Rob Walker, in The Art of Noticing newsletter issue No. 70 (“Play Attention”), recorded this anecdote from podcaster Stephen Dubner:
[Dubner] described how his father used to play a game with him called Powers of Observation. One day when Dubner was 7 or 8 years old, they went to a diner, where they took a seat and his father said:
“All right, Stevie, I want you to just sit and look around you and really take everything in. Just pay attention. Really see what you’re looking at, and listen. … I’m gonna give you five minutes. Just take it all in.”
After five minutes, he told Dubner to close his eyes, and started asking questions: “What did the lady sitting right behind us order?” And so on.
“He’d grill me on these facts, large and small,” Dubner says. “And when we first started this game, I was terrible. I had zero powers of observation! But within a few times of playing it, I figured it out. And I got persuaded that, whether it’s the mind, or the brain, or the memory, or my observational senses — they really are like a muscle. I’ve been trying, ever since that day, to flex that muscle. So maybe I’ve been practicing my own form of mindfulness all this time.”
When I was a seminarian, I took a class with Professor Howard Hendricks called “Bible Study Methods.”
After laying groundwork and establishing how we’d approach the Bible, we were assigned one verse: Acts 1:8.
…but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and Samaria, and as far as the remotest part of the earth.”Acts 1:8, NASB
What were we supposed to do with these thirty eight words? Record twenty five observations.
When we turned in our twenty five observations?
We were told, “Thank you very much. For your next assignment, I would like twenty five more observations.”
Before asking what something means, or how something works, or what to do next, ask, “What is it? What does it say? What is going on?”
Make some observations. Then work with the facts.