One of my very favorite things to do is to find an area that I want to explore, block off some time, and get lost. Even in my own town.
When I travel it’s easy to find new and interesting things. I love architecture so buildings ancient and new captivate me and cause me to look up a lot. The graphics of signs and lettering, especially old faded advertising painted directly on old buildings, also curl my toes. People watching from an outdoor café or from the window of a gelateria is a guilty pleasure – because let’s be honest, they would also include a frothy hot drink or a dollop of something creamy and cold.
But perhaps the most effortless state of observation is outside in nature. I feel less compelled to categorize all that I see. I just allow any movement to capture my attention. A squirrel, the wind, a bird.
Noticing is more than just visual, it is a full sensory experience.
What does the air smell like? Cooking food, earth, exhaust from cars, the woman’s perfume who just passed you? What’s the texture of the building materials used to make the structures around you, the bark on the trees, the consistency of the soil or sidewalk you’re walking on? What do you hear? Can you parse the many sounds from the city down to their individual sources? What about in the woods; can you hear the leaves rustle or the the urgent nibbling of a squirrel?
Allowing yourself to be steadied by the activity around you can be a very powerful practice. If you can take slow, deep breaths, the experience is almost meditative – even in the city.
If that word creates some anxiety, take some of the guess work out of the equation for now. For now. Look on a map and find your edges. If you’re exploring a city, determine areas that may be unsafe and avoid them. Same goes for out in nature – don’t meander around the woods during hunting season without something brightly colored on. Or find a confined area like a park with lots of hidden treasures.
You’re not looking for new. Your seeking a new experience of the familiar.
How you notice is up to you. You can simply observe without any need to remember. Perhaps you’re a writer; a small notebook may be in order to record your experiences. Or maybe you want to capture these moments visually with photos or sketches.
But know that you need not record any of it. Simply allowing the experiences to be absorbed can be the best antidote for a stressful world.
You can’t do this wrong.
Wander. Notice. Be.