You know in your heart of hearts that you have what it takes to be a superhero. A real one. But, like all superheroes, you need some guidance and so you found this little tutorial.
You are reading this because you know in your heart of hearts that you have what it takes to be a superhero. A real one. Not a metaphoric superhero who helps jumpstart people’s cars or gives really big tips or pays for a stranger’s coffee. The metaphoric kind is also great, but that is not why you are reading this. You want to fly and catch a falling airplane. You want to turn invisible and discover an evil plot. You want to run 5 miles in the blink of an eye to rescue a young mother in the path of a runaway bus. You want to be a superhero that can at once take on the work force, be in a partnership, be a conscious parent, a loyal friend and still have the reserves to save people from a wide array of possible villains. But, like all superheroes, you need some guidance and so you found this little tutorial.
Lets get going.
In my introduction last week, I listed the four ‘steps’ to being super:
- Keep Your Eyes Open
- Believe it
- Do Something Brave
- Tell No One
This week will focus on step one.
This step is at once vigilant like a private eye and passive like a feather bed. One must remain soft, to remain open to the world and let the world speak to you. The phrase “Keep your eyes open” begins with the word “Keep”. Here is the vigilance—strength. No daydreaming about a new pair of boots or worrying about your work. The list of errands or replaying a conversation will distract you. Messages and signs come in all moments including those in which you are not paying attention.
“Your eyes” are not limited to only your eyes, but includes all your senses: hearing, smell, taste and touch in addition to seeing. You may see something, to be sure, but messages often come shouted across the street or from a passing car radio. Messages can come wafting by with the smell of perfume or vanilla candle. One could taste some almond in a cookie that will remind you of your best friend from second grade whose mom made delicious marzipan. One may feel something uncomfortable in one’s pocket and think it is a stone, when in fact it is plastic ring given to you by your daughter. All these things are potential clues leading you toward being super—but they must be seen or heard or smelled or tasted to be of any use.
“Open” in the phrase “Keep your eyes open” is how this protocol is soft like a feather bed. To be open is to be receptive and available. Your awareness is not focused on something in particular. Your gaze is wide and fuzzy—taking in all images, colors, and words without judgment. To be open is to hear the music, conversations, street noise and bird-calls, all at once like an orchestra. Openness welcomes all smells including those that are yucky, all tastes including those that disgust, all touches including those that are painful. All that surrounds you is welcome in that moment.
So then—First, sit on a bench.
This Protocol asks that you have a point from which you can watch, listen, smell, feel and even taste freely. Park or street benches are excellent options for this protocol. Chairs in coffee shops or restaurants are certainly acceptable, but benches are best. They are clearly public—open to whoever wishes to use them. They require no purchase or rental. They are anchored patiently on street corners or next to statues waiting for no one in particular. To sit in a bench is to be an integral part of the environment, to be enmeshed in all that is around you. In cold climates, libraries or malls offer indoor public options. In all cases, the bench or chair is best when there is no feeling of being rushed or tension around a time limit. Airports can be excellent locations so long as the departure time is not a distraction. Being relaxed and unselfconscious is key to being open and available. At first, it is best to be alone. This will free you of any tension about conversing or focusing your attention on a single location. With practice, you will be able to “keep your eyes open” while chatting or engaging with others.
Now—the next thing is that you will need an occupier—or something to busy yourself with.
It is helpful and sometimes necessary to have a clear “reason” for sitting in the bench. This can be sipping on a cup of coffee or eating a bagel. One could seem to be listening to music or reading the paper. One might even stretch before or after exercise. The point of the occupier is to give you license for looking around. If you have a cup of tea in your hand, someone might not suspect that you are watching them. If you are reading a novel, someone may feel freer to chat openly with his friend. An occupier will also give you permission to relax. You can confidently display your sandwich as an announcement to everyone that you are eating your lunch—and not necessarily engaging in a super power protocol. It is very important, however, that your occupier not distract you. Eat, drink, read the paper—but do so with most of your attention around you. The taste of the jalapenos in your taco may be just the message you were seeking—but don’t let the taco keep you from noticing the pink socks on the police officer walking by.
OK—now let yourself soften.
Once you have your park bench and your cup of tea or slice of pizza, you can begin to “Keep your eyes open.” This is a softening process where you let the world around you be as it is—without making any judgments about how you think it should be. This can start as a physical relaxation exercise where you feel your legs, arms, neck and chest and let them relax and feel soft. Forcing it generally doesn’t work. It is more effective to note where there is hardness—stress or tightness—and move on. You can say to yourself “My elbow hurts” or “There is a buzzing in my ear” and then leave it alone. Thinking about things and judging them often hinders the softening process. Best to note and then let go. Note and then let go. Letting go is an effective and efficient way to soften.
OK—now widen your gaze.
Now that you are soft, you can take in your environment with ease and openness. In a single moment you can see the poodle dog’s collar and the Illinois license plate. You can hear the airplane as well as the little boy’s excuse for losing his thirty cents. You can smell burning leaves and fresh bread. You can taste your peppermint tea and the salt in the air. You can feel the park bench under your body, the snowflake on your forehead and the squirrel brush past your ankle. All are welcome and swirl around you like a giant bubble bath.
And then, something grabs you.
For no apparent reason, one sight, sound, sensation or word demands your full attention. Something will happen that is out of the ordinary and carries a quality of magic. Something may even seem impossible. You will see the child holding a small bag and a little furry head will suddenly peak out. A man that is talking to his wife might casually place his finger in his ear and then another man across the street might make the same gesture and look at you. It may look like an old woman’s face suddenly transforming into that of a young man. A laughing teenager might seem to pick a car off the ground—only for a moment—and then walk away with his buddies. Curious things will likely happen, improbable things often happen and impossible things will eventually happen. If your eyes are open, you will surely see them.
Now admit to yourself that this is fun. I encourage you not to focus on making sense right now. Let that go and just have fun. Trust that this will all come around and you won’t have to worry about what’s “real” or “made up.” Just practice and hang in there for next week.
Next week is step two: Believe it.
All these crazy things that you witness give you nothing if you don’t believe they happened.
Read Part 1 here.
Feature Photo: AP/File
Photos: Courtesy of David Sewell McCann