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Noticing with the Heart

© 1987 by Bobbie Burdett

My husband and I began using the Japanese question, “Honto desu ka?” (pronounced “honto des ka”—the “u” is silent) after hearing it on a television program. It roughly translates to, “What does your heart say?” or “What is your truth?” We found ourselves using it as a shorthand way of helping each other inquire into our personal truth, our own experience, and it has caught on with the other staff members as well.

So why devote a separate article on the subject? Because everything we are trying to convey about Optimal Wellness Environments centers on the simple question that often isn’t simple. In fact it can look a great deal like a mythological labyrinth. But if there is a map through the labyrinth, it is noticing.


Noticing is an internal process, and one that certainly isn’t new. It’s known by many names and descriptions from many religious and psychotherapeutic traditions. Some call it mindfulness, meditation, observing, the witness, pure awareness, looking, etc. I like to call it noticing because it’s a straightforward description for what I experience. We all do it to some extent naturally, but the more we hone our abilities, the more we have a viable key to new ways of being.

When I notice, I do not judge, rationalize, figure out, or define. I am simply with what is, exactly as it is, without adding or subtracting anything. I’m not trying to define any ultimate truth, I’m being with the truth of the moment, my actual experience, nothing more.

For example, as I sit here at my computer, I notice the pressure of the chair on my legs and back, I feel the keyboard under my fingers and hear the clicking of the keys, I’m aware of the colors around me, and the smells of the room. I notice my thoughts and how I automatically translate the words into the motions of my fingers. My experience changes as I notice more closely—it becomes a flow that is connected with the flow of my surroundings. There are no judgments of good or bad, right or wrong. There is just an intention of noticing what is, exactly as it is.

I notice because it feels good, and wonderful things happen when I do. Physical or emotional pain, under the laser quality of noticing, becomes quintessential sensation without any mental interpretations. When I am simply with what is, and my awareness becomes more refined, my mind is peace­ful and spacious, my body relaxes profoundly, my intuition and insight often shift into high gear, and beneficial change occurs with much less effort because my mind/body/spirit process is allowed to be more fully operational. I’m following the sage advice of an unknown source: “Tell the truth, trust the process, and get the hell out of the way!”

Unfortunately, if I try to create the effects, I just get tight and frustrated. It’s a process of attention and passive volition—being aware effortlessly and it requires an ongoing discipline of choosing the direction of one’s attention. Many people use intentional or unintentional methods to access this discipline, such as meditation, walking, journal writing, or repetitive tasks such as crocheting. It doesn’t matter which form one chooses, it’s the inner process that counts.

Noticing with the Heart

In our relationship, we periodically take time to hone our attention of what is by asking ourselves, “Honto desu ka?” It is a time when we can focus on the breath to quiet the restlessness of our mind/bodies, and look inward to inquire of our own hearts, “What is my truth—NOW—just as it is?”

When I ask myself, “Honto desu ka?” I’m asking myself to make a shift in my awareness. I’m asking myself to notice what is—all of it—the pro and con, pleasure and pain, of the paradox that comes with every moment of living. I’m asking myself to allow the movements of my feelings along with, but without the tyranny of, my thoughts. I’m asking myself to become a bigger person, to hold it all as the truth of the moment. I grow and become a little more of what I can be, thereby allowing others to be more of what they can be. I create more spaciousness—more space and safety for myself and others to be as we are. I’m closer to being in “beginner’s mind,” with child-like curiosity and openness to learning, which allows more opportunity. It’s a leap, a shift that solves problems because I go beyond the level on which the problem exists (if even just a tiny bit) and creative solutions can become more apparent.

My noticing allows me insights that are often experienced as a felt shift, or a sense of completion. It is a release of energy within the mind/body that has been locked up in subtle protective tensions. This energy is what the Sufis call “baraka,” which means personal power or charge. The more we allow this process, the more we feel at one with the flow of life, and therefore masters of our own responses, if not our fates. It’s a workable feeling of internal control (“control with” rather than “control over”) that has distinctive physiological benefits. In experiments, researchers found that animals who had been given some control over their experience, physiologically coped much better with high levels of stress than those who did not have control.

Psychoneuroimmunology and Response-ability

In the rapidly growing field of psychoneuroimmunology (PNI), researchers are discovering many answers, and even more questions, about how the nervous system and immune system are affected by what they call psychosocial factors. But we needn’t be scientists to experience such influences firsthand. We can hone our noticing skills by becoming aware of exactly what happens when we have an experience perceived as a threat (e.g., when someone covertly puts us down and there is no way to respond to it directly, or when someone attacks cherished beliefs, etc.) Protections spring into motion, the heart races, the blood boils, breathing is shallow, and protective thoughts crowd out other awareness.

Then, as contrast, notice what happens when something perceived as caring support is experienced. There is a relaxation, breathing deepens, humor abounds, and the mind is open to learning.

In wellness rhetoric we hear a lot about responsibility, but it is often used as just more blame in the clothing of responsibility. Responsibility is the ability to respond, which requires skill. As noticing is refined and one is better able to become aware of and explore psychological protections and their corresponding physical patterns, and to choose appropriate responses rather than ancient, automatic reactions, then responsibility is a health-enhancing fact and not just another good idea or should.

Group Experience

Experiential seminars with small groups of people dedicated to creating Optimal Wellness Environments provides a safe space to practice noticing with the heart.

People experience new ways of being in groups where they can refine their ability to notice and, if they wish, share their truths. Such acts are courageous, and each time one member of the group is courageous it feeds the courage of the rest of the group. A group awareness emerges as we “en-courage” each other, in a safe space, to explore and notice our own hearts, our own truths. We become more individually able to respond, our presence with each other literally becomes presents to each other as we inquire, “Honto desu ka?” and we explore the heart of wellness, the ineffable space in which growth and healing occur—the stuff of an Optimal Wellness Environment.

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