Common steps and sub-activities
I once looked down, from a hotel window, on the street below in London. Opposite me there was a line of old houses in a lovely mellow gold coloured brick and each house had a small garden, unusual for London, with an elegant metal railing separating it from the pavement. In one garden opposite was the most beautiful tree. It was spring and it was in flower, very pale pink blossoms with a hint of white. I have no idea what kind of tree it was because this did not matter to me, I did not need to know its name to enjoy its beauty.
I looked at the pedestrians hurrying to work, their heads were down or fixed ahead, no one noticed the tree or the houses or the beauty surrounding them. And I am afraid this is normal.
I have provided a few observations that show that we have almost lost the power to perceive. We do not sit and look at a place of beauty for long enough to take it in, we are not quiet long enough to hear. We eat fast food and thus do not savour taste and smells. I remember one American tourist who complained about their guide in Botswana, indicating to the camp manager that my husband and I seemed to be seeing so much more than him. The manager [brave soul] said, 'well this is because they stop talking and look harder than you'.
Children are much better observers than adults. Their perception system is still not sullied by preconceptions and beliefs and their curiosity is more honed and active. To relearn the art of better perception we have to
stop what we are doing – so be less busy and preoccupied
stop talking – and listen more in silence
You have to retrain yourself to look, listen, smell, taste and touch things again so that you really perceive what is happening, so that you don't get half or quarter or a tenth of the input available, but all of it. Some suggestions.
- Teach yourself to taste again - Slow food - When I was small my father taught us to chew each mouthful 20 times. I thought this a little barmy at the time, but I now realise what he was attempting to teach us. Savour the food, really taste it and its texture and smell and also help your digestive system at the same time by giving it mushy food. Sit round a table together as a family, prepare a really tasty meal and take the whole evening to eat it.
- Teach yourself to hear again – America was one of the most shocking places I ever visited when I worked, because everything from people to music to places was loud. I longed for the sound of silence and the chance to hear birds again or the simple sound of the wind in the trees or sand shifting across a desert landscape. The barrage of noise was exhausting and it has the effect of dulling your perceptive skills to almost nothing. Find places of peace and be still and silent
- Teach yourself to feel again – take everyday objects, close your eyes and feel them. One of the greatest joys in my life is to snuggle up to my little dog with bare skin and just feel the softness of his fur and the warmth of his lovable little body. If I snuggle close enough I can feel his heart beating too.
- Teach yourself to smell again - Many people fill their houses with air fresheners and deodorisers and other strong artificial scents. On a long term basis they overpower the senses and dull our ability to really smell subtle scents. Get rid of strong permanent scents and teach yourself the subtleties of the smell of natural objects – a fresh apple, a single rose, new mown grass, the leaves of autumn, pine woods on a wet day, a baby's skin, a wet dog just in from the garden.
- Teach yourself to see again - One way of doing this is to draw what you are seeing. It does not matter if you are a great artist or not, go out into the fresh air, take a pen and pencil and simply try to reproduce what you see and listen to what is going on whilst you do so. The ratio should be about 5 seconds looking to 1 second drawing it.
If you feel self-conscious doing this then take a camera. Take a number of photos being careful to frame the shot and take time over it. Different ratio – 25 seconds looking, 1 second taking the photo. Then when you get home either draw the scene from the photos or try a collage or an artistic photo editing of the scenes, maybe add music to create a slide show.
Head up, eyes open, senses ready and silence so that everything around you is available.
No labels, no names , no analysis - Whilst you perceive never never label. Don't try to name things or use your memory to 'make sense' of the scene. So in other words, don't say to yourself, 'I wonder what that is', 'I wonder what he's doing'. Wait. And just take it in.
We have to imagine here that all we are doing is acting like a movie camera, a video recorder, the only sounds are those coming from the observed things, all the input from you has been silenced. The process itself can provide a remarkable change in the way you feel just in itself and you can often obtain a much greater appreciation of your surroundings and the beauty around you by doing this.
Remember that with no labels you cannot classify any scene as ugly or anything as bad or unpleasant – everything has its value. It just is................
One last point here. This function contributes to you getting spiritual experiences and helps the learning process, but it can also be improved enormously by spiritual experience. So in effect if you combine this with, for example, relaxation, communing with nature etc the results will be even better.
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- Agassiz, Louis – Essay on Classification – Improving our observational skills
- Al-Ghazzali - The Alchemy of Happiness - 12 The parable of the blind men and the elephant
- Alain Danielou - While the Gods Play - 01 The Experimental Method (Vaisheshika)
- Alain Danielou - While the Gods Play - 02 The Experimental Method (Vaisheshika)
- Comenius - Didactica Magna - Improve people's observational powers
- Comenius - Didactica Magna - Teach the value of meticulous observation
- Hockney, David - Spring
- Krishnamurti - The Network of Thought - Now, is there another form of learning
- Lane Cooper - Louis Agassiz as a teacher - 00 The children took their own share in the instruction
- Lane Cooper - Louis Agassiz as a teacher – 01 His first lesson was one in looking
- Lane Cooper - Louis Agassiz as a teacher – 02 Trusting your pupils with all the material available for observation
- Lane Cooper - Louis Agassiz as a teacher – 03 Treating pupils as friends and equals
- Lane Cooper - Louis Agassiz as a teacher – 04 Promoting a broad education and set of interests in pupils at all levels – avoid specialisation, encourage generalisation
- Lane Cooper - Louis Agassiz as a teacher – 06 Learning how to observe properly
- Lane Cooper - Louis Agassiz as a teacher – 07 Avoid book learning, suit the subject to be observed to the interest of the student
- Lane Cooper - Louis Agassiz as a teacher – 08 Vary the objects being studied in order to improve perspective and objectivity
- Lane Cooper - Louis Agassiz as a teacher – 09 Make every mistake into an opportunity for learning
- Lane Cooper - Louis Agassiz as a teacher – 10 - 'Look, look, look'
- Mesopotamia - Its technology and culture 02 Divination
- North Whitehead, Alfred – The nature of discovery and learning
- Obiter Dicta - Louis Agassiz
- Professor William James - Louis Agassiz, Words Spoken at the Reception of the American Society of Naturalists [Dec 30, 1896]
- Ramacharaka on Louis Agassiz - On learning to observe
- Schelling, F W J - Clara or On Nature’s Connection to the Spirit World – The enormous value of observation
- St Vincent - Digital Witness
- Wallace, Alfred Russell - The use of observations as evidence
- Wei Mo Classic