The art of noticing self and the frustration of forgetting


The art of noticing self and the frustration of forgetting

by Andy Howie

Through writing this blog post, I would like to reflect on the recent experience of a retreat and I’d like to invite you to join me in the process – so relax, enjoy the journey and please bear with me; my thoughts may not always be coherent!

Rob and I facilitated a retreat for staff from two different organisations to help them spend time considering their leadership. Some were responsible for people and others for projects. The retreat was to give them the opportunity to step aside from their normal roles and reflect on not just how they are, but who they are.

On the second morning we talked about relationship with self. A couple of the younger ones had never thought about their relationships with themselves before, and one person in their late 20s said that she had just started to think about it.

I’m curious about this. Does an awareness of the relationship we have with our own selves only come with increasing age?

It was a short mindfulness exercise that had led to this conversation. We had encouraged people to sit in silence and just notice themselves – their bodies, their breathing – and it led to some saying that they can easily lose their sense of self.

Rob said that some people have the ability to look at themselves from afar and notice how they are responding to life, like having a sort of out of body experience. It feels good to notice my feet on the floor, my bottom on the chair. It is this noticing that brings you back into being in touch with self. Noticing sensations: what my eyes see, what my ears hear and what my body touches. Noticing feelings, emotions, thoughts. There is a myriad of stuff going on in one single self and often we don’t notice.

Noticing sometimes can quickly turn into evaluating and judgement, and that can take you away from yourself, from experiencing and understanding yourself. And now, as I’m thinking these thoughts, I’m trying to remember what happened during the first afternoon of the retreat and I just can’t recall it, and I’m getting frustrated with myself. I’m already into judgement. I’m trying to think about other things to write but I can’t because I’m consumed by trying to remember what we did and I’m feeling exasperated.  Why can’t I remember? Perhaps I’ll never remember; that’s just the way it is.

And now it pops into my mind. We did an exercise in which we asked people to imagine three significant people talking about them and their leadership, and we asked them what they would like to be hearing about themselves. It is such a relief to have remembered, and I feel lighter now. If I’d continued any further down the frustration path I might not have got to remembering as quickly.

What is the outcome of noticing our relationship with self? Recognition, naming, acceptance? But how do they help us? Self awareness leads you to be fuller in the moment, but what does that result in? The retreat seemed to foster a peaceful environment. People felt and recognised a range of emotions and could experience turbulence within an environment of peace. They were able to acknowledge: this is really how I feel, this is really how I think. Noticing our relationship with self can lead to peace, and peace is helpful in today’s world and workplaces.