How often do we notice what is going on within and around us? How much attention do we really give to our lives, our environment, the people who share our space whether long term for a while?
I don’t know about you but I am often trying to do two or more things at once. I am eating breakfast and listening to the news or writing a list. I am walking the dogs and composing a blog post or my Welsh homework in my head. I may be timing one cake in the oven and mixing the next one to go in and stirring a pot of soup on the hob. I am listening to a radio podcast and knitting and enjoying a glass of wine. It is only if a news item is especially interesting, or the dogs misbehave or the timer rings or the knitting pattern is fiendishly complicated that I give all my attention to one thing – for a while!
Of course we are all busy and eating a piece of toast, walking a familiar route, stirring soup or doing plain knitting are hardly exciting. They do not demand my concentration! But maybe this multi-tasking becomes a habit with unintended consequences. Maybe I should, just sometimes, discipline myself to pay attention to just one of the things I am doing and see what I learn
Maybe I should sometimes just eat breakfast and savour the flavours and textures, think about the where, what and when I eat. Even though I love watching cookery programmes by Nigel Slater because he really does seem to revel in the process of cooking and savours the completed dishes I rarely follow his example. I have no idea how many times I walked past these snowdrops and primroses (no I don’t know what the primroses are doing flowering this early in the year either!) before I realised they were there and delayed the joy of finding them.
This first principle of Permaculture encourages us to pause, observe and reflect from time to time in all kinds of situations and to see if there are things that could be improved. If I ate something different for breakfast, ate it in a different place, from different crockery, at a different time would I enjoy it more or feel more positive about the day ahead? Paying attention whilst making a cake may show me that I am wasting time, energy and patience fetching ingredients or equipment that could be stored more efficiently. I know that I always end up working in one corner where the light is good even though I originally thought I would use another worktop and put the flour jars on the shelf above it. I bought a kettle for the hob instead of using the electric one and had to move the tea and coffee jars. Looking at the hedgerows as I walk would show me where edible things like salad leaves or sloes will be found later.
At a yoga event a couple of years ago I heard the quote ‘Do not ask what the World needs, do what makes you come alive. What the World needs is people who are coming alive’ and was shocked to realise that I had no idea what made me feel alive! I did what I did because it was what I did. Some was for pretty obvious reasons like cleaning my teeth or changing my bed. But why is toothpaste almost always mint flavoured? Why did I change my bed on that day of the week at that time? Did either make me feel as alive as possible? And what of gardening, baking, reading, sewing? Did they make me come alive or were they just habit?
I am a fairly confident person and am told I can be both powerful and bossy even though I don’t always feel it. I have to try to remember to check that I am not saying too much and dominating a group. If I notice that someone is being quiet or lacks the confidence to say their piece then I can try to think of a way to enable them to speak out.
In the wider community I can, if I choose, look out for people who are disadvantaged. Not just in terms of income – I can do very little about the job market or benefit system – but in more subtle ways. Are there those who struggle to access good fresh food and might welcome surplus from my garden or a home made cake? I can notice when someone moves in to a new home here and try to make them welcome and offer to answer questions about the area. Whilst I have been unable to drive I have been very grateful to those who have offered to take me to things or have visited and have offered to bring shopping or something for lunch with them and I will try to be alert to opportunities to pass that kindness on.
Designing a better future for ourselves, other people and the planet means knowing where we are starting from so it begins with Observe.