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Unformatted text preview: Noticing EXPLORATIONS live at 7,500 feet in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, a majes- tic tongue of the southern Rockies that extends into northern New Mex- ico. This is one of those blessed places where nature always seems to be in high- drama mode. At this moment, the world outside my window is transitioning from a harsh. snowy winter to a borderland season that is no longer winter, but not quite spring. The most obvious indicator that some- thing is up is the birds. The finches, jun- .cos, chickadees, nuthatches, cloves, and flickers at the feeders are getting flirtatious. Yesterday, taking the cue, I emptied the birdhouses of last year’s nesting materials in preparation for another round of nest ‘building and offspring. It’s not just the birds that are getting frisky. Although the pifion and juniper trees are still hunkered down, the crocuses and daffodils have made a foolhardy advance and are show- ing green shoots, which usually means they are about to get clobbered by a spring snow. Even the skies are livelier. The clouds are evolving toward showy cumu- lus formations, a dress rehearsal for their leading role in the violent thunderstorms ofsummer. Still, these rhythms ofnature are protracted. It will be two full months before the earth tilts sufficiently toward the sun to banish frosty nights and per- mit me to plant my vegetable garden. In the meantime, I try to notice what’s happening. Notice. What a simple word for some- thing so difficult! I’ve been trying to get the hang of it for most of my adult life, 1? ever since a little book gobsmacked me in the 705 and revealed to me that I was a quite poor noticer. That grenade, How to Meditate,1 was authored by psychologist Lawrence LeShan, who did landmark re- search in the connections between the psyche and cancer at a time when the field hardly existed. LeShan cited with approval Max Wertheimer’s definition of an adult . as “a deteriorated child."2 Although we must not take Wertheirner’s observation literally, it’s helpfill nonetheless. As IeShan says, one way to recover who we were before the deteriora— tion set in is to learn to pay attention—to notice—a talent with which all children are blessed. This leads to LeShan’s shorthand def- inition of meditation as the an of doing one thing well. This turns out to be one of the most difficult tasks we can attempt, as anyone can discover in only a few minutes of try- ing to notice something intently, without the intrusion of extraneous thoughts and sensations. Yet this is a time-honored way of recovering our humanity, as many wis- dom traditions have affirmed. Noticing is valuable not only for people concerned with personal psychospiritual growth; it is also important for physicians, nurses, and other healthcare professionals, because not noticing in our business can be lethal. In a celebrated case in Novem- ber 2007, the 12-day-old twin babies of actor Dennis Qiaid and his wife Kimberly were admitted to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles with possible staph infections. They were nearly killed when they were given 10,000 units of heparin two separate times, instead of the usual 10 units used to flush their IV lines. Some- body had failed to pay attention to the look-alike vials. This identical lapse in at— tention had earlier killed three infants in Indiana.3 Lethal lapses like this happen all the time. The Institute of Medicine, as well as epidemiologist Barbara Starfield of Johns Hopkins University School of Med- icine, estimate that more than 7,000 peo- ple are killed each year in America’s hos— pitals because of medication errors—the grim consequences of not noticing.“'5 In her excellent book Improving Your Bedside Manner, psychologist Jacquelyn Small shows that one of our most com- mon errors as healthcare professionals is simply not paying attention to the feelings and concerns of our patients.6 Those doc- tors who are perceived as hurried, noncar- ing, arrogant, or rude are mainly the phy- sicians who are sued when something goes amiss in the treatment plan. Surgeons with more warmth in their voices are found to be the ones who have never been sued.5 The evidence that we are not good notic- ers is overwhelming. In one study, board- certified family physicians interrupted their patients and redirected their initial statements of concern after only 23 sec- onds, after which the patients rarely re— turned to complete their descriptions— and family physicians are regarded as some of the best listeners among all types of doctors.7 Not noticing is a virus that is loose in modern culture. It makes us oblivious to life’s music, literally—a fact demon- strated in 2007 by Gene Weingarten, a staff writer for the Washington Post. What Explorations EXPLORE July/August 2008, Vol. 4, No.4 225 fir) my” would happen, he wondered, if one of the world’s greatest violinists were plopped into the madness of rush hour in 2 Wash— ington, DC subway station, while playing a Stradivarius word) several million dol- lars? Would anyone notice?’3 When violinistJoshua Bell, one of the finest living classical musicians, was ap- proached with the challenge, he eagerly agreed to participate in the experiment. Bell, 40, has performed with nearly all the world’s major orchestras and conductors and has awed audiences around the globe. His instrument is a 300-year-old violin made in 1713 during Antonio Stradivari’s “golden era.” 50 on January 12, 2007, a Friday morning, he donned a Washington Nationals baseball cap, tossed a few dol- lars in his violin case as seed money, and began playing incognito as a street musi- cian at the L’Enfant Plaza subway