When we say we see a tree or a flower or a person, do we actually see them? Or do we merely see the abstract image that information, memories and experience have created in our mind? Depth doesn’t come from words, or ideas or thought. The knowledge you have acquired about the object, with any prejudice, judgement and words actually form a screen between you and the object and prevent you from seeing it as it really is, and creates an inability to connect at a deep level. When the observer is not translating what he observes into thought – in that silence there is a different quality of beauty.
There is a fascinating exploration of the complex relationship between the observer and the observed in Krishnamurti’s teachings ‘Freedom from the known’
I often find I am ‘the observer’ as I have extensive botanical knowledge, which comes to the fore when I approach a plant, and my mind wants to bring it into my frame of reference, and re-evaluate it to re-categorise the observed into my world, a world created by my mind in accordance with my culture, environment and memories.
However, if I am still for a moment, I don’t call it anything, label it or analyse it but enter the dimension of no thought, I can connect to nature on a deep level. I observe the plant with all my being, not my mind. In that intensity I find that there is no observer at all; there is only attention. There is a recognition that the plant and I are not separate. We are both ‘nature’.
Attention is not concentration, it does not require effort, its more like a state of childlike wonder, and acceptance of what is, without judgement.
It’s a feeling of awe that what I am observing is not created by a human thinking mind, but it still has amazing complexity, to the extent it often appears chaotic. But there is order and system beneath it all.
When we put our attention on things that were not made from the human mind and thinking, we can leave the mind out of our experience and more easily enter a zen state. That is why we feel a sense of peace when we commune with nature.
Older civilisations felt more connected to nature, and in the east there was more a contemplative and spiritual approach. Krishnamurti writes:
‘In ancient China before an artist began to paint anything – a tree, for instance – he would sit down in front of it for days, months, years. He did not identify himself with the tree but he was the tree. This means that there was no space between him and the tree, no space between the observer and the observed, no experiencer experiencing the beauty, the movement, the shadow, the depth of a leaf, the quality of colour. He was totally the tree, and in that state only could he paint.
‘It is when there is inattention that there is the observer and the observed. When you are looking at something with complete attention there is no space for a conception, a formula or a memory…
Then you will find that there is an awareness that has become tremendously alive…and from that intensity of awareness there is a different quality of attention and therefore the mind – because the mind is this awareness – has become extraordinarily sensitive and highly intelligent.’
When I give my complete attention – with everything in me – there is no observer at all and a state of oneness with another unique living system. Now I lift up my camera…
‘Pay attention. It’s all about paying attention.’