The Art of Observing

On really seeing things

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A few months ago I sat down on a Saturday afternoon with a rare couple of hours to myself – no baby, no client, no housework. For the first time in about five years, I pulled out my watercolors and dusted off my brushes. I didn’t know what I was going to paint at first, but there on my desk sat a little leaf that I had picked up on a walk one day.  My subject had presented itself. But before I could begin putting paint to paper, I had to do something else:

I had to look.

As I did, I quickly became lost in this little leaf. Its curves, its color, how the light and shadow bounced off its surface. I was entranced by the details and depth of this object no larger than my pinkie finger. Time stopped for me. Brain chatter dissipated. I felt calm. The only thing that existed at that moment was this little leaf. And within it, an entire, previously unnoticed world. I wasn’t just looking at it, I was seeing it for the first time. Appreciating its quiet beauty, considering its loneliness, its impermanence…and wanting, in my own way, to capture its existence before it crumbled into dust.

I realize now that this practice of studying something – making time to look deep into what’s in front of us – is rare these days. I’m just as guilty as anyone. I sit in front of my computer all day, skimming headlines, tweets and photo filters, never really focusing my attention onto anything long enough to truly consider its essence or significance.

I interact with little regard or commitment to any one thing. I do things simply to get them done. And then I lay my head on my pillow at night, feeling confused and helpless that another day has slipped by without notice.

Without punctuation.

Can you relate?

What I realized since looking at that little leaf is that observation punctuates.

It removes us from the (often delusional) world we create in our own heads. It turns previously mundane moments into profound ones. It reminds us that we are not, in fact, the center. And it requires nothing of us other than stillness and the willingness to really look.

Maybe it’s the construction of a tiny leaf, maybe it’s the way your daughter’s face scrunches up and relaxes as she’s learning something new, maybe it’s a patch of grass in your backyard that holds an entire ecosystem, maybe it’s watching the flux and flow of human activity in a busy city park, maybe it’s sitting and listening to the birds outside your door. Or maybe it’s turning your attention to your own breath, your own heartbeat.

Whatever it is, I encourage you to find something that punctuates your day today. Choose something to look into so deeply that you’re moved to tears simply by its existence.

I promise, you won’t be disappointed.

(And if you feel so compelled, please share your own experience observing in the comments.)

{ 3 comments }

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Mary April 28, 2015 at 6:17 pm

Beautiful, Emily.

I have experienced that observation punctuates the necessity of the ordinary. As it turns out, the people and things we most take for granted or overlook are often essential.

Emily April 29, 2015 at 7:10 am

Thank you for this Mary! I absolutely agree. It’s the things in our lives that have become ordinary and comfortable to us, that we tend to stop observing. We begin to take them for granted, and our life slips by because we forget the depth and meaning right in front of us. I have to remind myself sometimes how truly rich I am, with everything that is already in my life. Thank you for sharing!

Carly April 29, 2015 at 2:17 pm

Inspired by this blog, i went outside to feel the warm breeze on my skin and listen to the birds. I instantly felt connected to the world around me, and the cosmic energy that connects us all. thanks em!

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