station at 7:51 AM. The music he chose was not well— known ditties, but six complex, centuries- old masterpieces. Bell played his best, put- ting his heart and soul into the music for over 43 minutes. Hidden cameras video- taped the entire experiment. Among the 1,097 individuals who walked by, only one recognized the virtuoso, and only seven stopped to listen for more than a minute. Twenty-seven tossed some money into his violin case, totaling $32.17, not counting the $20 from the passerby who recognized him. The story was published in the Washington Part two days before he was awarded the Avery Fisher Prize, the highest honor given the United States to a classical mti’sician.a The story hit a nerve. It got “the largest and most global response of anything I have ever written, for any publication,” said veteran reporter Weingarten. Of the ‘ more than 1,000 comments that poured in from all over the world, 10% said the story made them cry—“Cry for the deadened souls that couldn’t stop to appreciate the beauty that surrounded them. Cry for the lost moments, the opportunities that slip through our hands never to return. Cry for the rush of life which sucks up the essence of life itself,” as Bassi Gruen, a social worker and journalist who investigated the event, put it? Gruen wondered how she would have reacted had she encountered Joshua Bell that Friday morning. Would she have no- ticed some of the most enchanting violin music on the planet? “I didn’t have long to ponder,” she wrote. “A pressing doctor’s appointment pulled me away from my computer screen. I gathered up my jacket and purse, and raced half a block to catch the next bus. Rushing down the familiar street, I was surrounded by the tantalizing beauty of spring. To my left, an apple tree was just beginning to bud, the small sap- ling crowned with a shower of delicate white blossoms. Further along, a garden boasted irises in full bloom, their deep heads nodding in the soft breeze. Above, fluffy clouds raced each other in a blind- ingly blue sky. But in my haste that mom- ing, I saw none of it. I was deaf to the music surrounding me on all sides.” There’s a solution. As LeShanx wrote, meditation helps people notice. In a classic experiment during the 1960s, physician-researchers Akira Kasamatsu and Tomio Hirai, of the University of Tokyo, tracked the brain waves of Zen Buddhist teachers and their best stu- dents while they were repeatedly ex- posed to a high-pitched note while medi- tating. They compared their responses to those of control subjects with no medita- tion experience. The controls gradually became habituated to the stimulus; even- tually their brain waves ceased to register when the note was sounded. In contrast, the Zen meditators did not habituate. Their brain waves continued to respond to the stimulus as if they were hearing each sound afresh for the first time.10 Noticing and paying attention not only increases one’s ability to take in the world of sensations, but our ability to affect the world as well. This has been demonstrated in several experiments in which individu« als, through their deliberate intentions or mental states, attempt to influence the state of the physical world. For example, psi researcher Dean Radin has investigated the ability of individuals mentally to influ- ence electronic instruments,11 and the ef- fects of ingested substances such as choco— late,12 as well as the ability to foresee the fixture in sophisticated online tests.”L3 These controlled experiments show that the indi- viduals who are best able to accomplish these feats are experienced meditators— those who have learned to do one thing es- pecially well, as LeShan puts it—to pay atten- tion, to notice. , ‘ It’s not easy to counter the deterioration of listening, attending, noticing. We have an army of surrogate devices that do our noticing for us. I no longer have to walk outside to see what the weather’s doing; it’s all there on my computer screen, with talking heads and satellite views that are updated every few minutes. Scientists used to be keen noticers, and the rest of us benefited. Remember Alex- ander Fleming, who noticed those bac— terial colonies that wouldn’t grow near that grungy mold that was later found to produce penicillin? But the talent for noticing in science has decayed. Astron- omers, who used to be excellent Stargaz- ers, don’t go outdoors to look at the night sky anymore. It’s done remotely through radio telescopes and monster light-gathering devices that sweep up a few photons, analyze them, and produce nifty photos and printouts. It’s argued, of course, that the ability to notice among scientists has been Sharpe ened by technological advances, but I wonder. The skills of young physicians in listening to hearts and lungs and perform- ing physical exams in general can’t com— pare to the intrepid abilities of diagnosti- cians a half~century ago. Why cultivate them when an MRI scanner is around the comer? This sort of deterioration is en- demic. Most zoologists ceased paying atten- tion to animals in their natural habitat de- cades ago; today their attention is largely directed to molecules and genes, which no- body has ever seen. It’s the same with bot- any. When, by the way, is the last time you heard “zoology” and “botany” used, and when, if ever, did you last hear someone say they were going “botanizing,” like Dar- win did? Even ifthey went, would zoolo— gists and botanists know where they were venturing? We no longer have to pay at» tention to where we want to go; GPS de- vices on our dashboards do it for us, often with a feminine British accent. Of all our unnoticed activities, war is the most extreme. It's now possible for us to kill, maim, and destroy