MOST of us have been accused at some time of having a “boy’s look”; the unfortunate assumption that we males are so busy scratching our arses and grunting that our observational skills are akin to your average isopod.
It’s true that we fellas might be a little bit crap when it comes to multi-tasking, but any shortcomings when it comes to looking – really looking – are not confined to gender.
“There is a difference between seeing and seeing,” wrote Goethe, highlighting what he saw, even back in the 18th century, as a growing sense of disconnection between humans and the world around them.
If we don’t look properly, Goethe suggested, we just won’t feel it.
“It” being the thing that binds us to the world and each other.
It’s a strange anomaly, this idea of a nature deficit.
In logical terms we can’t ever be separate from the world around us. We are nature. It constitutes us.
Yet the tidal sense of displacement and distance is a common one.
It leads some of us outdoors – to smell the sweet breath of dawn, view the landscape from a hilltop, or take in the fleeting vision of countless stars during the commercial breaks in My Kitchen Rules.
t’s true, if we’re feeling disconnected from nature, we can always get amongst it.
Yet Goethe would suggest we do the opposite.
“Seeking a sense of connection with nature,” he proposed, “is not about us getting out, but about each of us letting the world in.”
At school in the 1970s they tried to convince us that the accumulation of knowledge would bring us ever closer to the world we lived in. We were bombarded with facts. Our assignments were A2 posters covered in facts that we’d purloined from the Encyclopedia Britannica.
Pictures cut from National Geographic; big blocks of fact written in coloured pencil in “our best hand”. An “A” made you one of the clever ones.
Hindsight has taught me differently.
The real learning happened when I set aside the categories and classifications of our school classes, put the Derwents away, and really looked at the world; held a wriggling tadpole between my fingertips; marvelled at the shape of a stone; lay in bed and stared at the back of my own hand.
Goethe believed that if we take the time to actually give looking the time of day, patiently and undistracted, then simply seeing can be a way of being.
Hugo Whately from the School of Life in London calls it “cognitive hospitality”.
“Knowing more about creatures, mountains or plants isn’t the point,” he says.
“The point is to notice how you notice.
“It is, after all, a piece of the cosmos you hold in your hand… look slowly, with courage and in awe. Really bloody look”