How do we engage with our way of seeing the world? The idea of ‘seeing our seeing’ asks us to step outside our perspective for a moment and observe ourselves as holistic entities, whose emotional lives shape and are shapes by our perception of the world around us.
Each of us receives information uniquely. Our mood, our life experience, our expectations, hopes and fears all serve to colour the sensory data of our daily lives. In both the conscious and unconscious mind, a swirling array of affective impulses are conditioning our perspective; our interpretation of conversations, events, and relationships.
As living beings who are concerned primarily with acting in the world, these impulses often remain hidden from us. Most of the time our insights into our own perspective are superficial and based on hindsight – I was tetchy because I’m tired; I didn’t listen attentively because I’m hungry. Yet if we can find the time to take stock of our underlying emotional reality, to listen to what is moving us at a deeper level, we can come into a more profound level of self-knowledge that reframes the way we see the world.
‘Seeing our seeing’ allows us to strengthen our resilience by expanding our conception of who we are beyond the narrow definitions that constitute the self. Sometimes, we can miss the truth of a situation because our perspective has limited what we are able to perceive. The tone of someone’s voice, for example, can tell us more about ourselves than about them. How did it make us feel when we heard the person speak to us? What assumptions about the person were bound up in our interpretation? If we felt anxious, or stressed, was it a direct result of how we were spoken to, or did the emotional inflection of speech activate something within us – a latent fear, worry, or concern that existed before the person even opened their mouth?
Once we begin asking these questions it becomes easier to observe this process in action during our day-to-day life. Seeing our seeing allows us to hold our emotions more lightly, to be aware of seeing as a process, not an immutable fact of self. Before we can interpret the world around us in a more truthful way, it is necessary to come back to a sense of balance within ourselves. Not being pulled too far in any one direction, by fear, stress, or anger, but also by love, hope, or compassion. Too much of anything is by definition excessive, and positive emotions can serve to blind us just as much as negative ones. This isn’t about eliminating negativity or a trite embrace of virtuous sensibilities but coming into a true awareness of the emotional currents that move us; not being swept along but standing ever so slightly apart. Ultimately, it means we stay curious about our own emotional life.
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