The Art of Seeing

Here I will highlight two ways we experience seeing:

  • Direct |
  • Indirect |

In the approach of Miksang Contemplative Photography we are interested in direct perception, specifically in direct seeing.

So, what is perception?

It is not only what we perceive – the object of our senses – but also the full spectrum of perception. This is the play of our senses, what the senses perceive, how it is perceived in our consciousness, and the interaction of these three aspects.

  • The senses.
  • The object perceived through the senses.
  • Our consciousness experiencing what is perceived through the senses.

Here we consider our senses as sacred, as a gateway between heaven and earth. The senses serve as the most obvious gateway to enable each of us with our unique skills through creative expression to bring some heaven on earth. Each of us can uplift this earthly place; each of us can uplift our everyday world, through our own unique expression.

YOU can uplift your everyday world.

From this perspective it is crucial to understand the spectrum of perceptual interaction. And embrace the infinite varied interaction of perception.

Direct perception has the notion of immediate. ‘Direct’ here means it is pure, unhindered, unprejudiced, unfiltered, vivid and free of conceptual interpretations. ‘Direct seeing’ here means we visually connect immediately, and how we can tell is that we always feel it in our body first. We experience a resonance, an impulse, a flash of perception, which is a bodily sensation in the first place. From this experience we connect further simply through exploring what it exactly is what we see, and in the meantime stay with the purity of the whole experience.

Pure perception, and specifically ‘pure seeing’, is an ability we can train.

So, what is ‘pure perception’?

The shortest explanation is that pure perception is the highest form of training the mind – ‘dag nang byang’ in Tibetan.

  • ‘Dag’ means ‘pure’
  • ‘Nang’ means ‘perception‘
  • ‘Byang’ means ‘to train’ or ‘get used to’

The word ‘training’ implies mistakes are inevitable. It includes a path of training with tools, exercises and assignments.

In Miksang Contemplative Photography we start the training very practical, with grounding exercises and visual exercises wherein we experience our perceptual experiences slowly. We align our eyes, mind and body so we can become aligned to our personal experiences of pure perception.

Indirect perception

Here, indirect perception means we interpret our sensory experiences of seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting and smelling continuously. Interpreting means our reaction to a direct sensory experience is an interpretation, like; naming, a belief, an assumption, an association or a dissociation.

We have become very good at this, simply because we have trained this, consciously and unconsciously.

  • Naming: indirect starts at a very early age with simply learning things as ‘cat, mat, rat, car’. Before we started naming things, things were simply as they are, and as a child we approached these with curiosity in a very natural way, rather than knowing what it is. Now things get a name a label, a word, a meaning from the outside; tree, monkey, house, bike, car, phone. And it becomes a habit. This car is from this brand’, ‘it is a tree’, ‘this is a chair’ and we know enough and do not look any further. Of course, naming comes in very handy in our daily communication!
  • Associations: we quickly have associations, which always start with a trigger. We see a chair, and off we go to ‘I have seen this one in this hotel I liked, or ‘…in this ugly hotel’, or we smell a wonderful smell, ‘yummie this delicious smell reminds me of a bakery in France on holidays’, and off we are. Not physically, as were are still right here, but mentally and emotionally we are in the experience of our stay in that hotel or being on holidays in France. We cannot experience simultaneously a direct sensory experience and an association; it is either the one or the other.
  • Dividing mechanism: next we divide above experiences in in ‘I like it’, ‘I don’t like’ or ‘not interesting’, and in ‘I want it’ or ‘I don’t want it’, ‘I don’t care’. We do this all the time!

This whole mechanism of interpreting and dividing is very fast and very simple! The naming, associating and dividing forms an invisible frame of reference against which we measure ourselves and everything around us all the time, and we don’t look any further. Our eyes are open, and our thinking mind is occupied thinking in all its variations and that’s where most of our attention goes; we are fully attentive with interpreting. In this way we glide past the world.

This is the full experience of ‘indirect’.

It is important to understand these mechanisms, free of judgement.

One of the fundamentals, which form the complete practice of Miksang Contemplative Photography, is to be unconditionally loving and kind towards oneself. 

Perceiving: fast versus slow 

The Tibetan meditation master, artist and scholar Chögyam Trungpa explains that the mechanism of perception starts with a moment of direct vivid perception, pure and free, and then quickly shifts to deciding how we divide, reject, push and pull our everyday world. This happens in a fraction of second. All the time!

No matter what mental speed we are in, we can train ourselves to stay with a moment of direct perception. As there are gaps between our seemingly continuous stream of thoughts. And it turns out that it is pretty easy to notice these gaps.

Mind the gap!

In this gap, which is the space between our thoughts, we experience moments of pure perception. These gaps are the same space as our spacious mind and the same space of awareness. And awareness is the most spacious aspect of ourselves; if we fill this space with clouds of thoughts, it becomes cloudy, and we forget that we are able to perceive. More on ‘gaps’ >>

In short, our mind consists of two parts; the thinking mind and the spacious mind. The spacious mind is the largest part of our mind, and has natural brilliance and natural wisdom. If this space gets filled up too much with clouds of thoughts we forget our ability to perceive and we forget how effortless and liberating direct perception is. Next we start ‘thinking’ and searching for solutions as a cloudy and dense mind does not feel good, and we are looking for a way out. And on the longer term a cloudy mind may cause all kinds of psychological, physical and emotional problems. The point is to relax and break up the speed; this is how the clouds dissolve and the natural brilliance of the spacious mind can shine through. 

It is about perceiving as slowly as possible instead of perceiving as quickly as possible. And how to be inquisitive while perceiving our everyday world with our eyes; both how we see and what we see.

It is possible to go beyond personal interpretation, to let vastness into our hearts through the medium of perception. We always have a choice: we can limit our perception so that we close off vastness, or we can allow vastness to touch us.

From ‘Shambhala The Sacred Path of the Warrior’ by Chögyam Trungpa

First we train ourselves how we can handle ourselves in our inner spaciousness without interpretation, how to lean in a gap and prolong the leaning in; to be with what is. We simply try to be with what is without accepting or rejecting.

It’s like a frog sitting in the middle of a big puddle, with rain constantly falling in it. The frog simply winks its eyes at each raindrop that falls on it, but it doesn’t change its posture. It doesn’t try to either to jump into the puddle or to get out of the puddle. That quality is what is symbolized by a sitting bull, so the frog becomes a sitting bull.

From ’True Perception’ – The Path of Dharma Art’ by Chögyam Trungpa

The Art of Seeing

To see the brilliance of our everyday world, the world as it is free from our personal interpretations is an art in itself.


Click here for the album ‘Freshly Seen’ >>

Hèlen A Vink, March 31 2018