Observation

I spotted something that surprised me and makes me wonder how observation works. Previous to this I would have defined it as intentional, something I was trying to do, an active activity. Now I think there is a subconscious component.

I was walking the dogs at night and we passed by a house with some calla lilies in front of it. I wasn’t looking at the flowers or the house directly. I wasn’t actively looking at or for anything. I was just doing the dogs. Something compels me to turn around and check out this one flower, I sense there might be a face there. I resist a little because it’s dark so who cares. But I do it. Yup! That’s a face. I see a face. I get out my iPhone and shoot the photo below. Nothing. Let me try again. I hold very still and shoot a few more and move on.

The low light makes them crappy photographs but wow, there is someone there. How did I see this? As best I can recall, I would say my unconsciousness saw him out of the corner of my eye. I guess making faces for five and half years has built up a robust face finding perception. It can’t be turned off. Even when I think it’s off it’s not.

I suspect this works with anything we practice daily. We get so attuned to what we pay attention to that it becomes unconscious. Some people can read other people’s moods just from the way they walk in a room. Someone else sees a luscious red pepper and instantly visualizes a whole meal. I was sitting next to my dad in church as a teenager and he suddenly exclaimed and wrote something down. Very unusual for this stoic and contained man. Later he told me he’d finally solved a math problem that had been bothering him since college. Where did the answer come from? What part of him was working on it? He was a problem solver. I hadn’t thought about it until now, but an unsolved problem must have really bugged him. His brain was attracted to creating solutions. We engage with what is interesting to us. We don’t even have to try; we just do it. That’s how you know what really interests you. It is that which pulls your attention subconsciously.

It’s easier to develop observation as a skill if there is an affinity for what is being observed. My brother observes license plates. I know this because he’s always filling me in on the latest developments. He’s all excited and he’ll say, Caren, I saw a brand-new Toyota with an 8H today! And I’m like, no way dude! Tell me more! Before he started chewing my ear about it, I had never, ever noticed or thought about the sequence of numbers and letters on a license plate and they are everywhere. How many do I see a day? Hundreds? He has brought it up in conversation at least a dozen times. Because he is so passionate, his enthusiasm rubs off on me for a few days. I will notice numbers like crazy and have fun with it. But soon it all slips away because that is not what I am actually interested in.

I am less observant when I am stressed. I block out what I can’t control and don’t want to deal with like laundry that needs to be folded and empty boxes lining the hallway. If my observations are only going to add to my to do list than No Thank You. But there are things I wish I observed that I miss. Birthdays. Following up with people I care about regarding information they’ve shared. Remembering to eat the leftover mashed potatoes before they turn gross. I am pulled in so many directions, I miss things I don’t want to miss. But apparently, even in the dark, I don’t miss a face.

4 thoughts on “Observation

  1. Ooh! I got mentioned in a blog post! I will tell you a thing that I think about a lot that never comes up in any conversation. I work with a lot of spreadsheets and databases and often need to do an audit or analysis to find out information with multiple variables. I often narrate what I am doing out loud to myself like a comedy improv sketch. I give left and right brain voices and imagine them chatting it up! Left brain knows what to do methodically, but right brain will interrupt and say “hold on, I got this.” And left brain asks “what are you doing?” And right brain answers “shhhh” then my eyes/thinking goes fuzzy and I sorta gloss over the data, and a moment later have the answer. Left brain asks “how did you do that? What did you do?” And right brain can’t explain, and it takes several minutes for left brain to reproduce the results with certainty. It is hard to explain. Like a simpler example is that I can look at 100 numbers even if they are out of order and find the one I want in seconds. The part of me that sees it isn’t the part of me that would methodically scan the list in order. It is so weird. It can find things on the ground and find Waldo and it is very keen and fast. It is a very advanced impressive part of the brain and I think you are describing it.

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