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Getting a handle on noticing the small experiences

Recently we have been doing some work on our kitchen.  Not the full replacement, more a light makeover.  As part of this there was the issue of handles; meaning handles for cupboards and drawers.  Paying attention to the business of finding and buying these handles required quite a lot of effort!  From time to time we would browse a website, then have a mild disagreement about what we wanted before putting of the decision to another day!  Eventually we found one we both liked, which a company could actually supply in the numbers we required, and where the bulk order was of the same quality as the sample.  So it was that one day we had around 16 handles arrive, each destined for their unique locations, and to thereafter to perform their mundane and normally uncelebrated function of granting easy access to our kitchenalia for the rest of their lives!

This happened around the time I made a commitment to ‘being open to the big wins that might come from small experiences’.  In effect, I wanted to see what happened when I chose to spend time noticing something that I might ordinarily just let slip by…..and now here was an interesting opportunity with the arrival of our handles!

‘What learning might there be for you in paying more attention to your myriad smaller experiences?’

Despite what I said earlier, we had paid a good deal of attention to locating and agreeing on our handles.  The normal sequence of events once they had been delivered would have been to undertake the mind-numbing job of fixing each one to their unique locations!  You will have noticed the assumption straight away, that it would be mind-numbing, a necessary evil, something to get in the way of much more exciting and more noteworthy experiences.  There was no avoiding the fact that I was going to need to attach the handles, but alongside this I committed to pay them more attention, and be interested in the possibilities that might arise.

One thing that occurred straight away was that this was going to be a unique experience in my life.  These handles, this kitchen, this time and place would never happen again.  Never again would I have sixteen handles as my play thing as shortly they would each lose their freedom by being permanently attached to a cupboard or draw!  Yeah, let’s notice them and see what happens!

‘What might be different if you noticed everything that you do as a once in a lifetime experience?’

The handles are made of oak with a simple long and typical handle like profile.  The twist is ….. that there is a single elongated twist in the long dimension of the handle which is quite easy to lose sight of.  It’s like an extended single turn of corkscrew, or single turn of the DNA helix captured in wood.  While rubbing teak oil into the wood there was a curious contrast between feeling the smooth flow along the grain of the wood set against a sense of tension or strain implied by its twisting shape.  There was a sense of the twist holding a potential energy that at any moment might spontaneously untwist itself to release the tension.  A flight of fancy I grant you yet one that my imagination created given I was paying good attention.

‘On the way to something different’ by Jeremy Hinks


The fact that I was going to screw each end of this twist onto a cupboard or door felt like I would be locking this tension in place.  Imagining that felt slightly uncomfortable as release of tension in any situation is a necessary part of any change process.  Locking something in place is the antithesis of change.  Such are the intriguing and unsettling thoughts arising from choosing to view a simple door handle from different perspectives!

‘What new possibilities might open up by thinking of separate challenges you are facing as a collection of common elements?’

Of course, the handle had not been fabricated by twisting it.  Instead, it had been machined from a much larger piece of wood.  Another unsettling thought arose from focussing on the space around the handle where wood had been.  Was the waste involved in producing such elegance justified? What had happened to the rest of that mighty oak tree?  Another slightly unsettling thought!

‘What new learning might there be by thinking about your challenges from different perspectives.  If you are currently looking along their length, what about looking across their width?  What about flipping them over and looking from the other side?’

Next came the exploration of this unique moment in having these handles together.  I spent a moment or two dropping them randomly on the table to take up their own space.  Standing back in the role of the beholder of this creation I was interested to see what was evoked in me.  I realised I had created something and was now infusing it with meaning.  I found that I really liked the chaotic look of the wood.  It felt comforting and I found myself thinking ‘if Damian Hurst had made this what would he call it?’ followed by ‘sod Damian Hurst, I created it!  What am I going to call it?’.  I felt it had the feeling of being ‘on the way to something different’.  As good a title as any other!  The more ordered arrangements of the handles had their own beauty but I did not like them anywhere as much as the more chaotic look.  What did interest me in the more ordered forms was the light and shadow in the liminal spaces between the wooden handles.  The ordered arrangement of handles created order in the space around them too.  Beautiful, but restraining; it felt more like a destination than a journey. 

Destination by Jeremy Hinks


‘What benefit might there be in reflecting on what is going on in the space around the challenge you are facing?’

Going back to the individual handles again, once fixed in place is the fact that you both can and can’t see the twist.  It is a fascinating sensory illusion.  You can start thinking that the handles have not been put on straight or they are not aligned one above the other.  Thus, there is a surprise to be had when opening one of our drawers, in that while the eye cannot see the twist clearly, touch can most certainly detect it.  It’s almost like the twist gently but determinedly guides your hand in the helix’s direction of travel.

That’s enough for now, aside from reflecting on the benefits of this apparent energy sapping noticing.  First I would say that I was not aware of taking any more time on the work than I would ordinarily have (aside from composing the photographs!).  I simply noticed responses more carefully and allowed my mind to explore the sensory experience more.  I was more focussed on the job, more engaged.  I smile quite a lot at my flights of fancy, yet chose to honour them rather than push them away as absurdities.  I think I have created memories relating to the handles that might come back during the years of use they will have.  In effect, there were many benefits to my mental health that in relation to a single experience might be rather small scale.  The accumulated benefits of noticing better over longer periods of time is a different matter altogether.

If you need a thinking partner to help you notice what is mattering for you, or you want companionship in processing what you are noticing please do get in touch.


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