|The author working on his observing skills|
That equals missed opportunities. We live in an amazing world that can startle, stimulate, energize, and provoke if we only pay a little more attention. Certainly you have heard the expression to live in the moment. If you slow down and open yourself to new experiences and new thoughts your life will be richer. You will see your world from a new perspective.
Last year I took a creative writing class for a few months. One of the exercises was to spend time observing something at our home and write a detailed description. I picked a portion of our backyard. While writing this assignment I noticed things I had never seen before. I noticed colors and textures that had completely escaped me. We have lived in this house for ten years but I had never seen the yard with this clarity. By simply paying close attention I found a new appreciation for my environment. To give you some sense for what I'm talking about here is a portion of that writing exercise:
In the far corner of the yard the bougainvillea has lost many of its bright red blooms.The leaves that remain are a mix of dark green and faded yellows with brown streaks.Top branches poke through the latticework of the Ramada, still reaching toward the life-giving warmth of the sun.
That desire to grow ever higher becomes a yearly lesson in limits.The exposed branches are defenseless against the sudden cold of a desert winter night.The flowers highest above the ground appear to be burned in a hot fire, rather than stung by the freezing blast of the wind. Lifeless blooms drop toward the earth, covering furniture and tabletops. Some leaves still cling desperately to the branches, but they are only delaying the inevitable. With color and vitality gone, death has already claimed them but they just won’t let go.
Partly sheltered by the Ramada’s thin, brown, ceiling slats the remainder of the bush presents a resolute face. Reddish-pink flowers grip undamaged limbs. Leaves pretend the season has not changed; they are unchanged. By remaining content to dwell closer to the earth, this part of the bush survives intact.
Four sturdy brown posts, as thick as my thighs, disappear into the rocky, unforgiving ground. Their job is simple: keep the wooden slats that form a porous roof and support a fan from falling to the ground. For three years they have done their job, though the brown stain is no longer quite as dark and constant as it once was. Vertical cracks appear here and there in the wood, giving silent testimony to the stress the elements put on even the strongest-looking structures.
At the base of two of the posts clay pots sit on spindly metal legs with a ceramic tiled top. Succulents rest in the pots now, their colors only a pale copy of what will come with warmer weather. The outside of each pot is streaked with a washed out white film. Minerals must hide in the clear water gushing from a hose until heat and time allow them to become visible.
Flagstone pavers lie in the Ramada’s shade, strips of dirt and sand keeping each a separate rock island. Spent flower blossoms, twigs, and a lone, pale, green weed clutter the surface of most, waiting for the next strong wind to propel them to another temporary resting place.
The last two posts are starkly bare. No pots, no cacti, no flowers interrupt the eye’s journey from the top of the post to the bottom. Do they somehow feel ignored or unloved? Streaks of a light brown sappy substance on both could be mistaken for tears.
Four white, metal and plastic lawn chairs huddle at the round crinkle-topped table just outside the Ramada’s shade. Abandoned for the winter, the whole ensemble sits unused and unneeded. Thick cushions, striped blue, tan, and white invite anyone to sit. But, the dirt and decay of the off-season litter each one, making the likelihood of a visitor remote. The faded yellow umbrella is collapsed upon itself. A crank handle juts from the pole, idle. When warm weather returns it will spin nearly every day so the umbrella can open its panels and bathe the table top in shade. But for today, nothing.
The chairs and table legs rest in puddles of grime and dust on a light gray rounded piece of concrete that extends from the side of the house. Here and there paint has peeled away to expose the material underneath. A yearly ritual of scraping and repainting the exposed surfaces doesn’t last. Each spring the process is repeated.
Close by a two-person bench, rarely used, sits on four sturdy iron legs, waiting. Its streaked, dirty cushion has faded from whatever it once was to a non-descript gray. The stained wooden back and front edge are splintered and worn from too much heat and cold, too much wet and dry. Like someone considered past his prime but demanding his due, the bench remains convinced of its usefulness. Physical decay and worn-out cushions beg to differ.
If you are a writing instructor, be kind. The class was not hesitant to point out some of the shortcomings in this exercise. The point of my including it is to suggest you consider something like this in your daily life. It doesn't have to be written. It could be photographs, or a video. You could sketch or paint or draw something. You could sit quietly and make notes of the various sounds you hear over a 15-20 minute period. Or, you could simply sit and observe closely. The point is we live in a world that is overflowing with activity and sights and sounds, but we usually ignore most of it. My challenge to you is to take a little while and experience what you have been missing .
Please share some of your experience in the comment section. I would really appreciate reading what you learned from doing so.
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