Tune in to your noticer!
As a younger woman, I believed the opposite. I expected that wisdom would come from outside me and that learning would give me control over my inner world. Surely the answer to a happy life would be found by getting far away from my inner turmoil? Moreover, I did not expect to find wisdom in noticing a need for others. I pursued control through self-help literature, spiritual practices, science, and meditation. I sought inner control with the intensity that a miner searches for a glint of gold in a rockface.
I wish I had known that incredible wisdom was within me, waiting for me to listen. It lies in a superpower we all have, which we call “noticing”. Your inner self has these answers too. All you have to do is know how to tune in to it.
Tune in to your noticer, and you can be wiser, find peace, and learn to ride the storms. Control is like the sky fighting the rain clouds.
In our book, What Makes You Stronger, we share how to understand and strengthen your ability to be a noticer, and how to build this wisdom.
Here are some introductory steps…
First, you must know your noticer ability
You were a noticer from birth. This ability came when you arrived in this bright, noisy world and began tuning in to the stream of messages that flowed through your body. Everybody starts this way.
Newborn infants actively seek out and explore with all their senses. They can feel pleasant and unpleasant emotions and don’t struggle to control them. Humans, as a group species, have adapted in connection with others. In infants, distress fires the alarm, and they cry so that others soothe them. Others are our safety. When others cannot soothe us, our sympathetic nervous system responds by sending us into fight or flight mode. If our distress is extreme, or there is no one to help us, our nervous system overloads, and we shut down. As an infant, you knew how to do all of this.
You were born with the skill of embodied awareness that we call noticing. You noticed what was inside your body and noticed what was outside your body. If it was interesting or engaging, you approached it. If it was too overwhelming, you cried for help. Deep within your cells was the knowledge that your body was not wrong or bad, it just gave you messages, and you listened. Your body seeks balance, or homeostasis, which means a state of stability, being neither overwhelmed nor shut down. Noticing gives you the ability to restore balance.
Without noticing our inner and outer world, we would be as lively as a stone. Why, then, don’t we sharpen this power? Why do we want to turn it off and turn ourselves to stone?
Learning changes your noticing
As you grew, the world influenced your noticing capacity. Through childhood, you learned from others how to listen and respond to the messages that streamed in from the outside world.
If you were fortunate, adults showed you how to respond by pausing, showing you how to notice your inner messages, listening to the messages, and responding wisely. Eventually, you’d learn to soothe yourself in life-enhancing ways. With optimal learning, you’d still ask others for help when distress was high. You’d grow comfortable with your body and your ability to listen to its wisdom.
- Your body is a messenger.
- All your feelings are okay.
- You can choose how you respond.
But what if you grew up in adversity? Perhaps you grew up in a home with violence and instability. Many of us never had the experience of stable caregivers, or others to restore safety when we were upset. Many of us learned cultural norms of controlling or shutting down so we didn’t have to feel. We were told, ‘Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about’, or perhaps ‘boys don’t cry.’
Remember, it is never too late to become a flexible noticer. You can continue to grow and learn across your lifespan. Flexibility is the skill of tuning in to your senses again, listening to your body, hearing a distress call, and not being afraid that you will be lost to it. When you think about it, it isn’t possible to be lost to your senses, but it’s easy to lose awareness of this while in the eye of the storm.
Start by reclaiming your noticer ability with a two-step foundation practice.
- Notice inside.
- Notice outside.
When I work with adults, our practice reminder is this two-step process, which is simple to read and yet challenging to live by. This is your foundation, from here you can build new skill to respond with awareness. (More on this next month, or check out the book, What Makes You Stronger)
Use noticing right now:
As you read this, pause for a moment, and become aware of the flow of information coming in from the world around you. I am writing this on a cheap flight bound for Kathmandu. As I write, I notice the loud engines, the prickly seat, and the hot cabin air. If someone in a nearby seat stared at me as I typed, I’d also notice that.
What about you? What can you hear, feel, see and sense right at this moment?
And, there is the flow of information coming from within our bodies. If I pause and focus my awareness on inner sensations, I can feel the air pressure as I breathe, and I sense the impatience to escape this stuffy cabin. I feel a bit tired and grumpy.
How about you? Can you sense your body now? Perhaps you hear the thrum of blood pumping? Is your chest rising with each breath? Is there a wrinkle from your clothes pressing somewhere on your skin? What do you notice now?
The problem with noticing is it seems way too simple to be effective. Try it. Start small. Practice being aware of what is happening inside you. Practice being aware of what is outside you. Practice choosing to allow this and respond in ways that help you.
Here is an exercise to try from our book, What Makes You Stronger: