Friday, November 22, 2013

LOOKIN’ WHERE THEY AIN’T – The Wisdom of Circuitous Seeing

The other day, as I waited for my take-out order in a busy Asian restaurant, there was a deafening crash. Someone in the kitchen must have dropped a stack of large pots and pans onto the hard tiled floor.

The sound came from my right. Everyone around me—everyone in the whole place, I should think—turned toward it. For some reason my first reaction was to turn the other way, to my left, and watch the reaction of a woman standing nearby.

This observation has given me pause. First of all, I don’t remember jumping or even feeling very alarmed. Does this mean there’s something wrong with my fight-or-flight instinct? And why was my rote response to check out what others were doing instead of doing something myself?

    I get animals to come to me not by reaching 
    for them, but by turning away…

As with most ponderings of this sort, I’ll probably never have the complete answer, but here’s what I’m thinking:

I’ve long felt I have a gift for noticing things. People I’ve walked with in the woods seem to marvel at my pointing out stuff they’d just walked right past without seeing. In this era of banal sensory distraction and overload, this is the gift I’ve dedicated much of my time to sharing by way of my writing and blogging.

One way I counsel my followers to be more aware is by learning to sense more creatively. That means watching not just the flock of starlings, not just the school of sardines, but picking out one individual and seeing what it might do. It means getting out early or maybe staying late, times when Nature’s less likely to be introverted. It means getting down low to look at something most people see only from above—or vice versa.

And one of my favorite tips for the uninitiated: Look where others aren’t looking. You see, nothing makes an observer more undetectable to an observed than distraction. The young doe riveted on the sounds and smells of a rustling woodchuck (or the well-placed toss of a stick) is far less likely to notice the measured movements of me and my camera.

I use this oblique approach to small wonders all the time. When I take pictures of people, I often get the most candid, spontaneous results when I wait until another photographer’s stealing everyone’s attention for a formal shot, and then snap mine just before or just after hers. If I want to connect with a skittish pet, I get them to come to me not by reaching for them or cooing, but by turning away, lowering myself and being still.

    This kind of sensing is more an attitude than 
    an action, more an instinct than a discipline.

Apparently my discipline of distraction works, even on me. Haven’t you ever struggled to remember something, only to find that the harder you try the less likely you will? That only when you let go and start thinking of something else does the elusive memory come to you? It’s those last three words that are most telling; you’ll notice I said “come to you,” not “be found.” There’s a big difference.

This kind of sensing is more an attitude than an action, more an instinct than a discipline. To many, especially in our American culture of linear thinking and direct, literal connections, it may seem counter-intuitive, but it can be learned…and it can be taught.

It’s a skill we’d do well to teach to a new generation of nature-starved kids and grandkids (as well as the adult guides in their lives).

If you want to see unusual things, see in unusual ways.
Photograph a group posing for someone else.
As the quarterback drops back, watch what the center does.
Turn away from setting sun for a glimpse of rising moon.

FROM UNDER THE WILD GINGER – A Simple Guide to the Wisdom of Wonder

Friday, November 15, 2013

Chew your food longer.

There’s this amazing little place where even the simplest of dishes 
is explored, savored as if it were the last meal of your life.

It’s a place where eating’s not rushed, never a chore. So bring 

all your senses and appreciate the glorious gift of food.

Monday, November 11, 2013

THE MULTITASKING MYTH – Why There’s Still Hope For Us Men

PHOTO: New York Times
This post is in remembrance and honor of Clifford Nass, the late Stanford professor whose pioneering research into how humans interact with technology found that the increasingly screen-saturated, multitasking modern world is not nurturing the ability to concentrate, analyze or feel empathy. He also proved that multi-taskers tend to not be very good at any of the tasks they undertake…including multitasking! Nass died in 2013 at age 55.

                                 *        *        *

Most of us can easily do two things at once; what’s all but impossible is to do one thing at once. ~ MIGNON MCLAUGHLIN, The Second Neurotic’s Notebook

There should be a new law targeting dangerous drivers. The offence: DWL – Driving While Listening.

I don’t know about you, but when I’m listening intently to someone, in the car or anywhere else, I might as well be blind. I came to realize this about the tenth time I sailed right past our exit when listening and responding—as a good husband should—to my wife.

Is it that the signals my brain receives from my ears somehow trump those coming from my eyes, or is it just that one sense—any sense—when applied fully, taps all the concentration my brain can muster at any given moment? In other words, can I, or can anyone, really do two things, both of them thoughtfully and thoroughly, at the same time?

       The serial-tasker...might complete just 
       one of the tasks, but likely in finer detail.

There’s no doubt some people are better at the multitasking game than others. God knows, everyone’s better at it than I. And, while all kinds of people can do it to one degree or another, it seems its mastery is something that’s hard-wired into the nervous system of more females—especially mothers—than men.

