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The Zen of Seeing

‘We do a lot of looking: we look through lenses, telescopes, television tubes. Our looking is perfected every day – but we see less and less.’ – Frederick Franck

When I read the above quotation, the words felt quaint, almost warming, and hard to believe they were written only forty years ago. The extract is taken from the start of a book, The Zen of Seeing: Seeing / Drawing as a meditation, written by Frederick Franck in 1977.

I bought the book a couple of months ago from a car boot sale and the reading has brought home a realisation, as a writer, I was becoming blind. Not in a physical sense, more in a way that I was detaching myself from the world around me.

Where Franck mentions television tubes, change those words to iPhone, iPad, laptop, desktop, television screen. Technology appears to have made the world bigger. Has it become smaller?

There is an excellent exercise in the book where Franck asks the reader to concentrate their eyes on something in front of them, then close their eyes for five minutes and try to relax. When their eyes are reopened, he asks the reader to refocus on the object and record what they see. Although this book is predominantly aimed at artists the exercise can be adapted for most creative practices.

I tried this technique on a couple of older extracts of my writing and was surprised by the results. I found I was going deeper into the events which initially prompted the writing. More details came to mind. I felt I was beginning to write again through my own eyes, not one created by a constant exposure to other people’s experiences.

One of the best pieces of advice I have been given as a writer is, you can only write as yourself. I could never write like Bukowski or Shakespeare, and they could never write like me. All this left me thinking how I get back to being true to my writing self; after all, isn’t it the task of a writer to offer a different perspective on the world?

In a social media age, and a constant clamor to write to a corporate demand of likes, shares and comments, are writers trading off some of the values and beliefs they hold dear to themselves?

Reading this book has shown me that I have, and the time has come to move more from the screen and start seeing again.

What are your thoughts?

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