Friday, 20 July 2012

Awareness in the city

A big reason why I haven't posted much over the past year is that I've moved house. And city. And, in fact, country. No reason not to let my martial arts practice slip, but I need to prioritise get involved in a club I like with a teacher I respect and I think this takes some time.

In the meantime I've been thinking a lot about perception in the city: physical awareness and personal space in an urban environment teeming with people. Can you feel another person's energy, or intentions on a packed tram (By energy I mean stance, intent, strength…)? City life requires a different level of awareness; I remember seeing something by anthropologist Desmond Morris (Human Zoo) who says that the amazing thing about human city life is not that occasionally people come into physical conflict with others, but that it is so rare! After all there are a lot of emotions, egos and agendas walking around being surpressed in isolated cocoons amongst crowds of commuters.

So I've noticed something rather cool walking around and commuting in the City and that is I can be amazingly perceptive. I can feel people approaching from behind, I can see who I need to avoid and I can hear aggressive noises even above the normal hub-bub. I find that in itself quite startling in itself as there is so much to distract me such as other people's conversations, the muzak, adverts, the trams, the traffic…The rub is this though: I need to pay attention. If I don't and am not 'aware' (or awake if you like) then this ability diminishes. It doesn't disappear but I may perceive someone behind me when they're much closer than I would if I were calm, centred and aware.

I'm not advocating walking around in a constant state of alert like an urban Bruce Lee or a Buddhist monk, but knowing this can help us turn on our sensitivity when it's needed such as when it's darker, when you're alone on a tram or when you're walking through a ropey part of town. Maybe it's natural and we tend to switch on anyway at these times, in which case: all the better. If you have to work at it, here's a good technique which I read about in Dead or Alive by Geoff Thompson. If you want to stay alert in any environment make a running commentary in your head about what you can see and perceive around you (hear, smell, feel), thus 'switching yourself on'. For example it might go something like this, "pavement on left is broken, man walking dog coming towards me (big build, small dog), noise of jet overhead, I can hear a car approaching from behind and I can see a bus at the stop in front of me. Another pedestrian comes into view down the street; a woman with a buggy…." And so on.

Evidently you can't do this all the time but if you're feeling like an awareness switch-on in the big City, this might well be a good place to start.


Wooden Dummy Central said...

This advice to switch on awareness is good. At a combatives class I once attended, the advice was to try and look out for a colour in the environment like 'red'. This could be on T-shirts, or cars for instance.

Wooden Dummy Central said...

This is good advice for switching into awareness mode. At a combatives class, I was told to look out for a certain colour, like red, in the environment and note it when I saw it. It could be cars, or people clothes that emerged on my journey.