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The Art of Seeing

Stop the World and See

The Art of Seeing

Often, we don’t see the world around us because we’re thinking too much, daydreaming, or just zoning out.  It’s like we’re in another world.

Other times we’re overly concentrated on the project at hand.  So we only see what’s right in front of us like we’re wearing blinders. We haven’t learned to balance mindfulness with global awareness.

Or we’re in a rush.  We’re just trying to get from here to there as fast as possible and aren’t in the habit of seeing what’s in between.  Then there are times we’re so engrossed in a conversation that the background no longer exists.

Does any of this sound familiar to you?

We all know that not seeing can get us into troubleFor example, it can be the cause of accidents, minor and major.  It can create a strain in a relationship when we fail to notice a gorgeous new outfit.  But most of all, it’s like living half asleep.  We miss out on so much.

Naturally, some of us see more than others.  And there are many layers to seeing.  But most of us live in a cocoon.

An Invitation to Stop the World and See

I’m probably worse than any one of you.  My tendency is to hear rather than see.

As an experiment this week, I practiced the art of seeing.  I thoroughly enjoyed immersing myself in the richness of the present moment.  But it wasn’t easy.  The habit of shutting off my sight is still too strong.  Nevertheless, I find it very worthwhile.  After all, who wants to live half asleep?

I invite you to launch an experiment in seeing too. Here are some inspirational quotes on the art of seeing to send you on your way.

From Carlos Casteneda, Journey to Ixtlan:

“I am teaching you how to see as opposed to merely looking, and stopping the world is the first step to seeing.  After stopping the world the next step is seeing.  By that I mean what could be categorized as responding to the perceptual solicitations of a world outside the description we have learned to call reality.”

“When you see, there are no longer familiar features in the world.  Everything is new.  Everything has never happened before.  The world is incredible.”

From Georgia O’Keefe:

“Nobody sees a flower really; it is so small. We haven’t time, and to see takes time – like to have a friend takes time.”

Actively being present to the world around us can bring us into a peaceful, open, and relaxed state. Instead of being embroiled in the past or caught up in worries about the future, our feet (and eyes) are rooted firmly in the now.

We don’t need to entangle ourselves in the objects of our perception.  We just simply see what’s around us and “leave the seeing in the seeing” without grasping onto it. [Dudjom Rinpoche]

Seeing is another form of meditation that you can activate at any moment in your daily life.  Of course, not all of us have perfect vision.  The same approach can be applied with any of the senses if our vision is challenged.

How’s your vision?  Are you making a point of seeing the world around you?

If you liked this article, please share the link by using the share button below.  And, I would love to hear from you in the comments.  Thanks so much for your support!  Sandra


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  1. Seeing is powerful. Although our eyes are technically always looking, our consciousness often retreats into a disconnected train of thought and we are not seeing. Attention is like currency – and what is around us is a part of now – and it helps us come to know how we are in the present moment also.

    It’s also good training for meditation. In the ‘darkness’ of our private closet, we are also often not focussed. Seeing the ‘nothing’ before us is a starting point to entering a greater aspect of ourselves.

    Nice one Sandra.

    • Hi Ali,

      Great thoughts here! I appreciate the distinction you make between the perceptual act of looking and the sense consciousness of seeing. Seeing the emptiness in front of us does wake up our sense of humor and spaciousness.

  2. Hi Sandra,

    Guilty of thinking too much Angela thinks my mind goes all night long! I am a lover of looking at the world around me when I am in nature, on my morning beach walk- observing the color of the sea, the patterns in the clouds etc- Seeing the nothing Ali talk about is a challenge for me- Thanks for sharing, love this one

    • Hi Suzie,

      Me too! Guilty, that is. 🙂 In my humble opinion, I think we are more drawn to looking at nature because it brings us pleasure. The kind of seeing I would like to cultivate is awareness at the level of bare knowing, without engaging with all the likes and dislikes. Seeing the nothingness (which is really the fullness) brings us yet again to another level. I’m so glad you loved this one. I love seeing your vibrant smile.

