Like most people, I am blessed in many ways. The birth lottery has been good to me and I’m thankful every day for all the health, safety, comfort and opportunities that my life provides.
And I am most grateful for the gift of sight. Not a day goes by without experiencing moments of true amazement provided by this most vital of our human senses.
It’s a sad fact that most sighted people take their vision for granted. Maybe this is to be expected — but it shouldn’t be. Human vision can provide a gateway to the most awe-inspiring moments of a lifetime, and this should be fully appreciated and actively nurtured. Thus my guiding mission in life is to share the joy of active seeing and help other people gain the benefits that this awareness can provide.
Though I’ve had fairly normal vision my entire life, it wasn’t until I reached my early 30s that I really began to see. Like most people, while growing up I was never taught about the different states of consciousness, or even that there are varying levels of awareness that all people experience every day. So, like most, I experienced life in a pretty much semi-conscious state — just another zombie among the hordes!
As a kid, I had always been passionately involved in both music and the visual arts, pursuing both with zeal until my mid-20s. I played several instruments and long aspired to be a professional musician, all while simultaneously developing a career in graphic design and media production.
Ultimately, I chose the path of the visual artist. I studied life and figure drawing; I practiced airbrush illustration, I worked a day job designing logos, websites and printed marketing collateral. This all eventually led to my present business serving the fine arts.
Looking vs. seeing
One of the most important lessons I learned in my art studies is that it takes practice to see what is really there. What something really looks like versus what we think it looks like. With each encounter, we bring our past, our preconceptions and our personal bias to the experience.
After many years working as a designer and artist, it was photography (along with learning about mindfulness) that finally helped me learn to see.
When we pay attention to what we see — and to our perception — we are tapping into present moment awareness. While this can also be true of our other senses, vision is unique in the ways it gives us a sense of where we are in space.
Actively paying attention to what we are seeing can bring a sense of grounding and, at the same time, help us better understand our relationship to the physical world. In photography and the visual arts, sight can also be used to express the passage of time. Seeing effectively can provide answers, but it also raises an infinite number of questions. This hold great appeal for the inquisitive and intellectual mind.
An active practice
As with listening, through active seeing we can more fully immerse ourselves in each moment of our lives. Visual art is a unique catalyst for this practice.
Looking at art — and creating it — offers enormous benefits for people who allow the time and space in their lives for this. The experience of viewing a work of art can bring a sense of inspiration and wonder, sparking the imagination and quickening the pulse. In this state of mind we can feel both fully present and ‘somewhere else’ at the same time.
Making art continuously shifts our consciousness from our inner Self to the physical realm, back-and-forth, in a process that can be incredibly self-gratifying yet is also generous in nature. Artists give of themselves so that other people can share this joy.
Living a fulfilling life, visually
Though appreciating art can sometimes feel like a luxury, an indulgence or escape, this mindful approach to living and self-care actually is essential for finding joy and maintaining true happiness.
Seeing involves our eyes and optic system, yet even more so the brain itself. As such, active seeing can certainly lead to deep thinking. But we also need to remain aware of our tendency to let our cerebral mind dominate the true Self, our inner Being.
First, practice simply noticing ‘what is’ and accepting it ‘at face value’. No judgements.
Then, beyond seeing, observation is a more complex concept taking a more analytical position. As the Observer, we are conscious of our separation from the observed.
Finally, deciding what (if anything) is do be done about the things we see is another matter entirely. For photographers in particular, this active process of choosing gives rise to the decision of whether or not to make a photograph at all.
Developing positive habits
The ongoing practice of simply paying attention to what we see and observe — and, consequently, what we experience and feel — helps us leverage the Power of Now, as described so well by Eckhart Tolle. In the ever-present moment in which we always find ourselves, past and future do not exist. And as the present moment is all we have, the process of active seeing helps us to maintain active consciousness.
Life is more interesting and fulfilling when we practice seeing with eyes wide open, centred in the present moment, remaining mindful and grateful for this life and all it provides — in both the visible and invisible realms.
Conversely, when we don’t make time for our mental health and wellbeing, our lives can seem to become frantic and pointless. When we focus on the acquisition of material possessions or obsess about what other people are doing or thinking, we’re taken further and further away from the Source of our true Being.
Develop the habit of bringing yourself back to the present moment by simply paying careful attention to what you see and observe during each waking moment. Fully use your eyes and your conscious mind; be awake and aware.
If you are a sighted person, never take it for granted. Practice active seeing. Nurture it, develop it. Make seeing a fundamental part of your existence. And whether or not you consider yourself a creative person, let art play a central role of your life.