seeing

Binge Watching Ordinary Events Playing Out in Real Time

Binge Watching Ordinary Events Playing Out in Real Time

I've shared strategies for using movies to strengthen attention. Just as in ordinary life, what makes tending to the sensory components of a film so challenging is the pull of the narrative. But what would it be like to focus on the changing sights and sounds without having to resist the gravitational pull of story elements? 

Starting today, you can find out. 

Cinematic Attention for a High-Def Life

Cinematic Attention for a High-Def Life

Any perception you can observe directly in real time can be used to train a variety of attention-related skills.

I like to make a game out of turning ordinary activities into opportunities for practice.

There are a number of exercises I use when watching a film — whether it’s one I enjoy, dislike, or have seen before.  

The Immense Capacity within Us All

The Immense Capacity within Us All

"When blind people learn to see, sighted people seem inspired to want to learn to see their way better, more clearly, with less fear, because this exemplifies the immense capacity within us all to navigate any type of challenge, through any form of darkness, to discoveries unimagined when we are activated."

~ Daniel Kish

Respites in the Demands of Sensation

Respites in the Demands of Sensation

I swoon and recoil at the tresses blowing
in an arbor without glow
or flame. These are reprieves. Respites
in the demands of sensation
and flow. Know this: you can you can
you can you can you can.

~ Margot Schilpp

How One Surrenders to the Emptiness

Buoyancy
by Rumi, version by Coleman Barks from The Essential Rumi

Love has taken away my practices
and filled me with poetry.

I tried to keep quietly repeating,
No strength but yours,
but I couldn’t.

I had to clap and sing.
I used to be respectable and chaste and stable,
but who can stand in this strong wind
and remember those things?

A mountain keeps an echo deep inside itself.
That’s how I hold your voice.

I am scrap wood thrown in your fire,
and quickly reduced to smoke.

I saw you and became empty.
This emptiness, more beautiful than existence,
it obliterates existence, and yet when it comes,
existence thrives and creates more existence!

The sky is blue. The world is a blind man
squatting on the road.

But whoever sees your emptiness
sees beyond blue and beyond the blind man.

A great soul hides like Muhammad, or Jesus,
moving through a crowd in a city
where no one knows him.

To praise is to praise
how one surrenders
to the emptiness.

To praise the sun is to praise your own eyes.
Praise, the ocean. What we say, a little ship.

So the sea-journey goes on, and who knows where!
Just to be held by the ocean is the best of luck
we could have. It’s a total waking up!

Why should we grieve that we’ve been sleeping?
It doesn’t matter how long we’ve been unconscious.

We’re groggy, but let the guilt go.
Feel the motions of tenderness
around you, the buoyancy.

No Bear

Ursa Major

The Great Bear
by John Hollander, from Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry

Even on clear nights, lead the most supple children
Out onto hilltops, and by no means will
They make it out. Neither the gruff round image
From a remembered page nor the uncertain
Finger tracing that image out can manage
To mark the lines of what ought to be there,
Passing through certain bounding stars, until
The whole massive expanse of bear appear
Swinging, across the ecliptic; and, although
The littlest ones say nothing, others respond,
Making us thankful in varying degrees
For what we would have shown them. "'There it is!"
"I see it now!" Even "Very like a bear!"
Would make us grateful. Because there is no bear

We blame our memory of the picture: trudging
Up the dark, starlit path, stooping to clutch
An anxious hand, perhaps the outline faded
Then; perhaps could we have retained the thing
In mind ourselves, with it we might have staged
Something convincing. We easily forget
The huge, clear, homely dipper that is such
An event to reckon with, an object set
Across the space the bear should occupy;
But even so, the trouble lies in pointing
At any stars. For one's own finger aims
Always elsewhere: the man beside one seems
Never to get the point. "No! The bright star
Just above my fingertip." The star,

If any, that he sees beyond one's finger
Will never be the intended one. To bring
Another's eye to bear in such a fashion
On any single star seems to require

Something very like a constellation
That both habitually see at night;
Not in the stars themselves, but in among
Their scatter, perhaps, some old familiar sight
Is always there to take a bearing from.
And if the smallest child of all should cry
Out on the wet, black grass because he sees
Nothing but stars, though claiming that there is
Some bear not there that frightens him, we need
Only reflect that we ourselves have need

