Looking inward is really the process of peeling back the layers of crust and cruft that we have let build up over ourselves through the years. Every label we accept, every role we play, every face we show the world, every movement, trend or fad we claim as our own, every thing we traditionally use to create and project an idea of identity on to the world must be removed, evaluated, and discarded.
This is a messy, difficult and trying process.
This is not for the faint of heart, it is not for the fly-by-nighter and it is not for the career tracker.
THOSE ARE ALL LABELS
Do you see how easy it is to be seduced by them? To let them categorize you? To let them define you?
This is the problem. It is something that needs to be defeated. Pervasive throughout our society is the need to create and use these identifiers to allow for easy categorization of the people we encounter. This creates a problem because we use these categorizations to create assumptions about people.
We use those assumptions to define them, and that in turn puts colored glasses over our perception, it creates a filter through which we look at people. A filter that prevents us from truly SEEING people.
I am a convenience store clerk.
Think about what that conjured up for you. The perception you have of convenience store clerks and the attitude you have of them. Think about the picture in your head, and the feeling it gave you.
Do you see how automatic that is?
You have just put me in a box. A box I don’t belong in.
Because I am not a convenience store clerk. I work at a convenience store as a clerk.
I am a human being.
What does that conjure up for you? Something dramatically different isn’t it.
Bi-pedal, upright, basic features, undefined. Unboxed.
COUTNER-INTUITIVELY THE PLACE TO START LOOKING INWARD IS TO LOOK OUTWARD
But not with your rose colored glasses of labels and colors and perceptions and ideas. You might think I’m a little mad since I just got done explaining why you need to forget about the world and worry about yourself, but this isn’t about getting caught up in the world and trying to save it, this is about SEEING.
We have to unlearn these perceptions and ideas that we use to define and see the world. We have to change our perceptions and write new neural pathways in our minds. We have to create a shift, a re-definition.
If we dive inward holding the same perceptions and ideas as we currently have, we bring nothing new with us. We take with us the danger of finding exactly what we are looking for, and if we do that, we risk finding nothing at all.
So how do you unlearn and truly see the world around you?
START TALKING TO PEOPLE
Do this, but get beyond the “Oh the weather sure is nice/crappy/cold/hot/humid/whatever. If you use that as an opening that’s fine. It drives me crazy that people always talk about the weather but I understand it because it is a place of common ground, something that we can all relate to.
Move beyond the social script and ask a question, and then LISTEN to the answer. And instead of replying with your own quip or story or lament about the weather, ask ANOTHER question related to what you learned by asking the first question. Rinse, repeat.
Do this as much as possible. Talk to the clerk working at the convenience store, your doctor or nurse, the person in the cubicle next to you or the lady you just passed in the street. By talking to people and having real conversations you will start too see past the perceptions that we have constructed around ourselves. You will begin to see the humanity that surrounds us.
My wife and I were at the store the other day picking up a couple of things and I asked the young man checking us out how he was doing. He said something about it being a long day. A normal reply could be, “Yeah, I know what you mean” or some other pseudo-sympathetic quip designed to facilitate the artificial interactions we have throughout our days. Instead I asked him if he was getting off of work soon. He told me he was, and then I asked if he had any plans for the evening. He lit up, surprised that I was asking, and that I genuinely cared. He told me he was hoping to get a run in and do some homework. I asked about the homework, Math. He is currently attending college.
A couple of weeks later we were back in the store and the same young man was working. I went to his line again and asked if he got in his run. He told me he had, and that it was a good run. We shared a smile and then my wife made a joke about us being big spenders (we spent $0.69 after our coupons) and he laughed and said that was the way to do it, saving money. We talked about ways to save money for a minute or so, then said goodbye and went on our way.
What we did there was move beyond the normal clerk to customer interaction into a real human interaction. Our days are filled with prescribed interactions that we move through without thought and without taking any real time to see the people we interact with. We label them, consider the role we are in, and then interact according to the accepted norms of society.
WE NEED TO MOVE BEYOND THE SOCIAL SCRIPTS AND ACCEPTED NORMS OF COMMUNICATION
By moving beyond the scripted interaction I was able to see him. To learn a little bit about him. That he likes to run, that he is studying math which could mean he likes math or that it is a pre-requisite for the major or minor he is studying. We shared experiences about money, and most importantly, we shared a genuine conversation.
When you start to see other people you will begin to unlearn the habit of labeling, of categorizing and interacting on autopilot. Stripping these labels and scripted interactions from our habits will open a whole new understanding of the people around you. You will be amazed at what you were missing, and you will be amazed at how people will respond. One of the first things you will notice is that people will treat you differently. They will treat you better. This happens because the simple act of seeing them instead of seeing the label or role that is easiest to peg them with shows that you are different, that you are AWARE.
