I recently returned to my childhood home for the holidays. As I walked across the front yard, a weird thought struck me. If you asked me to describe, without looking, what sort of trees grew in the yard, how many there were, or where they were positioned, I would not be able to do it. I’ve walked through that yard thousands of times. I spent countless hours in it gleefully smashing together my parents’ beloved decorative rocks. Yet, unless I’m actually standing in the yard, I can’t remember much beyond, “There are some trees. Some are evergreens, I think.”
How to become your own spotter
Here’s the point: We move through the world sort of tuned out. We pay enough attention not to fall down a manhole, but that’s about it. We walk around in a slight fog, lost in idle thought or listening to headphones or staring at our screens. When we tune out in this way, our experience of the world loses a certain richness.
Instead of tuning out, it’s possible to tune in to our present-moment experience. We may find that when we bring attention and curiosity to our environment, each moment contains more depth and vividness than before. Even familiar vistas, like our childhood homes, become fresh and interesting.
The meditation master Shinzen Young compares this richness to the “fountain of youth.” In his recently-published book, The Science of Enlightenment: How Meditation Works (Sounds True, 2016), he suggests, “You can dramatically extend life—not by multiplying the number of your years, but by expanding the fullness of your moments.”
There’s a game I like that helps me connect with the present moment and experience this enhanced richness. It’s called “Spot Red,” and it’s just what it sounds like. You simply try to spot everything red in your environment. Once in a while, when I’m walking somewhere, I’ll leave my ear buds in my bag and play. Maybe I first notice a stop sign, then a red door on a restaurant, then the red sneakers on a passerby, then a splotch of red spray paint on the pavement, and so on. It’s fun and generates a satisfying feeling of awake alertness—of being tuned in.
You can also do variations on this game: Spot Yellow, Spot Round, Spot Metal, etc. Or you might tune in to sound and play Spot Car Horns, Spot Bird Sounds…you get the idea.
Happy (and kind) holidays!