Learning how to see

If we have relatively good eyesight it’s easy to think that’s all we need, “I know how to see! Just open my eyes and look!”

One of the first lessons from learning to draw and paint was that I had no idea what was involved in seeing. Not just that I was lacking techniques useful for catching what was in front of me on paper or canvas; but that I had no idea that the act of perception could be affected by our awareness of it. It was my first introduction into a kind of proprioception. Into the basic concept of awareness of awareness.

There is no way to break out of our cycles of reaction without developing this kind of awareness. Until we do we are at the bottom of a well and things happen to us. These things include our emotional condition and the basic standpoints from which we judge how to act. Add to these misunderstandings a confusion over cause & effect – we carry a simplistic belief in single causes and clear effects arising out of straightforward intentions – and we are condemned to live in a state of whipsaw-frenzy. Neither perceiving clearly nor acting within any relationship to what goes on around us, beyond our blindness to the context in which we are immersed.

The practice of drawing, for example, introduces us to a lack and also to a means to redress this lack. As with any practice it is an arena for recognition. A place where we learn to recognize how we recognize and this proprioception becomes the basis for all the rest.

“Ah, Hah!” This reflex signals recognition. It’s how we recognize recognition. It’s what tells recognition apart from the trials of negotiation and justification we’ve been conditioned into believing to be the only ways to act. Where opinion is slippery, often hiding behind anger and self-justification, recognition comes to us with a powerful centering effect. We may have strong preconceptions challenged by our moment of recognition, but instead of feeling attacked we feel drawn to embrace the new insight. Instead of having our energy drained in resistance we are invigorated by a new recognition.

Our consciousness exists somewhere between our unconscious and what we consider the external world. It strives to carve a space for itself out of a continuum. Unless we are aware of how it does this we are trapped within consciousness’ strategies; unaware of how they tend to go too far, make separations when a distinction would suffice.

Perception, any form of awareness, can only happen within gradations of difference. These are distinctions. Too bad the word sounds so much like the bullshit term, distinguished…. The latter is a weapon in the pissing match of social climbing. The former is the basis for any articulation we might make to perceive quality. If our conscious minds stopped at making distinctions we wouldn’t have the same predicaments we have now. From within conscious awareness’s tunnel of perceptions there is nothing to stop it from insisting that distinctions of difference are excuse enough for demanding separation.

Proprioception of any variety helps us to catch these errors and compensate for them. Being aware of how we are aware; how we attempt to make sense of our perceptions; brings us to an immersive perspective. Not a negation of distinction in an amorphous oceanic consciousness – while such a thing most probably exists and we are part of it – without distinctions we cannot live, we can only counterfeit a sense of connection where there is none.

We are embodied, embedded. To insist on either separation or an amorphous generality leaves us no room to live. Each takes us out of existence into an abstraction.

Our sense of recognition, our recognition of what happens as we recognize – as opposed to wishing-for-something, or pressuring ourselves or someone else to agree… – guides us as we navigate between these two traps.

Developing our capacity to recognize how we recognize what brings us into integration gives us the courage to navigate uncertainty. It takes away the desire for the crutch of denying what we don’t, what we cannot know; and brings us the confidence to keep looking, to see what we have learned to see.



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Published by Antonio Dias

My work is centered on attending to the intersection of perception and creativity. Complexity cannot be reduced to any given certainty. Learning is Central: Sharing our gifts, Working together, Teaching and learning in reciprocity. Entering into shared Inquiry, Maintaining these practices as a way of life. Let’s work together to build practices, strengthen dialogue, and discover and develop community. Let me know how we might work together.

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