Pause a moment. Lift your eyes from the screen and look around you. What do you notice?
How much of what is so “there” and obvious now, even as you resume reading, was even on your radar before you stopped reading? Before you set an intention to pay attention, before you challenged yourself just to notice?
Now ask yourself not only to notice, but to notice what you’re noticing. To amp up your awareness of what is now. Suspend urgency, boredom, even judgment, and let yourself be the observer of the world and of yourself.
There is power in that.
In fact, there is so much power in that that when someone tells me they want to create something; art, a relationship, a business, or to change something; their experience, their outcomes, their world, I tell them the first step is to learn to notice.
And there is much to notice in Darden Smith’s book, The Habit of Noticing: Using Creativity to Make a Life (and a Living.)
You notice the balanced weight of the book in its hardback binding, the elegant simplicity of the cover art. Maybe you notice that the author has allowed the white boxed space that holds his name and the title of the book to obscure his eyes. The “windows of the soul” are hidden here, but if you look at the back cover you’ll find them, gazing into a distance that might be present, past, or future, but which will most likely be hinted at in the pages between these covers.
I was searching for one of Rumi’s poems when I first discovered the words of Darden Smith.
I was looking for this translation,
Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
But what I found was this,
My God and your God they’re one and the same, they sit around talking as friends.
(From “One Hundred Ways” by Darden Smith. The rest of the lyrics are here.)
The album was titled Circo. I bought it immediately. That was some years ago, and the magnetic force of Darden’s story and song have continued to draw me in. I followed his work with SongwritingWith:Soldiers, a Nonprofit created to transform lives by using collaborative songwriting to expand creativity, connections, and strengths. I watched his Facebook Live broadcasts with a smile and often a chuckle or a tear or two, and looked forward to the release of this book with an edge of trepidation. I had high expectations. I don’t like to be disappointed.
I was not disappointed. I was inspired, delighted, contemplative, nostalgic, even a bit envious, but not one page let me down.
The book is a lesson in meta-noticing. You notice the design, the subtle contrasts in the photos and drawings, many of them Darden’s own work. You notice the way the stories are laid out like lyrics but read like power prose and are sparse and lavish at the same time. You also notice how the pictures and words cause you to notice things about yourself, about your memories, about your expectations and the way you experience the world. And eventually you notice that you’re noticing all those things. That’s when inspiration comes, when shifts happen, when you start to internalize what you’ve noticed into what you think, even how you think. Into what you do and how you do it.
Like this page spread.
Two images. Two sentences. First thought, “How true.” But then I start to notice my energy around “get paid.” And “hunger.” And how there are also so many ways to be hungry, and how so many people who are well-fed still hunger because they don’t know how to be paid except in money and they don’t know what to do with that money except feed themselves with material things. And then I ask how I can not be hungry. And how I can feed others. And then I find myself inviting a young woman into a mentoring relationship and at our first session she says, “The toughest thing to solve for our members is their food insecurity.”
There are no accidents.
Or the piece titled “The Edge” which you might think is about performance, or creativity, but then I come to the last stanza, alone on the second page, and I notice that I want to read it again and again, and it says,
Just so you know,
Feeling alive can be addicting
And I notice that there is a word there that isn’t what most of us think it is. We think being alive is our objective, but the truth is that when we learn what it is to feel alive then just being alive is not enough. And I realize that this piece isn’t about performance or creativity but living. And dying. And being dead while we’re alive and not even noticing that that is why we’re craving something we can’t seem to find.
I smile when I notice the footnote at the bottom of “No Plan B” because if you read that piece about the (now ex) father-in-law who thought marrying his daughter to a musician might be a better idea if said musician had something else to fall back on you might think he left that relationship, along with the marriage, long ago. But the footnote tells another story in three simple lines.
I wonder, when I read the piece about why Darden stopped drawing, and how he began again, what I might have created if I hadn’t been told I wasn’t artistic. And what I might yet create because I’m not living that story anymore.
I read “Concrete” a few times through and reflect on all the accidental mentors I’ve drawn into my life by biting off more than I could chew, and I notice the deep gratitude and awe I have for these so-called accidents and these powerful, generous souls who responded to my need. And I challenge myself to be more powerful, more generous, and quicker to notice when there is a need I can fill.
I notice my tears when I read “Do What You Do, Kid” the story he tells in this video.
Because that’s what we’re all here to do. What we do, not what someone else has done before us.
And so The Habit of Noticing unfolds. The stories, the pictures, the truths on the page pull you along, until they stop you. Like a crystal clear sheet of Plexiglas masquerading as an open highway they force you to halt, to consider the vista before you and the impossibility of moving forward until you have fully absorbed what is offered, there between the covers of a book.
In our climate of rapid change, of pre-programmed outrage, of triggers and fears and overwhelming empathy, Darden Smith offers a way to turn the simple act of noticing into a sacred practice.
Surely there are at least 100 ways to kneel and kiss the ground. And just as surely this habit, of noticing, of letting what is seen and heard and felt inform what it is to be human, surely that is one of them.
Recordings (including the audio version of The Habit of Noticing) are available here.
The Habit of Noticing: Using Creativity to Make a Life (and a Living) available on Amazon.