Stop Looking, Start Seeing

30 May 2019 | beando_admin

beanddo founder Mick Timpson discusses the difference between looking and seeing – and how, with modern meditation, you can learn to live in the present.

There is a difference between looking and seeing. The difference can be felt, it’s a visceral thing. When you learn the skills of modern meditation you will know how and why.

I often tell my design students that looking is different from seeing — looking involves directing attention with expectation, it’s an exploration, while seeing is connecting attention to what is already there, ready to be discovered and experienced. Both are key design skills and both are key skills in meditation too.

In this article, I wrote about the difference between looking and seeing and related it to drawing towns and cities. If there’s one thing we architects are accomplished at, it is seeing differently. The skilful shift of observation is also true of course for anyone who practices modern meditation. They too, through practice, have learned to see differently.

Learning how to see

The point of learning to see is to know. This is not knowing in an analytical sense but in a wider, more profound, intuitive and creative sense. This is the essence of being present, to paying attention. We can call learning to see in this way being fully aware, and seeing the world this way changes everything.

You can make progress in meditation when you learn the techniques of knowing how to change your perspective. It’s a shift of vantage point and it can be learnt as an applied skill in your daily life.

How to see the ‘now’ in everything

Take a moment to do this short exercise:

Find a moment in your day when you are free to simply walk and watch.

Maybe you are by a window with a good view, walking to work or are in the garden, your local street or park. You can do it anywhere.

Pick an object to observe and draw your attention into the process of observing. Soften your gaze (not too much) and decide to hold your attention there.

Now observe. Repeat mentally to yourself ‘seeing’, seeing’, ‘seeing’, or if you like ‘watching’. This labelling technique can be dispensed with once you get a feel for the meditation skill of non-judgemental observation.

If you find your mind wandering away from the task, gently bring it back. Make it your intention to be fully attentive.

No analysis or interpretation is required. You are simply a conscious observer, a witness to what is happening.

Don’t try too hard but after a while you will experience fleeting moments of connection. Remember that is not a passive exercise. This is being fully alert and present.

Awareness will grow and expand if only for a moment or two.

You will feel it in the mind/body. When it happens, try and hold your attention there.

Clarity will grow. You are really seeing the wondrous ‘nowness’ of everything.

And if this experience feels familiar that’s because it is – it’s you!

Get outside of the snow globe you’ve been carrying around and see what’s really going on. See the world through your deeper conscious awareness  — you won’t regret it.

We discuss looking and seeing in more detail in our book, Making Happy Work: A beginner’s guide to modern meditation.

Other articles you might be interested in…

Drawing what you see, not what you think you see

Seven ways regular meditation can improve your mental health and wellbeing