Learning to Observe

Learning to see things as they are is a skill that can be learnt and that can bring huge healing to individuals and families. Learning to see things “as they are” so that one can “acknowledge what is” is an essential skill for being able to meet each moment that unfolds anew. It allows us to be fully in presence instead of trying to change the past or control the future (neither of which is actually possible).

In presence we are strong, can face life’s challenges and engage with all that we encounter with an open stance that says “YES” to life. When we are in this state our partners and our children experience us as being able to see them for who they really are.

I am not implying that there is a fundamental truth in all things, but that there are living processes and natural laws that we can become in touch with in the world around us. There are basic orders that operate in ecosystems and families based on time, hierarchy, and the essence of the actual phenomenon. These are particularly evident when we observe nature, or observe plants in the way that Goethe suggested:

By learning to approach the world in a way that does not abstract or fix our experiences based on the past, we can become surprised to see that things we expect to happen, don’t happen exactly the way we thought they would. This opens the possibility for new things to emerge. We become in touch with processes that are living around us rather than abstract and dead thinking. We can respond to the world as it is right here, without dragging outdated and useless inherited structures around with us.

So, how does one put this into practice? My understanding is based in phenomenology, which asks us to take a position of “not knowing” and see what emerges when we really look at something without imposing theories that then restrict our ability to see what is there right here, right now.

We need to learn to observe the facts first, without any interpretation, abstraction or analysis. As easy as it sounds, this is where most people struggle when wanting to move forward in life. We get stuck in what we think about the thing, and the “why” rather than looking at the “what”. For example, this is my father, this is my mother, I am the oldest child, this is the second eldest, and this is the third one that was stillborn.

It is like looking at a plant and observing its physical characteristics: for example a bean as it is sprouting a root. Goethe adds that the best way to observe this is to draw the plant exactly as you see it. Engaging the right brain, as we do in drawing, and in a constellation, puts us in touch with a part of ourselves that can see beyond linear abstractions.

Secondly, we imagine what the bean will do the next day and then draw what we think we will see. The following day we see how what is really there is different to what we thought would be there, and draw exactly what we observe again. With time we will start to be able to see the gap between what we think we will see and what we really see becoming narrower. We train our thinking.

In the same way, we can walk through life thinking we know what to expect, basing all our new experiences on past experiences. For example, like lenses we carry frames of seeing and looking that are based on the rules of our families of origin. When looking at the family laid bare: the facts of who is who and what happened to them without trying to solve, or explain or change what happened, we are observing a basic natural law: Life flows from previous generations to subsequent generations, and there is a hierarchy of responsibility that adults carry responsibility and give and children are innocent and receive. Healing happens when we move closer towards the natural order of things, or as the African traditions would say: we move closer to beauty.

Even if the child took an adult role that was not appropriate for the child based on unfulfilled needs of their parent, they are still the child. By coming back to the basic observation of “what is”, there is a relief in the child to be seen as the child. It does not negate what happened in the past, but is the underlying basic law that was not observed then, and gives the child access to this “breathe” of life that flows through the generations to them. When we turn towards the future again and encounter new people and experiences, we can start to see them for what they really are.

So simply put: look, look again, and look some more before you know anything, and be ready to change your mind when you look, look, look again.

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