Of what is fearful (being really nothing)
With which to find our way about the path
That leads back down the hill again, and with
Which to enable the older children standing
By us to follow what we mean by "This
Star," "That one," or "The other one beyond it."
But what of the tiny, scared ones ?  Such a bear,
Who needs it? We can still make do with both
The dipper that we always knew was there
And the bright, simple shapes that suddenly
Emerge on certain nights. To understand
The signs that stars compose, we need depend
Only on stars that are entirely there
And the apparent space between them. There
Never need be lines between them, puzzling
Our sense of what is what. What a star does
Is never to surprise us as it covers
'I'he center of its patch of darkness, sparkling
Always, a point in one of many figures.
One solitary star would be quite useless,
A frigid conjecture, true but trifling;
And any single sign is meaningless
If unnecessary. Crab, bull, and ram,
Or frosty, irregular polygons of our own
Devising, or finally the Great Dark Bear
That we can never quite believe is there
Having the others, any one of them
Can be dispensed with. The bear, of all of them,

Is somehow most like any one, taken
At random, in that we always tend to say
That just because it might be there ; because
Some Ancients really traced it out, a broken
And complicated line, webbing bright stars
And fainter ones together; because a bear
Habitually appeared  then even by day
It is for us a thing that should be there.
We should not want to train ourselves to see it.
The world is everything that happens to
Be true. The stars at night seem to suggest
The shapes of what might be. If it were best,
Even, to have it there (such a great bear !
All hung with stars!), there still would be no bear.

Beauty and Order

Brendan O’Connell, Wonderbread, 2010

“Our attempt to find and construct beauty and order out of things, I think we always have that impulse. So, even this huge curated space that is disorienting, our eye wants to simplify and focus. Even if it’s unconscious, we want to experience beauty.”

~ Brendan O'Connell, from "Paintings of Walmart," Studio 360, August 2, 2013

Explore, Fixate, Repeat, All Day, Every Day

Leonardo da Vinci (c. 1503-05) La Gioconda (Detail) Oil on poplar wood. Musée du Louvre, Paris.

Excerpt from "Vision Is All About Change," by Susana Martinez-Conde, The New York Times: Gray Matter, May 17, 2013:

Every known visual system depends on movement: we see things either because they move or because our eyes do.

Some of the earliest clues to this came more than two centuries ago. Erasmus Darwin, a grandfather of Charles Darwin, observed in 1794 that staring at a small piece of scarlet silk on white paper for a long time — thereby minimizing (though not stopping) his eye movements — made it grow fainter in color, until it seemed to vanish...

What may be most surprising is that large eye motions and miniature eye jolts help us see the world in similar ways — largely at the same time.

Scientists had long believed that we used two types of oculomotor behavior to sample the visual world, alternating between big saccades to scan our surroundings and tiny ones to fix our gaze on a location of interest. Explore, fixate, repeat, all day, every day.

It seemed to make intuitive sense that we would have one brain system for exploring the environment and another for focusing on specific objects. But it turns out that exploration and gaze-fixation are not all that different processes in the brain.


See also: Choosing What We Perceive

Be Openness

Excerpt from Instant Enlightenment: Fast, Deep, and Sexy by David Deida:

Go inside yourself as deep as you can. Feel inward, deeper and deeper. Is there an end to how deeply you can feel? If not, keep feeling inwardly until you are certain inward never ends.

All there is inside is a deeper and deeper openness.

Now, feel outwardly as far as you can. Listen to the most distant sounds you can hear, and then listen further, into the openness beyond the furthest sound. Notice the most distant light, and then gaze beyond it, into the endless openness...

Now, simultaneously, feel the openness that goes on and on, both inwardly and outwardly. Really do this, and you will discover that feeling never ends in any direction. The most basic sense of being, of existence, is the openness of feeling in all directions. Being is feeling wide open.

As soon as your feeling stops short of on-and-on, feel whatever you are feeling (a tree or a thought), and feel beyond it. You don't have to stop feeling anything (you can still feel the tree or the thought), but also feel the openness that goes beyond anything. Feel further than you've ever felt before, zillions of miles inwardly, and zillions of miles outwardly, on and on, wide open. 

This is who you are, this wide openness, feeling with no boundaries.

Be openness, feeling on and on, while having sex or during a conversation, and your lover and friends will begin to feel an unbound openness, too. 

Do you have a better way to live your life? The choice is yours. 

Looking Without Seeing

"Lost in Art" by Liu Bolin

Excerpt from The Visible Man by Chuck Klosterman:

I mean, seriously? Invisible? You should know better. You do know better. Tangible objects can't be invisible, ever. But they don't need to be. That's the crux of the concept. One of the most meaningful things I've learned from this is that people barely see what's openly in front of them, much less things that are camouflaged.

We all have a fixed perspective on how the world looks, and that perspective generates itself. We mentally change what we see to fit our unconscious perception of order.

I'm sure you're familiar with the phrase "People see what they want to see," but that's not really accurate. A more accurate phrase would be "People see what they assume must be seeable."

If there's no sense of movement and no unexpected sounds, we typically let our mind produce a backdrop that matches our memory. People will look at the world without seeing anything beyond their unconscious expectation.

See also: