Method: Noticing Noticings

Who ya gonna believe, me or your own eyes?

—Groucho Marx, Duck Soup

There is something very curious about seeing: it's not limited to the external world. Just as you can peer out and notice a limb or the moon, you can peer in and notice a thought or emotion.

It is useful to contrast this kind of knowing with the more abstract, conceptual one offered by words. Look around you. Imagine writing an essay describing your surroundings in this moment. If you stepped into and experienced my imagination as I read your essay, how accurately do you think it would compare to that initial moment, the one you set out to describe?

Not very, I'd wager.

Seeing possesses a certain inarguable directness, one that words lack. It is this inarguable directness that enables us to transform ourselves, via the accumulation of insight experiences.

By insight experience, I mean any instance of seeing that our current model of self and world is unable to "explain away", anything it did not anticipate & cannot account for. No matter how stubbornly we cling to our current worldview, repeat this seeing and we are forced to change, to transform, to update & integrate this anomaly.

The inarguable directness demands it. After all, who are you going to believe, your concepts or your sight?

Marla... the little scratch on the roof of your mouth that would heal if only you could stop tonguing it, but you can't.

Fight Club

I sometimes see it mentioned that, to wring all the potential growth from an insight experience, it must be repeated. It's easy to pick up the sense that insight is something you need to do. You had an insight experience, it passed, and now you need to go get it again.

—and, absolutely, practicing that way can yield results.

But you can also take the opposite tact. You are already, right now, in flux. You are in the middle of an insight-integration movement. It is already happening, naturally, of its own accord. You don't need to do anything other than lean into it.

Imagine your current model of self & world, your current way of being, as a comfortable, well-worn t-shirt. Whenever you have an insight experience—inevitable, given all the seeing you do in a day—it's as if a thread of this t-shirt has come loose. When this happens, your subconscious mind seizes on these loose ends, habitually & obssessively pulling at them, unravelling the shirt. (Often, we are not even aware that anything has happened until the t-shirt is falling apart.)

This subconscious picking naturally inclines the mind toward investigating and repeating the insight experience. This is something we can learn to notice and lean into, accelerating it. At the grossest level, this subconscious movement manifests above the surface as feelings of curiosity or fascination. Hopefully this energy, with its natural pull, is something you are already taking advantage of.

The next level, and the real meat of what I want to share, is in noticing noticings.

Have you ever had the experience of walking around in public while lost in thought only to find that, when attention returns to your gaze, you are staring at a beautiful woman (or man)? You didn't intend it, this orienting happened all on its own, of its own accord.

How curious! Imagine if you then spent an hour or two walking about, observing this automatic orienting response. Perhaps you would consistently find your eye, to your surprise, drawn to red-haired individuals. "Huh, it seems I have a thing for gingers," you might infer.

With noticing noticings, you cultivate this awareness for noticing in general. You aim to answer the question, "What am I noticing more frequently than usual? What in my experience keeps standing out?" This is sort of similar to the exercise in The Mind Illuminated where you track how each breath compares to the others, except now you are trying to track what you are noticing.

Another example: Have you ever had the experience where, while skimming through a page of text, a single word will suddenly stand out from all the others? Hypothetically, you could scroll through a large corpus of text and develop some sense of what words attention grabs onto and highlights.

When noticing noticings, you are trying to do the same thing except, instead of individual words from a corpus, you are tracking noticings from your experience as a whole.

Doing this, you discover what the mind is currently emphasizing. These noticings, these moments of emphasis, are insight experiences! They are popping out because there is something to learn from them, some marrow to suck out. Once identified, you can lean in, drink deep, really sink into these moments, bringing more concentration and unification to them, accelerating the integration movement. Transformation, now with 33% more turbo.

And as an added bonus, this knowledge drags this previously unconscious process across the threshold into conscious awareness, where all the powers of the thinking, discriminating mind can be brought forth. You can google it, post in the questions thread about it, etc.

With a little practice, you can drop this scaffolding and efforting entirely. Whenever you notice a strong or novel noticing, you just lean into it, tapping into and surfing on the natural push and pull and flow of insight that's already here, now, churning away.


If you have questions, perspective, doubt, or a simple longing for general camraderie, you can communicate with me directly by emailing robert at 99theses dot com. Don't hesitate. Your correspondence is personally enriching.