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You can only respond to what you notice

I took this photo at the weekend when I popped down to my local bank holiday fete. It was much better than I expected. More heart-filled, more community- focussed and surprisingly fun! There was a donkey darby, a coconut shy (I gave it my best shot, but it wasn't good enough) and then, this...

This wonderful, charismatic elderly lady, sat in a small tent at the back of the fete, weaving and spinning. As I spotted her, she was teaching a young woman how to weave and spin the yarn herself. She talked too, about how wool often gets burned nowadays by small holdings as nobody wants it anymore. Gently and patiently, she corrected her pupil as the young novice's technique went awry.

As we stopped to by to watch, within a few seconds my friend and I looked at each other, with tears in our eyes. We felt a well of emotion looking at the scene in front of us. And as we did so, we noticed that the lady standing behind us was also wiping tears from her eyes. None of us could explain it in words, but we'd each found the scene deeply touching in our hearts. The lady had nothing to sell, she simply wanted to pass on her joy of spinning.

Was it something we felt we'd lost, from long ago in the past? A time when we had communities of women, weaving and spinning together? We'd noticed our tears, but what was really behind them?

Our thoughts, feelings and behaviors are continually being influenced by factors outside our conscious awareness. But if we learn to stop, or at least slow down long enough to notice these taking place inside us, and doing a little self-enquiry on them, incredible things start to happen. In fact I talk about this in the Forest Bathing sessions I run; about the importance of opening up our senses. But why is this important enough to write about?

Well, I was recently reminded that at school we're taught that human beings have five senses—sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste. That's partly because these are the senses that Aristotle identified two millennia ago. But we now know this is not correct. We actually have many, many more senses and when we get better at noticing them, it gives us more opportunity to do something about them and perhaps even adjust them, and ourselves, if that's necessary.

Exteroception is one. This is our capacity to notice the world around us using multiple different senses. At the fete on Saturday for example, in front of this stall, I could have noticed the lady, her pupil and the spinning wheel, but I could also have noticed all the sounds and the smells that were present at that moment, too. The smell of sheeps wool, of candy floss, of the freshly cut grass. I could have wondered how comfortable the temperature was and the humidity. Exteroception allows us to evaluate the state of our environment in the present moment.

Less well-known is interoception, which is our capacity to notice what’s going on in our body. So at the fete, I noticed that I felt deeply moved in my heart. I could have taken a moment to ask and explore "What emotions are present in me now?" I might have noticed my breathing, too. Was it relaxed? Or was it fluttery and how fast or slow was my heart beating? The answers to questions​ such as these are available to ​u​s through ​the sense of interoception. ​This can be hugely useful because your first reaction to something, on closer inspection, may not actually be what your body/self is truly feeling about the situation.

​Then, lastly, for now, there's proprioception​. This is ​your capacity to notice ​your body’s position in and movement through space in the absence of an exteroceptive sense ​such as sight. ​We try this too, in Forest Bathing. ​We practice clos​ing our eyes and ​being guided around a small area of the forest by someone, with our eyes closed. Also, try touch​ing two fingers of different hands to each other in front of you​ with our eyes closed. You may not be fully aware of what is where, but you'll have a pretty good idea.

Once you’ve improved your sense of interoception, for example, you’ll start to notice things like how your sitting posture affects your back pain—and how movement or stretching might help. You’ll be able to correctly sense and interpret anxiety and instead of reaching for a tablet, instead take some deep breaths and write down what's troubling you.

The important point here, is that you can only respond to what you notice. If you've found this interesting, I'll be writing more on this topic as I explore it further myself!

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