Once we start to see people again, we can widen our view further.
LOOK AT THE WORLD AROUND YOU
This is the quintessential advice to stop and smell the roses. However I’m talking about more than just the roses. I’m talking about everything. Just as we have to unlearn the habit of labeling and not seeing people, we have to do the same with the world around us. We move through this world and spend so little time actually seeing it, the beauty, the ugly, the shapes, colors, textures, tastes and smells.
We let our brains do all the work by categorizing everything and forgetting about it. Car. Wall. Door. Tree. Flower. Person. Cup. Chair. Cat. Dog. Bird. Street. Whatever.
Each one of these things conjures a pre-determined idea in your mind. One that allows you to look at said thing and identify it. This is considered necessary to move and function throughout the world without being overwhelmed by stimuli. I understand this function, but we have to learn to turn it off. We have to be able to see what is around us and appreciate it in order to understand it. The re-wiring of our those neural pathways turns into a better understanding of what the world around us really looks like. Not what we think it looks like.
A WALL IS MORE THAN JUST A WALL AND STRIPPING THE CRUST OF SOCIETY OFF OF THAT WALL IS AN IMPORTANT STEP IN BEING ABLE TO STRIP THE CRUST OF SOCIETY FROM OURSELVES
There are lots of ways you can do this.
One of the easiest is to start taking photos, of everything. Take a camera with you everywhere. This should be very easy because it is nearly impossible to get a cellphone without a camera these days and practically everybody has a cellphone. It doesn’t have to be a super fancy or good camera, just a camera you can take photos with. If you don’t have a cellphone use a cheap point and shoot. Start taking photos of everything. EVERYTHING.
THE CAMERA SEES THINGS WITH NO PRE-CONCEIVED NOTIONS
This will force you to look at things differently. At first you’ll take photos that will look like the pre-defined ideas your mind has, but as you look at your photos and look through the camera you will start to see things differently. You’ll begin to see the shapes and textures, the materials and the colors, you’ll begin to question things. Why was this pipe put here? Where does this conduit go? What does that feel like? Why are those stairs there? Why is this purple? This is the process of unlearning, of seeing.
If you can’t or don’t want to take photos, you can draw things. The drawings don’t have to be good, or accurate. The process of trying to draw something will force you to see past the idea of the thing in your head as you try to re-create that idea in your drawing.
THE PEN KNOWS NOTHING AND IS ONLY INFLUENCED BY THE IDEAS IN YOUR MIND
The reason most people feel that they can not draw is their inability to actually see what they are trying to draw. When a typical person tries to draw something they will try to draw the idea of it in their mind, not the actual subject in front of them. Understanding the space an object fills, the shadows that fall around it and the materials that were made to use it will force you to ignore the idea of it in your mind and allow you to see it as it exists without that definition.
You don’t have to draw either. You can write about objects, describe them in detail, describe the shape they hold and the colors they have and the textures and the light falling on them and the shadows moving around them. This process removes the filter of trying to create a visual image. Describing something in words is a powerful way to see.
THE IDEA IN YOUR MIND IS SIMPLE. DON’T GET TRAPPED BY IT
If you want to describe a wall in words you can simply write, “a wall”. This will immediately communicate to all who read it the idea of a wall, and every person will see their idea of a wall. It will only be by describing in great detail what you are actually seeing that you will communicate not the idea of a wall, but the unique wall you are seeing and all that it is made of.
EACH OF THESE PROCESSES HELPS YOU SEE THE WORLD AROUND YOU FOR WHAT IT IS
Without the pre-conceived idea in your head. Each of these processes, each of these seeing events will re-wire the neural pathways in your mind to a greater awareness of the world around you.
But even if you don’t want to do any of those things, draw, write, photograph, there are a multitude of other ways you can work to truly see. You can paint, you can explore things with your hands and eyes, nose and ears, you can simply stare at an object until you see it.
THE IMPORTANT THING IS TO LEARN TO SEE BEYOND THE IDEA IN YOUR HEAD OF A THING TO SEE ITS ESSENCE, ITS EXISTENCE.
Stripping these perceptions from our own minds is an important preparation in delving inward to remove the crust and cruft built up around our selves. It is magnitudes of order easier looking inward by first learning to see the world outside of us again. It is always easier looking out than looking in, and remembering how to see, learning to be aware of the world around us, re-wiring those neural pathways is an important step in preparing to delve inward. By learning again to truly see, we prepare ourselves to look inward with untainted perception, with no pre-concieved notions of what we will or should find. This is critically important in giving yourself the chance to truly see when you look within.
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