In Dublin last week Kay Scorah and I ran our first Day of Noticing Workshop. Kay and I are good friends but we’ve not actually run anything together before and it was great to do so and to share some games and activities.
One of the highlights for me was a painting activity that Kay introduced me to. Stick some bright poster paints in front of a group of adults and something interesting is likely to happen. We followed a simple structure: in round one, all you do is grab a brush and use it to wet the sheet of paper in front of you. Then pass the sheet to the right, so you now have someone else’s wet paper in front of you. Now, you’re asked to choose just one colour and paint the entire sheet that colour.
Sounds simple enough, but looking around, you realise that already there’s huge variety in each painting, as even these simple instructions have generated very different results. And already, you start to feel like this stuff is now art.
The next step is to move one place along so you’re now sitting in front of someone else’s brightly coloured sheet of wet paper. Then you make one simple brush stroke in a contrasting colour. And then you move more place, where you’re invited to reflect on what’s in front of you for two minutes, seeing what is there. Then you get to pick up your brush and do whatever you feel is needed to complete the painting.
The results of this activity were – to me – stunning. I’d love to have had them framed and on the walls of my home. (I didn’t because of a final step in the process I’m choosing not to share here).
It was later in the day that I realised the painting I finished captured something about the whole day. I was faced with a big yellow sheet with a narrow, rectangular blue band in the middle. As I stared at it, what I saw was a big yellow curtain in which a small slot had been cut. I had a sense of there being a whole lot more blue behind the curtain waiting to be seen… so I painted in a few lines to suggest that the curtain was being torn as what was behind started to come through.
As we spent the day on activities that invited us to pay more attention to what was before us, I was constantly reminded of just how much there is going on before us that we easily miss; that we’re constantly editing out vast amounts of detail. We see yellow, if you will, and miss the mass of blue bursting to get out. There is never nothing happening.
In another activity I put on a blindfold and was guided by a partner who led me by my index finger, bringing that finger into contact with a variety of surfaces in the room. When you get to experience the world through a fingertip, you suddenly realise that just that tiny surface area can expose you to extraordinary detail.
By then end of the day, I found myself absolutely exhausted, in a good way. Looking back, I think I was a bit overwhelmed by what happens when you slow down enough to really notice…