  3. Edith

    I love this post Sandra! I have been trying to incorporate regular times throughout the day of simply stopping, standing still and noticing my breath. Part of that has also has been attempting to remain open to whatever is arising right here, right now. This week I shall make what I see the principle focus and watch how it relates to calm abiding.

    • Edith,

      I love the way you are integrating meditation into your life. We can use any of the senses for this purpose, but this week I’ve been working with seeing. It’s a blind spot for me. You are an inspiration.

  4. I’m in Sandra.

    Often I over think and don’t stop to see what’s in front of me. Thanks for the nudge and for the invitation.


    • Alex,

      We all do that, don’t we! It’s just such a strong habit to slip away into thinking. It takes practice to stay present, that’s for sure.

  5. This post is a wonderful reminder. It’s so easy to be anywhere but right here. The other great benefit of this seeing, is that when we’re present to an object or an experience, our problems (which, as you point out, tend to be just our ruminations about past or future) are nowhere to be found. What relief!

    Thanks for this powerful post.


    • Great point, Jeff. This is the perfect way to let our problems melt away. Thanks so much for stopping by. Nice to “meet” you.

  6. I think of spring as the season which really opens my eyes an invites me to truly see what is around me. Daffodils seem to call out to be seen as do pink blossoms on branches that were bare just weeks ago. The world is sunnier and that sun shines a spotlight on all there is to be noticed and appreciated if we only take a moment to do so…and I will! I will!

    Great reminder, Sandra and I loved the quotes you chose. 🙂

    • Emma,

      Spring is a beautiful time of the year. I love your enthusiastic vow to notice! I’m sure you will. Thanks for your visit.

  7. Hi Sandra
    I always seem to be the most aware right after meditating. Unfortunately it doesn’t take too long before I’m back on automatic pilot. I wondering if short 2-3 minute meditation sessions interspersed throughout the day would be feasible.

    • Hi Riley,

      That’s the way to go! Short sessions interspersed throughout the day help us to integrate mindfulness and awareness as a way of being. My teachers have said that it’s important to have formal sessions of meditation as a basis or there’s nothing to integrate. The combination of daily formal practice and mini-sessions throughout the day is powerful indeed.

  8. Edith

    Hi Riley, this is exactly the approach which I am trying out at the moment, i.e. at least 2 long-ish sessions a day interspersed by anything from 5-10 minute shorter sessions, alongside regular moments of recollection and shamatha wherever I happen to be standing at the time.
    Had a very interesting drive into town this afternoon…very aware of what was all around and what exactly I was doing…sort of both focused and all-encompassing simultaneously. Also realised after the event that I hadn’t gotten freaked out when an ambulance needed to get past my car and other cars on the road; I simply moved to the side calmly and with no fuss. In the past I would have been totally freaked by this! 😉
    Guess what I’m trying to say is that regular times spread throughout the day seem to be better than 1 longer session on its own. Just a thought based on my experience.

  9. Luv this post! OK, as it suggests, I am going to make it my intent and focus this week….to really stop and see. I find that the hardest part, for me, is just being aware and remembering to see or to take another mindful approach.

    I get on auto pilot and respond and live unconsciously, half asleep, as you say. I am still in the initial stages of the process (never ending, huh?) of trying to live consciously and in awareness. Still forming the new connections and trying to make these the automatic default pathways in my brain.

    It always amazes me that when I slow down and shift my perception or really take time to look around and see, that everything looks so much better.

    • Hi Debbie,

      We’re all in the same boat! But you’re absolutely right, all the brain research on long-term meditators show that meditation alters the function and structure of the brain. It is a lifelong process so we can celebrate wherever we are on the path. When we’re on disconnect the world can seem kind flat, so I resonate with your point that when you stop to look everything looks so much better! That’s a real gift, indeed. Thanks for your thoughts. And good luck this week.

