Mindfulness: the Difference Between Seeing and Noticing

What does this viral photo shoot have to do with mindfulness and mental health?

I’m glad you asked.

The underlying structure of mindfulness meditation has been around for nearly 5,000 years. It has grown in popularity over the past few years because researchers have found connections between meditation and mental health.

One hypothesis about this connection has to do with the concept of “focus of awareness.”  The idea is that the more we grow in our ability to focus our awareness, the more resilient we are against things like depression and anxiety.

So, what is “focus of awareness”?
At any given moment, there are millions of things fighting for our attention. These things fight to gain the attention of our awareness primarily through our five senses (taste, sight, touch, smell, and sound). However, of these several millions bits of stimuli, we can only focus our conscious awareness on 5-7 of them. Not 5 to 7 million. Five to seven. Period.

In other words, we are never aware of the vast majority of things that come into our field of view. “Focus of awareness” is the ability grow in our awareness of what we are aware of — to begin to recognize the choices we make on how we deploy our awareness.

For an extreme example of this, search YouTube for texting while walking. These people are so focused on one thing that they’re completely unaware of other things, without even realizing it. Some of these examples are so bad, we call them the complete opposite of “mindful.” We call them “mindless” and they are not actively thinking about their focus of awareness at all.

What does all this have to do with a photo shoot at Lowe’s?
If “texting while walking” shows a lack of focus on awareness, Martin’s photo shoot shows what is possible when we’ve learned how to hone our focus of awareness. For most of us, if we walk through a home improvement store, we just see it for what it is. Rows of lighting fixtures. Aisles full of gardening supplies. We see the lamps, but we don’t notice their beauty. That’s the difference between mindfulness and mindlessness; the difference between focused awareness and a lack of awareness. The difference between seeing and noticing.

Anyone can mindlessly walk through a Lowe’s. However, it takes a great deal of disciplined focus – you have to really pay attention to your sense of sight and not be distracted by all the noise around you – to notice beautiful shots in the midst of what can seem like an ugly place.

Eric McClerren, LAPC

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