What’s noticing? Well, here’s the mini version:
Are you comfortable? Good. Write the word ‘noticing’ and follow it with whatever you’re experiencing right now: sights/sounds/feelings/thoughts/ etc. Whenever you get stuck, write the word ‘noticing’ again and continue.
When doing my noticing practice, I’ll often discover some sort of discomfort–maybe tension in the body, uncomfortable thoughts, or feelings arising, perhaps a combination of these.
I used to write these feelings down and keep moving, content enough to have caught them and wanting to keep my writing momentum. But I started to notice a simple, recurring pattern.
Firstly, a lot of these feelings / sensations would come up almost every time I began writing. Secondly, the act of noticing would soften them, not always, but often enough that it was obvious something was going on here.
So I started experimenting with the idea of engaging with these sensations or feelings directly once I noticed them. This changed the whole practice of noticing for me.
shift and return
There are three very simple steps I add in when strong feelings come up in a noticing session.
I call this process ‘shift and return’ and it goes like this: noticing / shift / return
Well that looks cryptic, let’s go through it step by step.
step one: noticing
I’ll be writing away and come across something strong, like discomfort, or unease, and I’ll ‘notice’ that and write it in. Example:
noticing tension in my chest, it’s very tight, like a knot, and deep in the centre
It’s still amazing to me that even capturing a few simple details can be so helpful, often I’ll have no idea of the sensations my body is experiencing until I sit down and start writing. But there’s more we can do with this.
Step two: shift
When I notice something strong and want to investigate, I’ll make a simple shift. This shift is usually small, like breathing into an area of tension, or standing up, stretching, opening a window. Basically, any brief action that I think might help.
Here is how that looks using the example above:
noticing tension in my chest, it’s very tight, like a knot, and deep in the centre / breathing into that /
So the shift is ‘breathing into that’.
Notice the slashes (//) on either side of the shift? They’re important, we’ll come back to those in a minute.
And the third step is where you notice what results from that small shift, so lets look at that.
step three: return
This step is where we return to the original sensation, and notice if there has been any change as a result of the shift. That might look like this:
noticing tension in my chest, it’s very tight, like a knot, and deep in the centre / breathing into that / tension still there, but has softened
Because this is an example, I gave it a nice ending, but sometimes the sensation may be unchanged.
When this hapens I might repeat the shift, or try another shift, and return again to notice if there has been any change. Sometimes there are only subtle changes to the original sensation, sometimes nothing, and occasionally there are dramatic changes.
It’s nice when I get relief as a result of using shift and return, but the main thing is the investigating and the interacting.
I use the slashes (//) on either side of the shift so that when I go back to review my noticing session later on, I can easily see where I might have worked with shift and return. The slashes really stand out and you can find them easily when you go back over your noticings.
I really recommend going back over your noticing sessions, especially looking at where you used shift and return. Over time you will get some great insights into where and how your body holds tension, or anxiety, or a number of strong feelings. You also have a record of how you you interacted with that, and what resulted from that interaction.
I’ve learned so much about myself as a result of using this and it has completely transformed my noticing practice.
Sometimes I’ll go through a string of noticing sessions and not feel the need for shift and return, it’s not like I build my whole practice around this. But it’s a wonderful tool to have on hand while you’re noticing and it helps bring a sense of curiosity to what is going on with your self.
If you have tried noticing before, you might really like to add shift and return to your practice. I think you’ll be surprised at how helpful it can be.
If this post makes you curious about noticing, be sure to click the link at the top of the post to get the basic instructions (it’s very, very simple) and you might like to play with shift and return as well.
If you give this a try please leave a comment below, I’d love to hear about your experience!