  10. I love being so engrossed in what I’m doing that the rest of the world falls away . . . whether I’m writing, painting, singing, having a conversation, or meditating.

    I try to avoid that degree of intense focus on “the task at hand” if I’m multi-tasking. I don’t want the world to fall away when I’m crossing the street in front of a bus . . . or operating a car or heavy machinery. 🙂

    • Oh goodness, Nancy, we wouldn’t want to the world to fall away on you either! I can see your passion expressed in your engagements. It’s wonderful to live life in such an engaged way. Thanks for your thoughts.

  11. My tissue-based optical equipment was installed with design flaws, so my physical acuity will have to remain primarily “focused” through hearing and touch. But, as you’ve illustrated with these examples., seeing is a function of understanding, not just a sensory process. Stevie Wonder sees the world, and when I was a child, I saw and understood as a child. Even with eyes that need four pairs of glasses (depending on what I’m doing), I see so much more than I used to. Sometimes I get lucky, everything works right, and I have a moment of unusual lucidity. The doors fly open, and the editor takes a break. I perceive beneath the meat barrier to the luminous eggs we are.

    • Hi Mike,

      You’ve really spoken to the heart of the matter so beautifully. It doesn’t matter which sense we are employing, it’s a question of being present and seeing reality as it is. The sense of sight is only a vehicle not the end result. Well, dear luminous egg, I’m so happy to have been hatched on the same planet as you.

  12. Sandra,
    This reminds me very much of a time many years ago. It was a surreal moment – as I soaked in this “seeing”. I was in high school, and outside cutting the grass. And I remember how everything just became so much a part of my seeing. The trees, the birds, the sky – it was like I was truly seeing these things for the first time. And in that moment, there was truly a connection to a Higher Being – and the true beauty of our world.

    So, today as I read this – I choose to slow down….slow down so I can more fully see…

    {thank you, dear friend…}

    • Lance,

      What a vivid sense of recall you have of this precious moment. There is so much clarity – visual and otherwise, in such a moment of connection. Thanks for sharing this special moment with us. And I love “seeing” you here.

  13. Sandra,
    I really enjoyed this article!

    When I read Carlos Castaneda I was searching desperately to understand the world and my place in it. I don’t think I was mature enough in my 20s to have really understood the depth of what Don Juan was teaching. I was “trying to hard” to learn before I was really ready to live in the manner that Don Juan ascribed to.

    I think this is the same thing with “seeing.” You can’t try to understand or try to “see.” It doesn’t work that way – you have to be. When we “see” for the first time cracks appear in the illusion of what we call reality and a door opens for us to see more of what is behind the curtain. We see that the dimension we live in is splendid and awesomely beautiful but we are also aware that the dimension back of all this is miraculous and even more magnificent.

    • Hi Angela,

      I too read those books so many years ago. They were entrancing, but where to go from there! The points you’ve added here are very profound. This is amazing, “You can’t try to understand or try to “see.” It doesn’t work that way – you have to be.” Thanks for helping us to see seeing better!

  14. Gro wing up on a farm and working outdoors for years planting, picking,weeding etc. help me “see.” Too this day I love stopping to smell flowers if I h ave to get down on the ground for a crocus or pulling down a branch on a tree to smell a cherry blossom. And Georgia O’Keefe is my favorite artist. I’ve been to her museum 5 times in New Mexico. I love the story of her life they play in the movie theater and watch it each time.

    • Hi Tess,

      I love Georgia O’Keefe t00. I would love to watch the movie about her life. We rarely watch movies these days, but that’s one I would like to sneak in for sure. If I ever get to New Mexico, I will definitely put her museum on my high priority list. Thanks for telling us about these possibilities.

      There’s nothing like a real flower though and I appreciate your love for imbibing their fragrances.

