Learning to Observe

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If there is one skill that will take you further than any other, I would say it’s the ability to Observe. “Observe” means to take in with the senses. So I’m talking about what you see, hear, taste, touch, smell, and intuit. Intuit is a tricky one because it can be not easy to determine if you really have a sixth sense about something, a wish, or a fear, so I wouldn’t rely as heavily on that one. The other senses will never steer your wrong because they are more objective.

Most of us live on auto-pilot all the time. This is okay most of the time because we don’t really have to give everything our sole attention. For example, do you remember when you were learning how to drive? Remember how you really paid attention to how much pressure you put on the gas pedal? Do you recall how you paid close attention to where you were in the lane and how close the other cars were? You don’t do that now, do you? You don’t have to because you’re far more confident now. Your skills are better.

That’s what I mean. We start to take some things for granted and don’t tune in as much.

When we practice Observing, we make a conscious choice to not tune out. We focus our attention so that we can really be present. Without that, our whole lives can pass by without us really living them. And we can’t live in relationship with people and things if we aren’t here.

Since this is a critical skill to learn, there are lots of practice assignments that you can do to build this skill. My suggestion is that you do a little Observing every day. The more you do it, the more self-aware and Other-aware that you will become. This can help you to deepen your experience of living, have more meaningful relationships, see Spirit in things that you didn’t see before, or even become more of a poet, songwriter, or artist.

What you Observe will inspire you! Give it a chance. I promise it’s life changing.

When you don’t know what else to do, Observe. You are always getting feedback if you just pay attention. Life is a mirror for us to see ourselves. All we have to do is look. Nature is always sending us signs. We have to be good Observers to see them. We’re never alone, and we have all that we need to succeed. We just need the senses to perceive that.

Skill Building Practice

Below are some ways to practice Observe using various senses. I suggest practicing with one sense before engaging in multi-sensory tasks.

  • Pick up an object near you. Set a timer for three minutes and observe what you see. Turn it over. Look at it in different light. Look at the colors, texture, and any fine details. Notice if your perception of it changes as you slow down and give yourself more time to get acquainted with it.
  • Pick up a lemon, flower, piece of chocolate, or a cup of coffee. Bring it close to your nose. Close your eyes, and let yourself smell it for three minutes. Notice if what you first notice about it changes. Does the smell become stronger or weaker? Are there any subtle undertones? How was this experience different from the fleeting whiffs you’d normally have of this object?
  • Pop a piece of ice, hard candy, or a raisin in your mouth. If your chose ice or hard candy, observe it until it’s completely gone. If you chose a raisin, don’t chew it until you’ve observed for at least two minutes, then slowly observe it as you chew it. Notice the texture, smell, flavor, and any other sensations that you perceive.
  • Get a feather. Lightly brush your skin with the feather. Observe the sensation for several minutes.
  • Listen to a piece of classical music for three minutes with your eyes closed. Don’t do anything else except listen. Notice the variations in pitch, loudness, and intensity from the different instruments. Notice when one instrument comes in and another leaves.
  • Mindfully wash the dishes. Feel the temperature of the water, the slip of the sudsy water, the dishes in your hands. Look at how the food rubs away from the plates. Notice the rinse water as it goes down the drain. Release any judgments or thoughts. Just notice all the sensation as they happen.
  • Mindfully have a meal with someone else. Pay attention to the sounds of conversation, the clinking of the silverware or glasses, the background sounds. Just notice what there is to notice. Tune in to your body. Observe your comfort level, your breathing, the volume of your voice. Tune in to your companion. Notice what there is to notice about that person. Again, don’t make any judgments about anything. Just observe what is.
  • Go out into Nature. How does the light appear? How’s the temperature? Are there any sounds? What does the air feel like? What is the energy like? Can you see any colors? Shadows? Just be with the outdoors.

Once you’ve done these examples, make up your own practice exercises to continue building your skills.