Intentional observation is what this blog—in fact, my book and most of my writing—is all about. Seeing and appreciating not just Nature’s superlatives—the Everests, the Grand Canyons, the cheetahs and tsunamis—but also the other stuff, the small, the subtle, the unexpectedly elegant things that surround us all the time. So if such wonder is all around us, why is it apparently so elusive for some people?
NUMBED & DUMBEDIntentionality’s not easy. Initiating is harder than reacting. Creating is harder than consuming. People seem to get lulled into a sort of “on demand” way of looking at the world. Whatever’s the biggest, loudest, brightest or fastest steals their attention, their initiative. I suppose this is understandable.
After all, it’s deeply engrained in us to notice things that can excite or threaten us; that’s how we and most other creatures have managed to survive. But we’ve allowed this tendency to be exploited for commercial—and, some might say, political—gain. Too many of us have given in to the brainwashing and find ourselves paying heed to stuff we know doesn’t really matter.
Too many of us have given in to the brainwashing...paying heed to stuff
we know doesn’t really matter.
We get so distracted by the trivial that we miss the profound. We spend so much time indulging our fears that we fail to nurture our hopes. We do things not because we’re drawn to them, but simply not to be outdone. It all seems like a battle for our intentionality and, along with it, our sense of wonder—and I’m afraid we’re losing.
The media’s played a disappointing role in all of this. It’s numbed us and dumbed us. It touts everything and everyone as the ultimate, leaving no place for the simply beautiful, the average—in other words, the real. It’s got people, as if on cue, emoting and exaggerating their movements the moment they realize they’re on camera—which seems to be nearly all the time.
How’s there room in that sensibility for silence, for thoughtfulness, for reverence? And, when the media would have us valuing everything by how little time it takes, what does that say about things whose awesomeness is their very slowness and certainty?
AN INTENTIONALITY REVOLUTIONAre we being lulled back into a culture more of reaction than intention? Is it all, as some would have us believe, about conflict, about winners and losers? Would we really rather react to what someone else says and use it to demonize him, than to come up with our own ideas and then advocate for them civilly?
What we need is an intentionality revolution. Let’s take back our sense of responsibility for what we do and think.
When someone sticks a video camera in your
face, act like yourself, not a character in
someone else’s play.
- Do things because you want to do them, not because you feel guilty or obligated, or because someone might think you have nothing better to do. Decide what’s most important to you and then do it.
- When someone sticks a video camera in your face, act like yourself, not a character in someone else’s play.
- Find one or two sources of news you respect and trust, sources that are long on content and balance, short on sensationalism. Sure, you can consume other news media if you find it entertaining, but realize that’s all it is – entertainment.
- Don’t wait for others to set the agenda. Take a few moments to figure out what you want, and then start making plans to do it.
- Respect your own plans; you’re entitled to have an agenda. In fact, perhaps even more importantly, even if you don’t have one, you’re entitled to that too.
- If you find yourself always doing what a certain friend wants to do, make sure you get to choose next time. If that doesn’t work, maybe that person’s not as good a friend as you thought.
IN YOUR NATUREWhen you’re in Nature, expect to experience fascination and wonder. But realize that, when Nature invites us to notice, she often does so very quietly. Here, there are no sound bites or zingers. If you’re to hear the invitation above the din of other voices in your head and heart, turn them down…no, turn them off!
Even once you’ve made room for them in your consciousness, the many wonders life and Nature hold for us aren’t always readily apparent. (If they were more apparent, they wouldn’t be wonders, would they?) And finding wonder is often as much about the process of discovering something as it is about the discovery itself.
In fact, Nature’s little miracles seldom happen without your doing something—turning something over, looking from a different angle, or just deciding it’s worth waiting and watching for something to happen.
Don’t just use your eyes. Touch everything you can without hurting it; listen to it; what the heck, why not smell it. Notice where everyone else is looking…and look the other way. If you’re at a concert or sports event, look at the faces of the people behind you. (This can be especially rewarding at kids’ music recitals or individual sports events; see if you can pick out the parents of the kid performing.)
This takes no skill at all; everything we need
we already have.
When everyone’s listening to something, try filtering out the obvious and listening for some of the softer sounds always at play in the background. If it’s music, see if you can distinguish the sounds of the orchestra’s sections or of individual instruments. (I must admit it, when I listen to music at home or at work, it’s hard for me to give it my complete attention; I’m as likely to be appreciating the accompaniment of a bird singing just outside the window.)
The intentionality revolution is about reclaiming our God-given instincts. Despite our culture of excess, despite all the competing demands on our lives, despite the coordinated assault of the dumbed-down media and pop culture, we can still learn—or should I say re-learn—how to be fully present with Nature.
And, believe it or not, this takes no skill at all; everything we need we already have. Curiosity, wonder, hope, humility and the sense of play still come as standard equipment when we’re born. All we have to do is dig them out and give them some air.