To acquire knowledge, one must study; but to acquire wisdom,
one must observe. ~ Marilyn vos Savant
There is no growth without observation and no observation without growth. Both our human and soul evolution requires us to consciously notice what happens around us to extract meaning and significance. Only then can we apply it to a new way of perceiving, thinking, behaving, and living.
As I’ve said many times before, it is not enough for me to help someone to heal; instead, I want to help them evolve. Countless times during the process of therapy, clients hear me ask “What did you learn from that?”, “What did you notice?” or “How have you changed?” Without this observation, we do not fully and consciously move forward. Without understanding the significance of our experiences, our upset, and our celebrations, we stay the same.
We take growth for granted. We often undervalue the richness of experience, especially when it is uncomfortable to undergo. The last year has ranged from uncomfortable to devastating for many. Throughout this time, I’ve nudged people to observe—to learn what they can learn from this slower, quieter, and less chaotic period. Some resisted, making their experience in isolation nearly intolerable. Others embraced this era and now dread “normal” due to the new peace and serenity they have found. Those who leaned into the discomfort shifted their perspective by observing the richness and learning from even the most challenging times.
Viktor E. Frankl, a holocaust survivor, neurologist, and psychiatrist, said “If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death, human life cannot be complete.” He learned this from observing others in the four concentration camps in which he was held during the Nazi annexation of Austria. His beautifully written book, The Man’s Search for Meaning, explores this concept more fully and urges readers to observe their lives as their mission for finding significance.
Like you, there are times when I curse the human condition. I don’t want to suffer any more than anyone else. But I do make an effort to step back to take a hard look at the root cause of my discomfort. I watch my reactions, my thoughts, my feelings, and my actions, then make an attempt to understand what I can learn and what meaning I can apply to my distress. As they say, whatever we resist persists, so why not lean into our uneasiness so we can evolve beyond it?
Think about this statement: “The observer, when he seems to himself to be observing a stone, is really, if physics is to be believed, observing the effects of the stone upon himself” (Bertrand Russell). In this case, observation becomes an almost energetic process—a practice of active and conscious evolution. It implies that an inanimate object is alive. In essence, observation brings to life the wisdom we are meant to receive just by willingly perceiving and taking note to learn. Don’t we always feel more alive when we learn something new? If so, why would we choose to be anything less than conscious in each moment?
Just a few weeks ago, I caught myself becoming frustrated as I waited on the deck for my dogs to do their “business”. I felt rushed to get to my next task. But then I realized I could use that time to notice the changes around me—the shift in the season and the early signs of spring‘s awakening. At the top of the tall trees around me, I saw very small shoots starting to form—indications that a new beginning was soon to occur. I noticed more birds singing than just the week before and I watched the gentle ripples in the lake behind my house, knowing that the tadpoles had likely begun their evolutionary transition. What I observed most was how my demeanor had suddenly changed. felt calm, relaxed, and appreciative of what I had just observed—my own small, but welcomed transformation.
What would change today if you actively observed the world around you? How would things shift within as you noticed what was happening without? Certainly, life would slow down enough for you to obtain the wisdom that is constantly offered around and within us.
I challenge you to take just five minutes each day, simply to observe both your inner and outer world. Notice what is happening around you and how it impacts how you feel within. Become the stone observing itself. Breathe in your observations and integrate them into your awareness—learn in the moment to extract the meaning so the next one is lived even richer.
As far as we know, we are the only species capable of actively observing and applying meaning to something in our lives. But do we take this ability too much for granted? Take my challenge and see how just five minutes of observation each day can change your life.