Seeing & looking

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Our eyes receive information which is then processed by the
brain. The mind examines the information relative to memories, likes/dislikes, priorities and concerns.
In order to work more effectively with the incoming information the mind narrows the field of focus and we begin to selectively
choose what it is we are seeing. This is called 'looking'.


Seeing is a passive process. Our eyes simply receive information. Looking is an active process. Our brain ignores what it considers unimportant and seeks out information that serves its perceived interests.


The exact same process occurs with our ears. Hearing is a passive process. Our ears simply receive information. Listening is an active process. Our brain filters out sounds that it considers unimportant.


he drawback with looking and listening is that you ignore much of what is occurring. This filtering process is effectively screening out much of the available information.
Instead of absorbing the entirety of the moment, you are only noticing the parts of it that your mind considers to be significant. Can you see the danger?
Who determines the significance of a given source of information?
You do.


Your ability to discriminate rests entirely upon your depth of understanding and your degree of insight.
If you ignore potentially important information because it did not appear to suit your requirements you are missing a notable portion of the overall event.

Wakuan complained when he saw a picture of bearded Bodhidarma,
"Why hasn't that fellow a beard?"


Your agenda blinds you

Anything that fails to support their internal criteria will be dismissed as unimportant. It is very common for beginners to have an agenda and/or preconceptions and expectations.
Consequently they are already actively looking and listening for information that compliments their agenda. Consider: a student wants to learn fa jing or they want tai chi to compliment their karate.


The agenda has already shaped their perception before they have even commenced the class. They assess the offered material in terms of this agenda.


This process is severely limiting because the new starter is incapable of understanding the syllabus. Only a more expert practitioner could have any hope of understanding the material.
The understanding comes with practice, reflection, experience and proof. Yet, the new starter - with no knowledge, wisdom or insight - has chosen to dismiss certain factors based on their own criteria.
Can you see the danger of this?

The cart leads the horse

It is quite common for new starters to ask to learn certain material. This requests reflects their desire to actively acquire information they consider to be significant.
What is confusing is how the new starter imagines that they can pick and choose what is important/unimportant from a curriculum they are yet to understand...
We call this 'the cart leading the horse'. It is an absurd situation.
The new starter has no logical way of determining what is important/unimportant because there is no rational basis by which they can make such a judgement.
It would be like asking somebody to bake a cake and then telling the cook to just use chocolate and ignore the other ingredients.

Scientific method

This is why all scientific experiments are inherently flawed. Somebody decided what to study and how to do it.
These choices and criteria have already narrowed the outcome (before the experiment even commences) by excluding certain factors deemed unimportant.

Active & passive

We encourage the student to see and hear rather than look and listen. The passive processes are already occurring, so no effort is required.
Passive acceptance of the incoming data leads to a quieting of the
ego, of the mind.
Rather than discriminate information based on limited criteria, the student is asked to be receptive and open to stimuli.


Many of the tai chi qualities we are developing in our students require a passive approach. Forcing, doing, trying - these are not encouraged. Allowing, receiving, yielding - these are the Way.


Te and wu wei are two tai chi skills that must be understood thoroughly. You cannot effectively employ the active elements of your tai chi until the passive aspects are allowed to
function naturally.


Consider: beginners commonly say that they are trying their best to relax and ask what they should do in order to relax. Relaxing is not a doing. When you stop, you relax.
Most people are so chronically ensnared in habitual doing that they cannot comprehend what it means to stop. Now ask yourself honestly - are you so caught up in looking that you are missing the rest?

Toxic habits

Alcohol, drugs, sugar, smoking etc hinder mindfulness and this prevents seeing. e.g. alcohol dulls the senses.
The original meaning of intoxication is "a poisoning". The euphoria people experience from alcohol isn't the outcome of being healthy and present. It is the consequence of poisoning the brain.
You cannot be mindful and clear if your brain is dulled. Drinking alcohol is the polar opposite of mindfulness.


People may drink alcohol regularly, read this information and then object... It can be worth asking yourself why?
The answers are simple: habit, lifestyle attachment, emotional investment, peer pressure, self-image and even (potentially) addiction. Common sense and reason are inconvenient.

It is essential to see both sides without moving the eyeballs.

 (Miyamoto Musashi)

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Page created 18 April 1995
Last updated 16 June 2023