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paying attention — The Meaningful Traveler

paying attention

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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Stories beyond words – Part 6

by Steve Brock on April 26, 2013

I’ve kept you guessing through this series that looked at how photos can tell stories as much (or sometimes better) than words. We saw how people in the image can add to the narrative, how sometimes you don’t need people in your shots, how black and white images tell a different story than color and how focusing on the details makes for more interesting tales. All along, I asked you to guess where the place was. So here’s the answer (in photos, of course!):

Beer signIf you look closely, you can see the unlit sign for Bar Harbor Real Ale. Now they could serve this beverage anywhere, but what better place than in the town where it is brewed?

Bar Harbor, Main StreetIf you’ve ever been to Bar Harbor, Maine (and neighboring Acadia National Park where the picture of the little girl and the coast were taken), you’ll likely recognize this strip of the main drag of the town.

If you haven’t, while the town itself can be rather touristy, Acadia is beautiful and definitely worth a visit.

I will show you one more image next time from this trip, but hopefully this gives you a brief overview of how photos can tell different kinds of stories on a trip – even one to Maine!

To be continued…

Check out Parts 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 if you haven’t already.



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Stories beyond words – Part 5

by Steve Brock April 23, 2013

Taking better travel photos and telling a better story with them sometimes means focusing on details and painting a fuller picture through multiple images rather than on iconic shot.

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Prairie dogs and business travel

by Steve Brock June 12, 2012

Business travel becomes something more when a tornado and other weather anomolies take over a routine trip work trip.

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Notice the glory

by Steve Brock May 8, 2012

I finally saw the movie Tree of Life. Twice. Had to. I didn’t notice so many things the first time. And what it shows me is how much I rarely notice every day.

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The secret life of moss

by Steve Brock February 29, 2012

Travel makes you pay better attention but often at home we need to practice noticing everyday things like moss, a common sight where I live. Join me in this rediscovery its surprising beauty.

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