When I binge-read a work of fiction I’m deeply entrenched in, have I checked out of my body? Am I being unmindful? Am I checking out of my life? Or, is it possible to read fiction mindfully?Read More
The following piece was written by Kathy Hartsell, a fellow yoga instructor and mind-body practitioner who studies alongside the Mind Body Dancer® community. She writes from Boston, MA.
This past week, trotting through a familiar city path, my eyes parked on a pair of beautifully crafted doors that I had somehow grazed by hundreds of times without noticing. I leaned curiously toward these hearty panels of bronze, and as their presence swallowed my shadow, my attention tumbled through inscriptions spread across the doors' chest that nod to the history of Ceylon tea trade. Upon learning that these Salada Tea Doors have stood there tall in tadasana since 1917, I marveled at the blind spot I had been toting with me, oblivious to doors of beauty in a space I assumed I knew so well.
With one palm, I sheepishly shake hands with the fact that I have countless times floated past what I now perceive as central and defining to this block's landscape. But in the other palm, I gather from this moment deeper respect for attention and its boundaries. I experience directly what the field of cognitive psychology has to say about the things we see and miss at any given moment. I’m reminded that, of course, awareness cannot be wholly and simultaneously available for all things, and that, by design, our brains will filter the world’s stream of stimuli to extract what feels most relevant for survival. This process is a curtsy to our cognitive limits, an expression of our innate energy conservation and an example of how our attention molds our understanding of reality. Such blind spots are undoubtedly useful in numerous ways. They are also humbling in many respects. But mostly, I find them to be a call to action. Knowing that the default brain will grab only the information that seems “essential” to human survival or excessively shiny and entertaining, I’m moved to actively seek mind-spirit nourishment—the mind-stretching, soul-lifting stuff I might just miss otherwise. Exploring life beyond the obvious or expected is always an option, but it requires a continual opening of our senses and nurturing of our awareness.
Attention’s mobile nature can be challenging to sit still with, when its slippery texture and flighty rhythm can feel like the sun streaming in a bit too directly. But this same fluid quality, once stabilized, is also what enables us to choose where we move and hold our attention, whether climbing high onto the right shoulder blade or sinking low into the floor of the pelvis. This mobility is what allows me to fall in love with new things about old relationships, or recognize a habit that I could be tempted to conveniently “not see.” Both cognitive research and everyday experience assert that there is always something we have missed... and therefore, always something new to see, hear, feel, or think. This echoes with truth in all the spaces I frequent, whether walking a familiar block and noticing doors that were always there, or landing in seasoned yoga postures where fresh forms of embodiment always await.
The new year can often be overloaded on the front end with an aggressive assessment of self and life, resulting in a daunting list of expectations and aspirations that weight one’s first steps through January. But, while I’ve always valued the art of reflection and the shaping of intention at any time, I also feel the new year is best left open. Through such openness, we might just discover that in both familiar streets and new territories, there are already doors standing by, inviting awareness in.
Photograph of Salada Tea Doors by Kathy Hartsell