  15. I don’t see very well, literally or figuratively. When I was growing up, I was too ashamed to tell my parents I needed glasses, so all of my middle school years were spent quite near sighted and compensating through my other senses. Even now, I hear and smell more acutely than I see. One of my favorite exercises is just to go out to my favorite open space and close my eyes — without the distraction of vision, I feel like I can hear individual birdsong and smell more keenly. I do like to sketch, however, and that is definitely an exercise in seeing. Everything else fades away — even time seems to pass differently — when I’m concentrating on the exact curve of a vine or a leaf. I’m guessing that’s not exactly what you meant, though!

    Thank you for reminding me to take the time to do these things, if not every day, then at least more often than I do.

    • Jennifer,

      I’m sorry to hear about your sight challenges. It sounds like your other senses have come to the rescue to give you some very beautiful experiences in life. I think we all tend to favor some senses over others. Thank goodness there’s more than one.

      Your example of sketching is a good example of simply being present with one’s sight and seeing what’s in front of you. We can get the same effect of bringing ourselves back to the present moment with whatever sense we choose to use. For example, eating can be quite a different experience when we actually pay attention to the taste!

      Thanks for visiting. I always love to hear from you.

  16. Hi Sandra,

    Yeah you are perfectly right, it is so easy for the world to pass us by because we are not paying attention. In the process, because of our lack of awareness we can run into problems and realize it only when it is too late. The quotes you have assembled to help us see the present moment is great! I especially like this one by Georgia O’Keefe, “Nobody sees a flower really; it is so small. We haven’t time, and to see takes time – like to have a friend takes time.”

    A lot of the times I miss the world because of familiarity blindness and routine. One way I can think of to help in seeing would be to change my approach to doing something familiar. Take the gym for example, when I stick to my usual routine, I am half asleep while I am doing my workouts. But when I change the order of my workouts or introduce new exercises, I have to notice the present moment because it is unfamiliar.

    The same idea applies to the rest of life. If we try something familiar in a different way, it becomes fresh for us and we are likelier to take notice.

    Thank you for sharing this lovely article! 🙂

    Irving the Vizier

    • Hi Irving,

      Familiarity, blindness (in the sense of not looking), and routine are three interesting angles you have brought to this conversation. It’s so true though that often we don’t see because we think we’re already familiar. So we don’t look or see freshly. Those are interesting considerations to chew on!

  17. I’ve always liked the saying, “Think globally, act locally.” It’s empowering and helps keep perspective.

    That part in Journey to Ixtlan about stopping and seeing reminds me of Peaceful Warrior, where “there is never nothing”going on.”

    • That’s a good point, JD, from Peaceful Warrior. There’s always something going on, it’s just a question of whether we are present for it. Even though the coqui frogs make a huge roar, I can even tune them out!

  18. Dearest Sandra,

    This is simply so perfect!! Soooo beautiful.

    I really relate to the difference between merely looking and REALLY seeing. I discovered that my ability to REALLY see was tied to my state of awareness, and my state of awareness was tied to my ability to face my fear, willingness to be vulnerable, take risks, be spontaneous, open to life, fully present NOW, and as you say not living in the past. This may or may not be the case for other people but it was m.

    I noticed in the years ago, while living in the rainforest, that the more I faced my fear, the more I awakened (or could really see). It was like lifting a 1000 pounds off me, and removing a thick fog-like veil. It was as if I was seeing the world for the VERY first time, anew, as if I had been blind all my life and then someone healed my eyes and I could see the world, people, emotions, nuances, intricacies, detail, interactions of all life, and purpose to all it all. For months I just wandered the rainforest crying and rejoicing that I could SEE, really see. At the same time this happened my intuition, “sixth sense” (if you will), my empathy, my clairvoyance, and so on just went sky high.

    I felt intensely clear or uplifted for the first time in my life. I could ACTUALLY SEE!! For me it was mind blowing. I cried many times. It made me realize two things: one how blind I had been all my life, like a mole in the dark. I was stunned by this. It also made me realized how much fear, should(s), supposed to be(s), and social conditioning were holding me back or stopping me from seeing (if I let them run my life).

