Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Can we ever really 'see clearly'? (a question, not an answer)

(photo by MontyPython)

By way of the grape vine I heard someone asking "Does knowing we're going to write about it take away from really seeing what's there, in the moment?".

I think that's a really interesting question, but it points to a deeper question for me "Can we ever really see what's there?" 

Years ago I used to sit a lot of zazen. Zazen is the meditation of Zen Buddhism, where one just sits. When a thought comes up, you let it go. When another thought come up, you let that go too.  I imagined that if I let everything go I would reach a place of clarity. A place where I could simply be in the world and engage with the world without my own thoughts and prejudices getting in the way.

I think that we probably can wipe the grosser stains of our wind-shields, and see through the glass into the world more clearly. But I'm no longer convinced we can get rid of the glass 

In fact I literally have to look through glass, through a pair of glasses, to see the world clearly. I think this is where the edge is for me. Along with the habits of seeing that I talked about in my last post (Walk in Someone Else's Shoes) we each have a physical body and how we receive the world is mediated by our senses and then interpreted by our brains to give our conscious mind an experience that makes sense.

So we have a uniquely human  experience of each moment, by virtue of our human bodies. And I believe we have a uniquely personal experience of each moment by virtue of our individual histories. Is it possible to let go of those stories, those traumas and celebrations, entirely? 

Today I'm leaning towards answering 'No'. But what we can do is recognise all those parts of ourselves and treat them with more care, and appreciate them as the compost from which our poetry can be fed.

None of this answers the original question of course.  This post is already quite long, so perhaps that first question deserves its own post - either that or you can argue it out in the comments below....

"Does knowing we're going to write about it take away from really seeing what's there, in the moment?"


  1. For a while, I really got into photography. Knowing I was trying to "capture" a view or an angle or light or whatever, did take away my experience of being in the moment, until I lost consciousness of myself as filter and became observer with equipment. I would like to approach writing this way.

  2. I, too, like to 'capture' with photography and sometimes wonder if I miss the moment that way, but I have come to the conclusion that for me it is a way of re-capturing the moment whenever I want to. (Wordsworth's 'bliss of solitude'). In answer to the question I think it enhances rather than takes away from the experience, rather like analysing literature does for me, although for some that is not the case, I know.

  3. What a brilliant question! I was reading recently a book on awareness by Osho. There was a section in which he wrote that as soon as one tries to describe something, (he gives the example of a flower) one is no longer in the moment, but in the past delving for the appropriate word based upon what one has learnt. I subsequently spent the day trying, (and not succeeding!) to look at things without using language.

    So much for the theory... For me personally, when I decide upon what I'm going to write about, I find myself examining it in far more detail than I might otherwise have given. So, I guess, in answer to the question, for me it's a 'no'; the act of thinking about what to say adds to the moment.

    Sam x

  4. This morning I sat in meditation while words floated by like dry leaves on a stream. I was counting syllables a they passed. Sometimes, when I'm out on the land with my journal its as tho I'm taking notes while in bed with my lover. First be present. Then in time let there be words.


  5. Interesting post. My answer would be 'no' not necessarily.

    Yes, it is good to capture your first thoughts about a moment, before they are censored by your inner critic. But I think it is impossible to see things as they are without bringing any of our personal clutter to the experience. But I'm glad. I think that this is what being a unique human being is about. And the reason why reading these small stones is so interesting is because we get to see life through so many different sets of eyes. Yes, we can centre ourselves and try to stop the mind chatter but in the end each moment will still always be interpreted in a different way by each individual because a little subconscious pre-planning/filtering tends to happen anyway even if we don't realise it.

    Not sure if my ramblings make sense or were completely on topic. Lol. But that's what I think anyway. Kat :-)

  6. Great question!

    I can see it's point and yes, I think that possibly the motivation to write your daily small stone could sit between you and what you're looking at. It's good to be aware of this.

    But equally, this exercise,and blogging in general, and photography have all made me much, much more observant of detail and subtleties in the world around me. I think this has even been the main cause of a real revolution in my feelings about living in London - I was full of alarm and hatred and rejection of the big city a few years ago and now I see so much more of it that I can't any longer feel like that. So I think it's 'as broad as it is long', in fact most often broader.

    I recognise everything you describe here, Kaspa. Being quiet, being willing to give up assumptions, giving ourselves the time and space to see more and feel more - this is all great wisdom and so much needed in our societies. This is part of why a buddhist meditation practice has wrought the greatest inner change I've ever known - though a goalless and endless and ever changing change from which I have fewer and fewer expectations.

  7. we experience a second moment when we write

  8. I think it is a nice flow from Fiona's post yesterday- Some days you don't have the foggiest- others you are hyper aware. Eventually you find a way to reconnect with what you are writing about, or photographing--- because life has a way of bringing you where you need to be. Everyone here is so amazing- thanks for the post!

  9. Today I went on a walk, just me without my notebook or camera. This is rare for me, but I got the divine nudge to just do it. Just for now, not forever but just this once to walk with my only device for recollection, my only "catcher of images" would be my memory. I am so grateful I did it this way, for a change. I came home supremely awake and content and overflowing with images, not dependent on using the photos or the words I pulled out of the "in the moment" experience. I don't think it is an either or thing here... I think it is a both thing... and would hope and pray mindful folks would playfully experiment with writing, photography... any creative process.... in service to whatever is looking to be born through the moment. Not sure if that is making sense in the translation from my heart and breath onto the page.

