One yoga mat, three pairs of shoes, two sweaters, an umbrella, 40 Halloween candy wrappers and six sippy cups later, the backseat was relatively clean.
And then I saw it: our Ergo carrier.
It was twisted under the seat, abandoned next to a single sock. Everett’s feet pitter-pattered behind me—the sound alone a reminder of his age and size. My baby wasn't a baby anymore. I stood in the driveway clutching the Ergo to my chest for a full five minutes while I allowed my mind to wander down memory lane: strolling grocery store aisles, walking through airport security, climbing mountains. I had to think hard to remember the last time I had worn Everett in the Ergo. It was a weeknight in September and we had tickets to a baseball game. Something came up and my husband had to work late, so I (somewhat bravely) took Everett by myself. We lasted until the sixth inning, at which point I strapped Ev back in the Ergo for the long walk to the car, his feet dangling well below my waist. I wrapped my arms around him to hold him tight and he laid his head on my chest, an unusual (but always welcome) occurrence. It was a normal, average night. I’m almost positive it was a Monday.
You never know when something is going to be the last time, do you?
One minute something is part of the routine and the next it’s just a memory. You go from giving your baby two bottles a day to one a day, to one once in a while, to never ever again. Sometimes you phase things out strategically, like bottles and pacis. Other times, the last time is a Very Big Deal, like the last time he breastfeeds or the last time he sleeps in the bassinet before you give it away. But often, perhaps even most of the time, these “last times” are slipping right through our fingertips unnoticed, overlooked until the minute you pull your Ergo carrier out from the backseat of your car and wonder, now how did that happen?
That night at the baseball game, I had no idea it was going to be the last time I'd wear Everett in the Ergo. And had I not allowed myself to stand in the driveway holding it, grasping for memories, I never would have even noticed.
This month, I want you to walk around your house. I want you to look in your car. I want you to open drawers, jewelry boxes, closets you haven't explored recently. I want you to look for the object calling out to you—maybe it's an old necklace, maybe it's a shoe shine box, maybe it's a book or a recipe or a faded t-shirt.
Find something worth noticing, and write the story it's begging you to write.