    Ohhhh dear Sandra, you share such beauty here. I am ALWAYS so inspired. I don’t know how you do it…over and over, and with such richness. I am deeply grateful. I hope you are well dear friend. I send my love and warm hugs, Robin

    PS: Thank you Sandra, just thank you….

    • Amazing, Robin…there is so much in your comment. It’s interesting to see how you tie seeing with awareness with fear. That makes so much sense to me.

      This story of you in the rain forest being able to see like for the first time is incredible. So many veils were lifted and layers peeled back while you were there. I can hardly imagine what it would be like to live so fully in the present and in contact with one’s natural environment. Your description has touched me so deeply.

      Oh goodness, Robin….I’m so happy that you had such a remarkable eye-opening experience like this and that it went on for months. It’s opening my eyes to how much fear gets in the way. Thank you for this profound insight.

      Thanks for your sweet words. As we know though, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. And you have the purest of vision, my dear!

      Hugs and love to you too.

      • Ohhh, Dear Sandra, how I miss being here more. I always feel so deeply connected to you. You have extraordinary vision because your heart is so open. It is why you can see me. I can’t really express in words how grateful I am for that, but you leave me always feeling more myself. There is something so powerful about being seen on the deepest level.

        It’s a wonder you could even understand my “scribbling” above, with all the typos. I just get sooooooooooo excited when I read your posts. LOL! I really do. And I think it goes even deeper. It’s like I come here and even BEFORE reading your posts, I feel excited. LOL!! (Are you laughing yet? I am.) Yet, it is SO true. I think I just feel your energy and KNOW that I will get to be and express my FULL self and you will “get” it. That is SUCH a gift.

        You don’t need to reply to this comment as I you are already working on the next post and it’s comment. 🙂 However, just know that I think of you often. You have always given me so much. Love to you…always, sweet Sandra. Robin

        • You are the sweetest, dear Robin! I’m so happy that we are deeply connected to one another is this ethereal kind of way! Thank you for this huge dose of love. I’m soaking it in! I don’t know if my heart is really so open, but it’s my aspiration. So thank you so much for your love and encouragement. Big hugs!

  19. I love your invitation to stop the world, and see 🙂 It is a powerful moment that often feels like a gift from the universe. I hadn’t thought of it as a form of mediation, but I after reading this, I do now.

    • Hi Aileen,

      So nice to see you! Yes, *see* you! It is a gift and according to Don Juan it can even be a way of life. Thanks for leaving your thoughts.

  20. Hi Sandra, I guess I am unusual in that I get most of my information visually. I pick out when people’s body language is not matching their words. I notice things that others usually miss. For example, I haven’t been reading your blog for the past couple of weeks, but I noticed the name change.

    On the other hand, I think that stress makes me miss a lot of things. When rushing, I have to focus narrowly on the task at hand and try to block out everything else. That means I don’t “see” much, either visually or using other senses.

    • Hi Jennifer,

      I need to run over to your blog and see what happened to you at Singularity University!

      I think we all tend to favor different senses and yours is clearly vision. I can’t imagine what it’s like to live in your world. It would be fun to step into for a day! Stress can be a big factor that makes us narrow in and close down our global awareness. We probably all miss a lot when we are more stress. Good point!

      I hope you had a good trip. Can’t wait to hear about it.

      P. S. I just switched from using my middle name to my full name.

  21. I really appreciated this post. When I took up photography, one of the benefits was that it opened my eyes to see things I had never stopped and looked at before. For example, the knots in pieces of wood, the many shades of green in plants, what sunlight looks coming through the petals of a flower. It has really opened my eyes to nature, in particular.

    My biggest issue is granting myself the time to enjoy this new way of seeing. When I’m writing and blogging, I will often let the day disappear before stopping and taking time to let myself see. Fortunately, with the time change, I am able to do this more often. Still, I do need to incorporate it throughout the day because it lets me plug into peace in a way nothing else does.

    Thanks for this post:~)

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