Writing and the Art of Observation
- 2012 July-August
Writers are nothing if not observers of life. Crafting the words is important, but without our observer self we are only typists. As observers we quiet our minds and let our senses take in what’s there, without projecting meaning. For the first time we may notice patterns of light instead of the shadows of the apple tree’s branches. Or we hear the rhythm of the old dog’s claws clicking slowly across the floor instead of that sound being a signal to feed him. We notice how we are lifted by the scent of our friend’s perfume as she enters the room. When recorded in a poem or story, these observations transport our readers out of their everyday world into a world unlike their own, where they become open to new possibilities.
The observer self slows the constant motion of the mind. Instead of simply observing, our busy mind identifies, labels, or moves us to action, obliterating what our senses might otherwise take in. The busy mind fails to hear the quality of the sound made by the dog’s claws on the floor. In conversations with a friend the busy mind looks for ways to insert its own ideas, to say its piece, never hearing the quality of that person’s voice, the cadence or tiny traces of inflection.
We tend to see the world only through a lens familiar to us, or one which looks for danger. But as the observer self comes alive, we see through a different lens: our brains create new connections, and we draw closer to our own souls and learn to connect with the souls of others. The shortest path to the present, to now, is beyond the busy mind through the more open senses of the observer self.
1. Be Silent. Are you intimidated by silence? Instead of looking for ways to fill the void with music, talking, or your own thoughts, become silence. Minimize your personal impact on the moment.
2. Be Curious. Do you feel a need to explain, interpret, tell, or exclaim? Let all your thoughts begin and end with question marks. Einstein said: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle, the other is as though everything is a miracle.”
3. Be Accepting. Do you judge, sort and exclude? Be discerning―don’t stand in harm’s way―but for now suspend judgments. See neither good nor bad, wise or naïve, beautiful or ugly, skilled or bumbling, innocent or knowledgeable. Let it be as it is.
4. Be Open. Are you attached to knowing? Learn to be comfortable with not knowing. Warm yourself in shadows instead of sunlight. Be awed by the beauty of the thorn rather than the rose. Bask in the mystery of your friends’ being rather than in whom you believe they are.