Seeing Instead of Just Looking

Henry David Thoreau once wrote, “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you SEE.”

This quote reminds me of someone I went to museums with who didn’t really enjoy our trips there. This person often remarked that they’d already seem all the works and there was  just nothing new to see.

And you know this is often how we see life. There’s nothing new! Too routine and just the same old same old. Nothing in my life ever seems to change.

I want to offer that I think this is because we too often just look at life happening around us. It’s like a movie that we are watching without being actively involved. As I have thought about this I see a big difference between looking at life (or anything else for that matter) and really seeing it!

To look at life you just watch the movie going on around you. Watching it happen and unfold without any input on your part. In this way, life seems separate from you and as something happening to you. You look at a piece of art. You eat a meal. You take a breath. All of these things happening automatically with little conscious thought on your part.

But then one day you decide to read the little card beside the painting which draws your attention to some specific items in the picture that you might never have consciously noticed before. Now as you are seeing the painting from this new awareness the items just pops out at you.

Now the painting begins to be more for you have more fully entered into the painting.

Or you might have this experience with a meal.

Maybe there is a meal you have eaten many times in your life. Each time you just cut a piece and shovel it into your mouth never really taking the time to either savor or really taste it.

But then this time you decide to slow down and you begin to experience the various textures and tastes. They begin to come alive in your mouth. Your mind begins to connect the dots between your meal and where it came from — the various people and places involved in making it happen. And now this common meal becomes more — a communion joining together instead of separating apart!

My last example involves breathing, a very common every moment experience.

Even though we all do this countless times during the day yet most of us do it completely unconsciously. We rarely take notice of the air as it enters or leaves our nose and lungs, except those times when we are congested or experiencing other breathing problems or the air around contains unpleasant odors.

But then one day, you decide to take a deep breath — you breathe in deeply feeling the air entering your nose and you feel your abdomen rise. You experience a deep sense of peace come over you. Your racing heart slows and you become conscious, if only for a few moments, of a sense of stillness and calm within.

In each of these instances you go from just looking, eating, breathing and being a part from the experience to a deeper one of seeing and becoming more aware and a part of the experience.

All of these experiences happen to me from time to time but unfortunately I too don’t fully enter into the experiences often enough. But when I do, then all of life becomes different.

I hope the next time you are at a museum or enjoying a meal or just taking a breath you will stop and really enter into the experience. And as you so, see what a difference it makes even for just a moment.


  • Sheree Gray

    Absolute truth.

  • Lylette Pharr

    True, David. Reminds me of the sayings “we look but don’t see. We hear but don’t listen.” Life’s journey requires intentionality but routines are the enemy of that.

  • Kathy Brooks

    Thanks for the reminder to be present ??

  • Kathy Brooks

    Sorry for the question marks, I put hearts!!

  • Lorie McCloud

    there have been times when I just fell into that kind of consciousness somehow and it was wonderous! a song that came on the radio, the smell of the freshly made doughnuts in the doughnut shop… suddenly I was immersed in it as if I were a fish and it was water. at times like that it feels as though the whole universe opens up but I think it’s me who’s doing the expanding.

  • Laurie Feille

    Thank you for the reminder to slow down and experience life.

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