Often, we hear the statement that a human being is a machine, and that’s correct: a very complicated machine. Indeed, we could say with confidence that man is more than this. A structure composed from machines of every type, everyone functioning in different ways, with different speeds and using different fuels.
So, in order to understand how he functions, a human being has to gain knowledge about this. Unfortunately, not one of us is born with the necessary knowing either about himself or about how to gain this knowledge, because it doesn’t belong to the instinctive field which we possess since our birth. Nor the intuition alone is of help to accomplish this task. Such skill must be acquired through our mind, namely the study of ourselves, how we function in every field.
The possibility to achieve this knowing is more than a possibility, but it has to be acquired only with the help of someone that has studied and realized the way that he, as a structured field, functions.
But this study mustn’t remain limited only in the theoretical field; indeed, such a knowing doesn’t need only the mind to be understood; there must be also a practical work able to allow the practitioner a direct experience of what he has acquired in theory.
One thing is seeing the map of Paris, but this is not as close as walking on the streets of this town, hearing the sounds, smelling its air. In the same way, studying ourselves determines only a map of what and how we are, but the exploration of the territory can be done only through a direct experience.
The first tool one has to be able to acquire this knowledge is “observation”, fundamental not only at the beginning, but also during the path towards oneself. But, even if it’s a simple concept, because of the language limitations, it is very often misinterpreted. We noticed not a few times that, despite the many practical suggestions in this field, which is usually defined and considered as observation, in reality has little to do with it. So, if observation is a fundamental concept in terms of self- development, then let us see if we can define it a little more clearly.
The first thing that has to be said is that there is a capital difference between “observing” and “interpreting”. Interpreting is what we usually do when we find ourselves in relation to something: an object, a person, a situation… ourselves – even if one acquires the theoretical and practical information about what he has the tendency to remain in the field of interpreting. It’s a very rooted mechanical behaviour that we are almost unable to discern observation from interpretation. We are convinced that we observe, but we still interpret.
Now, the obvious answer that can come to our minds is the difference between what we should do (observe) and what we ordinarily do (interpret).
First of all, a method of observation uses description, while interpretation uses judgment. When we observe something (even ourselves), we have to perform it from a neutral point of view, leaving aside all the information we have about the object that is observed; even the name of the object can easly mislead in the attempt to observe.
We can even observe an apple and notice that it has a more or less spherical form, a green, yellow or red color, with a characteristic smell and taste, etc… Even if I try to define its taste as pleasant or tart, this could deter me from the intent to remain impartial.
The more characteristics that i will be able to indentify, the more possibilities I’ll have to grasp new elements that I had never noticed before. Maybe, I’ll realize to have never seen an apple as so, but only associated elements such as its taste and quality depending, for example, on the label.
Indeed, when I see an apple, there suddenly appears associations such as “I wish to eat a good fruit”, “it’s juicy”, “not juicy”, “I dislike apples”, “I prefer melons”, etc…It’s all a flow of mental considerations and judgments about what I am observing… or better I don’t observe, because, even if my eyes are addressed to the object, I am somewhere else, identified with my thoughts derived from previous experiences related to apples.
Another point is that observation needs objective data, and the explanation of this gives an example of how much we are ordinarily focused in interpreting instead of observing. For example, I wish to buy a new computer. A PC or a MAC? I’ll buy a MAC because most agencies, offices and even digital artists use this system. Probably, we know what a desktop computer or a laptop, tablet, or a handheld PC is. But how many pay attention to the technical data? Usually ,we don’t know what a CPU is, a motherboard or a x32 or x64 based system; few will pay attention to the quality of the processor in gigahertz, the capacity of the RAM memory or the core temperature.
Usually we are focused on the label, the comfort, the image that this product could give to us (“Oh, you are using a MAC?”… “Yes, it’s a very professional and safe system!”). And this is applied in almost all (if not totally all) fields of our lives. Not only concerning a computer, a sofa or a car.
A further fundamental aspect related to observation is “living the present moment”. What is this present moment, so claimed by Buddhists, Zen, New Agers, Eckhart Tolle? Is it possible to live effectively in the present moment? And, to what degree can we live “in the now”?
Everyone who has tried to be “present” and has partially succeeded, will recognize that it seems as though time becomes shortened, such as he perceives that he lives as an old film image, shaky and interrupted. A moment is a snap of the finger; soon after, there is another snap (another now), then another, another, another. We should have a millisecond reaction to grasp this moment, and the same fast reaction to jump into the sudden moment that replaces the previous. Could it be possible to maintain such a rhythm, without the necessary time to relate the pieces, creating a succession that could become a story, our life?
But, we have a story, a moment of birth, when we have been at school, the first job, the first, second, third love. We are a continuity in time, and just because of this continuity we can perceive time, otherwise what would remain of our past experiences and events? Let’s try to clarify this: Life is in the present moment and every moment is unique. A true wish to live in the present is surely helpful to focus ourselves in the Now. But this is not a starting point, it’s the aim. To be able to live in the present, we must be able to put aside all the identifications with past events and the concerns and expectations for the future and the imaginations that form in our mind.
Indeed, even if many will wrongly disagree, it’s a mental skill that we need. Our thoughts fool us constantly, so we have to train our mind in order to be attentive – even if many believe the opposite, at the end is the mind which is the only thing able to focus the attention. And we really need much attention to being in the moment- second more, second less, and not somewhere else in time with our thoughts.
Only with a developed attention can we stay here and now – not only with the body, but also with our whole being. Only in this case will we be able to grasp the “new”, to observe things as they are, and not as we think they are. In order to do this, our mind must be free from the “before” and the “after”, from thoughts; it must be a “clear mind”.
And here comes another important factor that can’t be acquired by itself, even if we try to observe, to be in the present moment, to remember ourselves: the capacity to focus. Indeed, only through a “right” concentration can we clean our mind from its contents (thoughts) that deny us the possibility to observe what is, as it is. And this is not a concentration on one point, but at 360°: we have to be able to grasp clearly more things at the same time. When (and if) we succeed, then something will happen: the thousands, millions of moments , each one of which lasts for a snap of the finger, will seem to become longer, time will seem to slow down, and only then we’ll succeed in anticipating every moment, being there when this moment happens, and to fully experience that moment, the only one which we can observe what happens exactly as it happens, without needing the help of associative thoughts.
We’ll then be settled in the only moment we have: the “now“.