The lost art of noticing – Part 2

by Steve Brock on December 13, 2013

I may not notice every female convict that comes my way. But I do pay attention when things jump out at me. Literally.

I was on a hike at Smith Rock State Park near Redmond, Oregon a month of so back and I saw, or rather sensed, rapid movement near my feet. The area has its fair share of those long slithery creatures with the rear end rattles so I paid a good deal of attention to what was causing the motion. Instead of a snake, however, I spotted this small tree frog frantically hopping to avoid becoming one with the bottom side of my shoe.

Tree Frog

I noticed it because it surprised me and stood out from the norm. Such occurrences usually garner our attention. But what about an ordinary day when nothing unordinary seems to happen? What do you notice then?

Usually not a lot. And that’s a shame because when we stop noticing, we stop participating. We go through life as numbed spectators or rather, life passes us by unobserved.

Not the best way to live.

So how do we change this? Recently I started reading a book called, Awaken Your Senses: Exercises for Exploring the Wonder of God by J. Brent Bill and Beth A. Booram. The book looks at how to encounter God with all five of your senses or, as they put it, “to help more of you experience more of God.” We tend to engage God primarily through our minds. This book helps you expand on that.

Early in the book, they have an exercise I’ve found remarkably helpful for improving my ability to notice and be a player in the life all around me. Here’s an abbreviated version of their exercise

First, wherever you are, take a minute to observe what’s around you and write down two or three things that you see, smell, taste, feel, and hear. Simple, yes? Now comes the fun part.

Do the same thing, only instead of just noticing these things, pay attention to them with love. As the authors note, “When we look with love at something, we regard it. We notice the nature of it; we respect and appreciate it for what it is.” (p. 19)

This seems like a small distinction, but try it. Right where you are, look, smell, taste, feel and listen as you did before, but do it with love. When I tried the exercise, the first round I noticed our ukulele on the shelf. The second time, I saw the same musical instrument but became grateful for the gift of music, for joy it brings in playing and listening. Seeing the same object with love transformed how I perceived it.

This exercise works particularly well with the people you know best and often regard or notice the least. See them with love and you will find that life no longer passes you by but is right there before you. With you. Around you.

God packs more wonder into the narrow confines of the space you currently occupy than you can imagine. But you can begin right now to see it – to truly notice it – if you do so by paying attention…with love.

Try it.

And see.


You can read Part 1 here

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The lost art of noticing – Part 1

by Steve Brock on November 29, 2013

Seeing with your eyes

I’m accompanying my wife to her doctor’s appointment. After we sit down in the waiting area, my wife leans over and excitedly whispers to me.

“Did you see that?” she says.

“See what?” I reply.

“That woman!” Now keep in mind we’re in a fairly full waiting area where I’m about the only male.

“The woman?” I ask.

“Yes!” as if this offers a complete explanation.

“What woman?”

“The one when we came in.”

“The one that was smiling at me?”

“She was smiling at you?”


“Why?” she says in a tone that implies that women smiling at her husband is an unusual thing. OK, maybe it is, but she doesn’t have to make a big deal about it.

“Because of her kid.”


“She was smiling at me because I was smiling at her little girl who almost ran into me.”

“What little girl?”

“The one with the woman. The smiling woman. With the little kid.” The line between amusement and impatience is a fine one.

“That’s not the woman.”

“That’s the woman I saw.”

“No. That’s not the woman.”

“OK, then what woman is it?”

“You didn’t see her?” That aforementioned line narrows.


“How could you miss her?”

“Who?!” Abbott and Costello got nothing on the two of us.

“The woman in the bright orange jumpsuit? With the handcuffs? With the two large male guards on each side of her? That woman?”

“I didn’t see her,” I admit, taken aback by the fact.

“How could you not see her?” I shrug at her unanswerable question.

“You didn’t see the handcuffs?”

“Uh uh.”

“Or the guards?”


“You didn’t see her turn and sweetly say “Thanks for all your help” to the receptionist as they walked her out?” Another shrug by me accompanied by a sheepish raised-eyebrow look of apology for my apparent blindness.

