Learning to see is something we all need to constantly practice. Seeing is actually a learned process. Yes, we can image scenes on our retina, but that is not what I mean. With practice we can learn to see more of what is around us, to be more aware and mindful.
We learn to not see
Children seem filled with a sense of wonder at everything around them. It all seems exciting and amazing. But somewhere along the path to becoming an adult, this excitement is squeezed out of us.
In school our peers pressure us to look down on everything with disdain. Being excited about things is “not cool”. In our work life we have to learn to develop a single-minded focus on the tasks of the job. Non-essentials get pushed away. We may get married and have a family. This is great, but it focuses us even more on the day-to-day activities we have to do to earn a living and keep the household going.
Eventually we no longer really see anything except the immediate problem that seems important. To some extent, we have to do this. It is a survival technique. But it takes away so much potential joy and beauty from our life.
It takes an effort to start to see
Are you at a point in your life now where you realize there is more going on around you that you are not perceiving? You look at other people’s art and become aware that it is not just about great iconic locations. They seem able to find beauty and interest in all kinds of places. They are attuned to their surroundings and open to more.
Practice seeing. No, really. That sounds silly, but maybe it is time to re-learn how to see. That vision that came so easily and naturally when we were a child can be regained to a great extent.
You know that it takes practice to develop any skill. Why does it seem strange to practice seeing? Isn’t seeing a critical first step in making art?
Does it seem unlikely that seeing is something that can be learned? We just do it. I believe it is a skill that can be improved. The fact that we used to do it easily but forget how over time means we have the inherent ability to see better. Sharpening that skill can make a huge improvement in our art.
Overcome lazy habits
As I mentioned before, we tend to narrow our circle of interest as we “grow up”. Part of this is a coping skill, but some of it is just laziness. We’ve seen it all. We’re bored with it. It is all the same, so why pay attention?
You would be surprised at the interest all around if you were just looking. Seeing more is rewarding in itself. It brings more interest to our life.
Like developing most new habits, a key first step is awareness. When you are out walking or driving or riding your bike, make a habit of reminding yourself to look around. Changing any habit takes time and you will need to remind yourself over and over to do it.
Pay more attention to where you are and what is going on. Even if you do not improve your art, improving your situational awareness will keep you safer.
Try to become more curious about what is around. Where does that road go? Those tree branches make an interesting shape. I’ve never noticed that this little stream is quite lovely at certain times. Look at the great reflections in that glass.
Curiosity is the magnet that helps pull us to look more. It is also a trait that can be developed. If you re-awaken your curiosity you will find it almost impossible to keep from seeing more interesting things around you.
I almost hesitate to say we need to become more mindful. The concept is great and true and is a good description of what we need to be able to see more. The problem is that too many people go overboard with it. It gets all wrapped up in transcendental meditation and eastern religious practices. You do not have to be a yogi to be mindful.
As the link above states, “Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing”. That is harder than it sounds. Consequently, many say “we don’t want to spend time to learn what this means. Give us a quick hack that will let us do it in 10 minutes”. So it becomes a program someone is selling. Or a mystical incantation. Or something you wedge into a daily meditation regime.
Instead of all that, just pick out a certain time and place and practice for a little while clearing your head of the normal clutter that vies for our attention. When you go out for a walk, whether or not you bring your camera, forget about the project that is due tomorrow or tonight’s game, or what you will fix for dinner – and especially Facebook or your personal social media addiction. Instead, try to be fully aware of just the moment. Where you are, what you feel, what sensations you are experiencing. Look around with curiosity. Try to see things you have never seen before.
It may be hard or even frustrating at first. Push on. It gets easier.
The more you see
When you really get in to it, you will find this exercise relaxing. Getting out of the normal grind for a few minutes is refreshing. It is a vacation for your head. And you start to see more things. Interesting things you never noticed before. Even right there in your neighborhood. You will probably find the experience to be invigorating and something you want more of.
As a matter of fact, it is a feedback process. The more you begin to see, the more you see, the more you like to see, the more you want to see. Each outing, it becomes easier to see new things. You find it easier to focus you attention on the external things in your environment. Things that you used to pass by with no recognition start to become very interesting in themselves. It is a mental game that sparks new interest and awareness. You come back from an outing refreshed instead of tired.
Start slow. You will “fail” a lot at first. That’s OK. As long as you keep trying, you will get there. Just commit to doing it.
Don’t think you have to go out for 3 hours with a totally clear head, completely open to new sights and sounds. Maybe someday, but don’t frustrate yourself with setting a goal like that initially. Start with 10 minutes. Just walk around and note a couple of things you haven’t seen or haven’t paid much attention to. Then celebrate by rewarding your self with a coffee – or your preferred beverage or treat.
It is a cause for celebrating. It is a step toward re-awakening your awareness of the world around you. Dare I say, you are becoming “mindful”?
The image with this article is an example of what I suggest for your exercise. I was stuck in the Orlando airport. Everything was shutdown temporarily by a thunderstorm. I got bored reading and walked around to stretch a little.
Then I noticed the trains coming in from the terminal. This one was mostly empty because no flights were going. It was beautiful. I shot several images and this one captured the spirit of the occasion.It brings me joy. I am glad I noticed it.