without ever laying eyes on our enemy. In centuries past, when battles were fought eyeball to eyeball with edged weapons, casualties were gruesome but limited. One could slay only a limited number of the enemy before the sun went down or the water ran out. In, those days, at the end of the cam- paigning season soldiers had the irritating habit of laying down their weapons and returning home for the harvest, preferring to endure the scolding of their command- 226 EXPLORE July/August 2003, Vol. 4, No. 4 Explorations ing officer to that of their wife and mother of their children, who would go hungry if they didn’t do the right thing and trade their sword for a scythe. Now that war has largely become a virtual activity, it’s possi— ble to kill merely by pushing buttons, re- gardless of the time of the day or year, or how much water is left in your canteen. As a result, the restraints on war have largely vanished and the potential death toll is now limitless. The raw numbers of casual- ties mean less than ever before, because the Victims are no longer noticed except by a tiny minority of heroes and heroines who, as always, continue valiantly to risk their lives in lethal combat. We no longer even notice where our wars are being fought. In 2002, a survey asked Americans between the age of 18 and 24 to find certain areas on a world map. Eighty-seven percent could not find Iraq or Iran, and 83% could not locate Afghanistan, although these young people were of prime warrior age and might be sent there. “Someone once said that war is God’s way of teaching geography, but to- day, apparently war or even the threat of war cannot adequately teach geography,” saidjohn Fahey, president of the National Geographic Society, which conducted the study. “More American young people can tell you where an island that the ‘Survivor’ TV series came from is located than can identify Afghanistan or Iraq. Ironically a TV show seems more real or at least more meaningful, interesting or relevant than reality.” It got worse. When asked to find ten specific states in the continental United States, only Texas and California could be located by a majority. Forty—nine percent could not locate New York, 29% could not find the Pacific Ocean, and 11% could not find the United States.” There are, of course, all sorts of rational- izations for these shortcomings, whether in physicians, scientists, or young adults. Most strike me as weak excuses. What stakes are involved? Is our deteriorating ability to notice making our lives better and more secure? Many say that our will- ful refiisal to notice what is going on around us is placing us at planetary risk— species loss, habitat degradation, desertifi~ cation, glacial melting, climate change— the list is long. In addition to analyzing the scientific information that is flooding in from these issues, we need to notice what is actually going on in our world; otherwise we’ll be in no position to as- sess the data that is reported. Large—scale noticing— opening our eyes and paying attention—might make all the difference. The end result of proper noticing and paying attention is simply common sense. And the virtues of the medical variety of common sense have never been expressed better than by British physician Sir Robert Hutchison (1871-1960) in his well-known litany: From inability to let well alone; from too much zeal for the new and con— tempt for What is old; from putting knowledge before wisdom, science before art, and cleverness before common sense; from treating pa- tients as cases, and from making the cure of disease more grievous than the endurance of the same, Good Lord, deliver us.15 And help us notice. —Larry Dossey, MD Executive Editor REFERENCES l. LcShan L. How to Meditate: A Guide to Self: Discovery. Boston, Mass: Little, Brown and Company; 1974. 2. Wertheimer M. Qioted in: LeShan L. How to Meditate: A Guide to SelfDiscovery. Bos- U1 ton, Mass: Little, Brown and Company; 197414. . Kroft 5. Dennis Quaid recounts twins’ drug or- deal. CBS online. Available at: http://www. main3936412shtml. Accessed March 21, 2008. Starfield B. Is U.S. health really the best in the world?jAMA. 2000;284:483-485. . Kohn LT, Corrigan JM, Donaldson MS, eds. Ta £77 15 Human: Building a Safer Health Sys- tem. Washington, DC: National Academy Press; 2000. Available at: http://www.nap. edu/openbookphp?isbn=0309068371. Ac- cessed March 26, 2008. Small J, Mulry Improving Your Bedside Manner. Austin, Tex: Eupsychia Institute; 2008:14. I Marvel MK, Epstein RM, Flowers K, Beck- man HB. Soliciting the patient’s agenda: have we improvedPJAfl/IA. 1999;281:283- 287. . Weingarten G. Pearls before breakfast. The Washington Post. April 8, 2007: W10. 9. Gruen B. Oblivious to the music. Aish. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. com. Available at: societyWork/society/Oblivious_to_the_ Music.asp. Accessed March 21, 2008. Kasamatsu A, Hirai T: An EEG study of Zen meditation. Folia stzcbizztrica e! Neuro— logiajapom'ra. 1966;20:315-336. Reprinted in: Tart C, ed. Altered States of Conscious- ness. 3rd ed. New York, NY: HarperCol- lins; 1990:501-514. Radin D. Testing nonlocal observation as a source of intuitive knowledge. Explore (ND. 2008;4125-35. Radin D, Hayssen G, Walsh Effects of in- tentionally enhanced chocolate on mood. Explore WY). 2007;31485-492. Boundary Institute. Got psi? Available at: Ac- cessed March 21, 2008. Global goofs: U.S. youth can’t find Iraq. November 22, 2002. Avail- able at: EDUCATION/11/20/geography.quiz/ index.html. Accessed March 21, 2008. Hutchinson R. The litany of Sir Robert Hutchinson. Br Med]. 1953; i:671. Explorations EXPLORE July/August 2008, Vol. 4, No.4 227 ...
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