Observation: Looking Beneath the Surface

It is popular these days to practice mindful observation of the world around us. The idea is you observe, then let go. Recently, I was introduced to the idea of contemplative observation in Fred White’s book, The Daily Writer, a book of daily meditations for inspiring the writers life.

”Detecting underlying truth requires what might be called contemplative observation-observing with our third, inner eye like metaphysical x-rays to the underlying truths.” ~Fred White

 The beauty of contemplative observation is the creative inspiration that it provides the writer…not just the writer but any artist. 
It is the art of watching, taking in all the surface information, then trying to extend the vision to what lies beneath the surface. A simple example is that of people watching. One sits in a busy place, observes the people coming in and out, walking by, groups chattering in deep conversation. This is just the surface, to go further, one must begin to ask “what if?”

See the woman with the red shirt, perfectly made up, poised and composed as she walks in and out of mall stores. See closely now, the faded burn marks on the back of her neck, looking like they go down her right arm.See how she pulls her long hair over the shoulder and neck to hide the scars.

This is looking beyond the facade of someone. Contemplative observation can be applied to buildings, communities, churches, and schools, as well as people. I would even contend it applies to cooking, wine making, brewing… it is what happens in the chemistry of the recipe that creates good food and wine. The ingredients are just the top layer, how and why they are put together is one step more.  This world we live in is complex, as writers and artists we have the unique privilege of being to see past the surface and discover or contemplate what is beneath.


To practice, start simply by mindfully observing. Make no judgements as people walk by. Just observe the pace, the build, colors, height. Observe only. Jot down the simple observations. If you are observing people who are sitting. Watch them longer. Notice how they may speak with their hands or they can’t stop fiddling the the straw wrappers. Once you have observed mindfully, now observe contemplatively. Draw inferences from their gestures, the sounds of their voices, how quickly they walk by. Now, how does it inspire you? What do you take from this moment of observation? What story will you tell? It doesn’t have to be a story of words but drawn, painted, photographed…any art form that fills your spirit.

fuzzie observation