“Unbelievable,” she says.

“Unbelievable,” I say but for reasons that are likely as different as the two women we each witnessed.


 “How could you not have seen her?” How indeed. How can we go through life and miss so much around us? This might be a humorous incident if it was rare. But it happens all the time. And not just to me.

If you’ve been reading The Meaningful Traveler for any length of time, you’ll recognize this as a familiar theme. Presence. Paying attention. Noticing. Being open. They all seem to matter a great deal to a successful, fulfilling trip or even a meaningful life.

So why are we so bad at paying attention?

I’m sure there are numerous reasons and I’d love to hear yours. But here are two to get started.

First, you can’t pay attention to everything around you or your poor little brain would do an exploding number like Krakatoa.

Second, we forget because we’re not motivated to do so. We’ve got too many other things on our minds. But next time, I will share with you a recent discovery that has changed my own thinking about noticing and paying attention and the value of it. It works really well.

Except, perhaps when it comes to female inmates being escorted through doctor’s offices…

To be continued…


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Notice the glory

by Steve Brock on May 8, 2012

I finally saw the film, Tree of Life, on video.

I’m not sure I fully understand it. I could go online and look for reviews and clarification but I don’t want to. I understand enough, I think (after watching key scenes a second time which made a huge difference). Anything more would likely inform but also possibly disappoint.

If you haven’t seen it, be aware that it isn’t quite as opaque as say, “2001 – A Space Odyssey” but it is highly symbolic and hard to fathom at times. Yet it is stunningly beautiful and the acting of both adults and youth is spot on (or so it seems to me).

At its heart is this line:

“There are two ways in life, the way of nature and the way of grace.”

The former is exemplified by the father in the movie, played by Brad Pitt, who looks out for himself, seeks to get ahead and teaches his sons to be tough and to do whatever it takes to succeed.

The mother in the film chooses the way of grace, a life of sacrifice, care and love that does not seek its own but the best for others.

I will have to spoil the story here to get to my point, so if you haven’t seen the movie and want to, read no further.

Near the end of the movie, the father is brought to a point of crisis when he loses his job. With the loss comes the awareness that his whole approach to life – the way of nature – has failed him.

This is the voiceover at that point: “I wanted to be loved because I was brave. A big man. I’m nothing. Nothing. The glory around us. Trees. Birds. I left in shame (Note: I’m not actually sure about that line even after reviewing it a half dozen times). I dishonored it all and didn’t notice the glory. A foolish man.”

He comes to the way of grace by realizing that his own attempts at success, the way of nature, haven’t worked. But in his words I find something painfully familiar: “I dishonored it all and didn’t notice the glory.”

How often do we do the same in our own daily lives? We miss “the glory around us.” We simply don’t notice it.

I travel in part to see that glory, to refresh eyes that have become so accustomed to the glory all around me that I fail to appreciate or even be aware of it. In the unfamiliarity of a new place, I see the familiar anew. And when I do, I realize, at least in part, the glory around me.

So here’s my question for me and for you: If you can’t immediately travel, what can you do this day – wait no longer – to notice the glory? Trees. Birds. Loved ones. The very breath you take this moment. What will it be?

Choose grace.

Notice the glory.

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Media, marketing and meaningful travel – Part 2 1/2

by Steve Brock October 8, 2011

So which works best for meaningful travel, fasting from media or paying close attention to certain things? Yes…

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Media, marketing and meaningful travel – Part 2

by Steve Brock October 3, 2011

The alternative to a media fast as a means of dealing with all the products and ads that come your way is to do a reverse fast where you pay even more attention to what you normally ignore, especially on a business trip.

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Nothing is small

by Steve Brock March 22, 2011

Some of the most meaningful experiences on a trip occur in small moments…if we will only notice them and realize their source.

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A long way back

by Steve Brock March 18, 2011

Business travel tends to be all business. But sometimes just noticing the actions of others can completely change your own perspective…and make both your trip and your life more meaningful.

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