  10. Quantum Mechanics says the act of observation affects the status of the observed; maybe it also affects the status of the observer.

    Experiencing the worldd without consciousness of one's self is possible. Unfortunately, I can't remember what it was like - I only remember not remembering. Might not be a bad way to live but probably wouldn't create much writing or art.

  11. (Okay, advance apologies for the length of this.)

    Interesting. I think there's a difference between deciding in advance that you want to write about something and being moved in a particular moment to write about something. When I settle on something to write about because it seems appealing in some way (pretty! ugly! complicated and metaphorical! so simple and pure! intellectually stimulating!), the writing is pretty much doomed to failure--and I'm doomed to some really aggressive *not* seeing. (Not that I don't keep hitting my head against that wall anyway, you understand. Sigh.)

    But the moment when I'm actually *in* the moment, and something wells up inside me and I know that I'm going to write about something because I'm honestly moved to do so--I think that's the moment I really begin to see. When my intentions are pure, a channel opens up for observation.

    I think my job as someone who wants to write is probably simply to write a lot, in the hopes that the action of writing in itself is one way of inviting that welling of feeling. When I'm attending to my regular writing practice, that welling certainly happens more frequently, even in moments when I'm not actively writing. Of course, the more I'm writing, the more I'm also inviting the welling into a moment when I'm *actively* writing.

    And as for Kaspa's larger question: I don't think we can get rid of the glass either. We're each given a lens, and that's a good thing--without different lenses, we'd all see things the same way, wouldn't we? With no need for writing or art of any kind. Certainly without the deep need we each have to pin down our own unique way of seeing the world.

    How we see is determined by our lens--and perhaps some lenses seem more clear than others. But maybe the problem is starting with the assumption that there's any meaningful definition of the word "clear."

  12. Thank you everyone - lots of food for thought, really appreciate everyone's engagement. I'm not going to reply to everyone individually today, but I have read everything carefully so thank you for writing.


  13. Each of us has a unique set of fingerprints and "eye prints' so to speak..not one of us has the same.It stands to reason that each of these sets of eyes records and receives in different ways. In Hospital yesterday I learnt that our nerves are also wired individually.A friend is having surgery on his spinal cord and sacral area and the surgeons told him that this was more complicated than other surgeries as in this area everyone is wired differently which makes it a challenge to predict outcomes.
    When I started seeking God with intentions to make a commitment to this, I asked to see God and to be shown.I was in a rather argumentative phase.
    I was shown..not at that moment but another when I had forgotten the asking.I was shown another dimension I guess, an aspect of this world in all its glory..very what is in front of us but clearer and better and shiny..It was only for a second or less..I was too busy in my head and I didn't actually appreciate it until later.
    Eckhart Tolle talks of a similar experience in his book the Power of Now.
    I think with writing and a commitment to practice there is a unique ability to combine intent and intuition and to receive moments and glimpses of this that carry us through. I find the same if I get into a painting long enough.
    Two things came to mind when reading the above responses..which were very refreshing.
    A quote from the Bible found in Paul
    'And immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he regained his sight'
    and a poem I love by Wordsworth.
    Ode: Intimations Of Immortality From Recollections Of Early Childhood

  14. Thanks Kat, it reminds me of lots of spiritual experiences I have heard about and even caught glimpses of myself. People talk about having the veil removed and a world full of light.

    I think we each receive this vision as we need to.

  15. A question i have been always wonderere about....

    It differs for everyone, every individula dont see the world the same, we all have diferent expressions...whether you wana capture the picture..or snapshots..
    every day when i wake up and i am on my way to work, alotof thoughts run through my mind as i watch people walk or drive, or if i look at the sky and breath fresh air into my a writer and a poet...the moment you know what you wana write about and try to recap on that....when i write or mind sends me a story the minute when i get to the laptop..and that same feeling i had when i got the current ideas running about, as the words would come as i thought about it...
    Your mind is always ahead of time with you when you wana write, its like in a split second a new thought would wash over you..
    going back to the actual question like you said it lays on a deeper level...can we seek God..we can i have seeked God and my thoughts come through on a spiritual level..

  16. I agree..that glimpse has become a cornerstone in my faith journey and has enabled me over the past few years in ways I couldn't have even begun to imagine at the time.Thanks for the reply..Good words:-)

  17. I liked reading these responses. For me, it's not so much about whether writing takes us away from "really seeing" (I agree with Kaspa that there is always a filter we look through and perhaps all we can do is practice including the filter in our observations). For me, it is more about how the experience of just being with the wind, for example, or the bird song, feels different to the activity of trying to put some words around it. It does feel different to me. I start thinking for a start. My senses are still switched on and the thoughts are interacting with them, but before I seek words, there is something about a pure sense experience, free from thought, that can be quite sublime. Words are always a rough approximation. I can find a word that is a better fit, but it's never quite IT. I don't have this experience when I am simply sensing. I agree with what someone said about the fact that this may well be a nice place to be, but there wouldn't be much art or writing! I also think that finding words is some of how we can share what is going on in our worlds and how we can connect with others. But also true is the beauty of wordless sharing with another, especially when you are both feeling the delicious wind or listening to the bird. Nice to share those moments where a knowing smile says it all.

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