Live your best life …
Observation is the skill of noticing. It can also be defined as “regarding with attention, so as to see or learn something.” Therefore, an observer is one who pays attention to what is going on without taking part in the activity. It is my contention that observation is an important skill to aquire and master.
It’s amazing what details are missed when we ‘look’ without observing. There is a saying that things can be ‘hidden in plain sight.’ Have you ever looked directly at a person you know and not recognised them momentarily because you were not expecting to see them or your mind was preoccupied with other matters?
Painters and artists have developed the skill of observation. They speak about positive and negative space. This skill requires the painter seeing everything that is present not just the focus point of the piece being created. It is amazing what shapes and colours seem to appear out of nowhere when we observe ALL of what is present.
Eye witnesses have been known to disagree on the details of an event. This seems most peculiar till we realise that whilst we are looking at a scene, we are interpreting what we see, usually without being consciously aware of doing so.
We have all experienced embarrassing or humiliating situations. In such cases, our ego receives the order of a ‘call to arms’ and begins to protect us from the unpleasant experience. It is unpleasant to be reminded that we are ‘less than’, ‘not good enough’ or ridiculous, even if it is someone else’s opinion. We become defensive and retreat into our ‘story’. All this happens in a split second and then a soap opera script begins to emerge.
As I was growing up, there was a lot of discussion about the rightness or wrongness of certain observable behaviours. There was plenty of opportunity to learn about making judgements according to this moral high ground which had the effect of constructing life as we thought it aught to be. From this position it was impossible to ‘ learn something’ new or develop a different perspective.
My first significant experience of ‘seeing’ from a neutral place was many years ago when I needed to change my mind about a man who was my superior. My boss was a stickler for the rules. He felt safe around rules which often got in the way of inter personal relations with his staff. I made a conscious choice to see him differently. From this non judgemental place, I could see a man whose only option was to apply the letter of the law rather than the spirit of the law. I saw how limiting this was for him and how little freedom he gave himself to do anything different. Seeing him in this light, I felt compassion for a fellow human being struggling to do his best. He did not become my best friend but my antagonism towards him was gone.
Viewing situations in this way is a learning process which does not seem to happen naturally, so practice is essential to develop this skill.
It is difficult to view situations from a neutral place while someone is pushing your buttons and a drama is taking place; while you are being defensive and protecting ‘wounded places’. Defensiveness tends to obscure reality. An exercise that helps to develop the powers of observation is the Step Back exercise. It is best done standing in a space where you have room to move. When my adult daughter was moving to another city, I asked a woman for whom I had a high regard if she could keep an eye on her. Her negative reply both embarrassed and confused me. I felt like I had just been to the principal’s office and been reprimanded for inappropriate behaviour. I decided to do the Step Back exercise.
Firstly, I imagined the scene and stated what I saw. ” I had asked X to look out for my daughter.” I took a small step backwards. I was slightly removed from the situation.
Next, I restated what I could see. ” I was just asking X for her help. That’s all, but now I am really embarrassed because I misread the situation. I feel like a fool. She must think I’m stupid.” I took another step back. A little more distance was created between the problem and me.
I observed again and I could see that although I was really interested in blaming X for being mean and unhelpful, I could see an habitual pattern emerging. I wasn’t just asking for help, I was actually in rescue mode and not aware of it! The request had been inappropriate. My daughter did not need rescuing. This was my ” Ah ha” moment. It felt like the truth for me and I could thank X for putting me in a position where I could work out what was really happenning.
The Step Back exercise is successful in uncovering the truth as long as you persevere till you reach that ” Ah ha” realisation. Sometimes, when it seems that there are no more answers to be had, just repeat the ones you have already used. Resist the temptation to give up. By this stage, the ego is hanging on to the last vestiges of protection and you are almost home.
The skill of observing can help us live a richer, more peaceful life. When we are too close to a situation, it is difficult to see what is going on because truth is often obscured by emotion. By observing behaviour from a neutral space, we get to see what is really there, not what we tell ourselves is there. From this neutral place, we have the freedom to ‘add some value’ (in the form of compassion or gratitude; it will depend on what is being investigated ) When value is added, tension dissipates and there is more freedom to ‘move’; to do something a little different; to change our mind; to expand our consciousness.