You'll notice I said "seems." Though females may seem better able to do several things at once, I believe it’s really a zero-sum game. They, and men who multitask, are taking roughly the same amount of concentration and intensity that others possess, mixing it up and spreading it over a wider area.

So, even though none of the individual tasks gets the exhaustive attention a serial-tasker might have given it, they’ll all get done. That serial-tasker, in roughly the same amount of time, might complete just one of the tasks, but likely in finer detail.


You divert some attention to a second or third task, and the rest suffer a performance deficit of almost exactly the same amount.

A recent public television documentary on the impact of the social media (including e-mail, text messaging, Twitter, Facebook, etc.) shed some light on my zero-sum theory. Some of the brightest students at Stanford and MIT were interviewed about their ability to multitask, both while studying and during classes. (There was no attempt to compare males with females.)

To a person, the students insisted they could easily exchange email and manage their cyber-persona, while in class, without any adverse impact on their learning comprehension. Their professors, incredibly, seemed to agree.

Sound too good to be true? It is. The program’s research indicated exactly the opposite. It concluded, as I’d expect, that “multitasking” simply divides a finite amount of attention into fractions. You divert some attention to a second or third task, and the rest suffer a performance deficit of almost exactly the same amount.

Nowhere is this more dramatically illustrated than on our streets and highways. There’s no question, despite their protestations to the contrary, that those who pretend to drive cars and also do anything else at the same time—like putting on makeup, futzing with the GPS or texting (in my case, I guess the list should include listening to my wife)—are doing so at their own and others’ great peril.

After examining the behavior of truck drivers covering more than 6 million miles of road, the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute concluded that people who send text messages while driving are 23 times more likely to be in a crash (or what they call a near-crash event) than nondistracted drivers.

How do you choose which approach is better? The answer is we don’t; that’s why we have marriage.

So, back to the perilous ground of gender typing, might all this amount to some kind of vindication for us predominantly-male uni-taskers? Or does it even make sense to compare the sexes’ relative capacities for concentration?

One is broad; the other, deep. One is strong; the other, fast. One’s analytical; the other, intuitive. How do you choose which approach is better? The answer is we don’t; that’s why we have marriage.

In terms of evolution, this equal-but-different arrangement meant the males who got to carry on the blood lines were those best able to hunt or fend off predators, unconflicted by other concerns or emotions. They operated on raw courage, intimate knowledge of Nature, and finely-honed focus.

Meanwhile, the women who tended to survive were those best able to nurture several kids, maintain the cave and simultaneously manage family and community relationships, endeavors laced with emotions and nuance.

Turns out the two sets of roles complemented each other perfectly. When I hear couples lamenting each other’s shortcomings—pretending that, as rational adults in this day and age, they should be able to get past those timeless, stereotypical roles—I want to remind them that neither of them can help it. It’s the way we’re built.

All of this has an immediate, very personal significance for me as I work on my writing and blogging. I’m left with the conclusion that, in order to fully concentrate on any of it, I have to…..uh-h-h, just a second…What’s that smell? I…..oh, no! Damn! I left my dinner in the oven and it seems there’s a small fire! Just a minute. Where’s my…Let’s see, 9…1…

Monday, November 4, 2013

FLOW - Meditation by a River

(When it's my turn to host a meeting of my men's group, I like to offer some kind of calming, centering exercise to help everyone shed the stresses and concerns of the day and be fully present in the here and now. This time, I've been unable to find just what I was looking I wrote my own brief, guided meditation.)

Your life’s wanderings have brought you to a small river. You sit on a large deadfall—oak, perhaps—whose body time has stripped of bark. The dry wood is warmed by late May sun.

Better than silence, the place murmurs with comings and goings of countless living things. You watch life’s drama play out, as if unreeled slowly, frame by frame, by the passing water.

A kingfisher laces the far bank of the river, dipping and rising from one vantage point to the next. The filament of his presence passes from riverine space into that of your soul, seamlessly, and back out again, then slowly out of sight down around the bend.

       You imagine the thoughts and concerns 
       of your day, like these other living things, 
       coming into view.

Just below you, a school of redhorse works the shallows, vacuuming the sandy bottom. You marvel at the interplay between each purposeful individual and the seeming randomness of the group. It, too, swirls slowly past with the current and disappears.

You imagine the thoughts and emotions of your day, like these other living things, coming into view in and over the water. They too fly and swim and pass through, from the unimaginable expanse of the cosmos, into and through the slice of it that is your consciousness, and then back out again to join the eternal flow of life.

You sit there, as aware as one can possibly be of the simple joy of this place of calmness and connection. You glow with gratitude for the fact that your presence, your being, is solid and true, informed, but not defined, by concerns of the mind. You sit…and feel…the smooth, warm wood under your seat.